We live in a time of subjective truths. A time when strategic and personal interests trump human values. A time in which children die of starvation, a stone’s throw away from palaces of opulence. A time in which a young boy with a stone is a ‘threat’, and missile defence systems are ‘freedom’. We live in a time when Goliaths aggression is justified; David’s fighting back is terrorism.
We live in a time when the hypocrisy and deceit of proclaimed Western democratic values is impossible to hide, even though the most effective electronic and print communication empire in the history of the world. And yet, this is a time in which all the hue and cry, the amputated bodies, the wailing mothers and wounded hearts, across the world, has been unable to embarrass those in power, or prevent a single bomb from falling over Gaza. And the children, buried under the rubble, have been lost to the hope of an eternal prayer: “And when the girl child that was buried alive will be asked, for what sin she was killed” (Quran 81:8-9).
We live in a time of collective impotence. A time where brute power is the only currency of legitimacy. Be it the killing fields of Kashmir, or the hospitals in Palestine, or throughout sub-Sahara Africa and the Shia-Crescent – from the banks of river Karun to the coasts of Beirut. We have seen cultures, dating back several millennia, incinerated by the horror of merciless weapons. We live in a time where hubris has wiped out entire people. A time when greed of the few, consumes dreams of the many. And all the while, throughout this time, the callous world has rolled at the feet of the tyrant and pleaded for his approval.
We live in a time that seems bereft of courage; the courage to speak truth to power. A time in which leaders representing 2 billion people (1/3rd of the world’s total population), with over 20 trillion (with a T) dollars in wealth, fighter jets, tanks, and nuclear capability, got together, last week, held a mini debating moot competition in Riyadh, got onto their private jets, flew home, and went to sleep. This, in a time when each one of those leaders knew, unambiguously, in real time technology, that predominant majority of their constituents oppose tyranny of the Pharoah. And yet, we live in a time when not one of those leaders see public discontent as a threat to their claim to power.
At home, the times are no different. For decades – at least since the 1985 political project – Pakistan’s construct of political power has hid behind a façade of democracy and charlatan leaders. Over the past forty years, we had been convinced that our political leaders (no matter how corrupt they may be) will respond to ‘public will’ and be corrected through it. We were told that State institutions, and bastions of the democratic electoral process (e.g. Election Commission) will stand guard to the protection and promotion of public will. And yet, we live in a time where the proclaimed ‘democratic’ parties were the first to oppose the holding of elections on time, their Attorney General argued vociferously for delaying of the electoral process, and the honourable Courts allowed (facilitated?) this delay – even as every independent measure of public will demonstrated, unequivocally, that (an overwhelming) majority of the people opposed it. And so, even as ‘public will’ was suffocated, democracy prospered in our land.
We live in a time of recurring nightmares. A time in which the democratic ‘revenge’ of the 1985 political project has once again welcomed its prodigal son, with open arms, while ignoring every principle of constitutional and criminal law that our jurisprudence held dear. The fact that he did not enjoy the support of ‘public will’ was fixable; it was ‘buyable’. And so, we discovered that we live in a time where a hapless people, looted of their resources and energies, are made to drop rose petals from the air, on public expenditure, to welcome a man who was travelling from his humble abode in central London, to a small locality on the outskirts of Lahore, in service of the people.
In the Divine Scripture, the Almighty swears by the ‘time’ (Quran 103:1). Because the time is always changing. And the great thing about the changing of times is that it happens silently, yet irreversibly. A changing of the time is not announced by the bang of a bomb. It is not celebrated through showering garlands from the air. It is not marked by any debating convention. Time is far too dignified for it. It changes silently; in rooms and corners, in tea-stalls and restaurants, in schools and playgrounds. The moment that history turns a page is only evident in hindsight. Like Rosa Parks in that bus in Alabama. Or a street vendor setting himself on fire in Tunisia. Or a man incarcerated, against racial oppression, on Robben Island.
The future of the 1985 political project in Pakistan rests on one fundamental assumption: that the times will forever remain like this. That we will forever serve at the feet of two dynastic families; that the scales of justice will always be judged by standards determined by the rick and the powerful; that the meek will forever remain disinherited from this earth; and the worldly custodians of divine decree will continue to serve the emperor that has no clothes.
This assumption, that Pakistan and her people are hostage to the interests of the few, is no longer true. And the house of cards, built around it, is about to collapse. We are living through that fleeting moment in time when the water balloon has burst, but the water has not yet fallen to the ground, held together by nothing but the memory of the balloon. This is not because of any particular political party, or leader. It is not because of any one judgment of law, or any one judge in chambers. It is not because of any one institution, or any one event. It is just the time – which has changed, incontestably, even as all currency of power denies it.
The future of this country no longer belongs to two families. It no longer belongs to any institution or interest. All that is left, in this regard, is for historical myths to crumble, and the legacy of the 1985 political project to finally be over.
Pablo Neruda once famously said, “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.” In Pakistan, the spring is upon us. A new generation, unjaded by the weight of history, has moved on from the political relics of the past. It has learned that power is not a thing of inheritance for just a few. That we all have a stake in our collective future, which cannot be trusted to closed door concessions.
A generation that has relearned from the legacy of Karbala that truth, when spoken honestly, has the power to lay asunder indomitable forces of worldly power. Welcome to this new and truthful time.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has an LL.M. in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at: email@example.com, or Twitter: