View from Pakistan: Loudness and clarity

There is no flaw in the logic which says the general must face the cases against him

Lahore: Sometime back in the 1990s, a visiting journalist from New Zealand climbed the stairs to a newspaper office in Lahore and volunteered service in return for the hospitality he had received in Pakistan. Invited to glance through a few pages that were in the making, he was a bit taken aback by one sentence in a news story where someone was complaining about the “step-motherly” treatment meted out to him. “We do use the term frequently” he was told. He replied with a shrug of his shoulders that implied a mild suggestion for a rethink.

Mild gestures don’t get us there and all these years later, had he been around in Pakistan today, the subtle Kiwi might not have agreed to the reasons behind sundry objections to Khawaja Saad Rafique’s remarks about Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The mouthful has led many, rather prematurely if out of habit, to strain for the sounds of military boots on the march. There have been explanations and eventually Khawaja Saad, a vastly toned down politician today as compared to his earlier years in politics, has had to write a column explaining that he stands by his words and why.

But whereas he has been both wooed and booed over his outburst against a general if not against an entire army, no one anywhere in the country seems to have found fault with his choice of phrase.

“Mard ka bacha bano” (be the son of a man, be a man) must rank with “sauteli maan” or stepmother among the derogatory phrases we Pakistanis cannot grow out of. Until last summer, the image of a sauteli maan with all her rage and fury would be officially invoked frequently by the Chief Minister of Punjab complaining about the raw deal he and his province were getting from the Pakistan People’s Party government in Islamabad. It took this country a whole new general election which returned Mian Nawaz Sharif to relieve it of that chief ministerial refrain.

However, one can still hear the expression, and some equally shocking readymade lines voiced by a deprived group here and there, bringing out the need for some urgent work on developing political vocabulary which is effective without being potentially offensive to even those the remark is not intended for.

It was perhaps the timing which brought the manliness to the fore. In the period immediately before Khawaja Saad’s remarks an impression had been created as if the government was under immense pressure to let Gen. Musharraf go and as if it was about to bow to that pressure. A strong statement of resolve was needed to remove this impression and Mr Rafique summoning some of the dormant exuberance at his command could well have served the purpose.

He was fully within his rights to question the logic which said it was in everyone’s interest that Gen. Musharraf be let out and perhaps he and others in his party had some old verbal scores to settle with their Musharraf-era tormentors in uniform. All said and done his diction was still uncalled for and as propaganda wars go arguably unsuitable for the background it stood against. The “mard ka bacha bano” phrase played against the plea by Gen. Musharraf’s lawyers that he be allowed to leave the country to see his ailing mother.

There is no flaw in the logic which says the general must face the cases against him, though separating him from the institution that he served and which nurtured him all through will take more than a few explanatory notes by the Khawajas of this country. The advisers have arrived, pointing to the dangers inherent in the tone and emotion it conveys but even if the sentiment has to be retained, in future, the statements need to be at least rephrased for their bad selection of words and images.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is otherwise capable of delivering the message strongly without the unbearable loudness that we have been subjected to in this latest instance. The appointment of Khawaja Asif as defence minister after last year’s election was one such message.

It was not as if everyone had forgotten Khawaja Asif’s now eight-year-old speech in the National Assembly in which he had spoken about the role and needs of the army in comparison to its performance and impact on ordinary life in Pakistan, and it can be presumed he had spoken with greater intensity in his party meetings.

Primarily then, his appointment in 2013 as the defence minister signified that the civilian side wanted to carry on with this debate, which since Mr Asif’s speech in 2006 had been further informed by incidents where the civilian and military sides had engaged each other in exchanges in search of the right balance of power to suit the current realities.

In the wake of the growing tensions, Khawaja Asif has chosen to distinguish not only Gen. Musharraf from the army, he has, impossibly, tried to make a distinction between the Khawaja Asif who was just one of the many members of the National Assembly in 2006 and the Khawaja Asif who is the defence minister in the year 2014.

Whatever the outcome of these ingenuous attempts by him the discussion about the balance of power is difficult to contain within its traditional format. If anything the vigour indicates progress towards solution.

Next Story