When it is time to go

IT would have been possible to contemplate with greater equanimity the prospect of Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf’s impeachment had it been possible to take his adversaries at their word. Their record over the past five months suggests the grand democratic purpose they profess is a veneer beneath which dwell baser motivations. If these include, as is likely, a coat of cement intended to keep their coalition from crumbling too quickly, chances are it will turn out to be temporary glue.


A common foe can often persuade disparate political forces to make common cause. Commonly enough, negatively focused unions of this sort fall apart once their primary objective has been achieved. If Musharraf were to resign tomorrow, it could be construed, among other things, as a mischievous attempt to derail the alliance between the PPP and the PML-N. However, regardless of its impact on the coalition, it would be an eminently sensible move.


In various respects – and not least in terms of the national interest – resignation is the president’s least worst option. The alternative Musharraf reportedly intends to pursue, that of defending himself before parliament, may on the face of it appear to be a more honourable course, but it could entail a drawn-out political drama with polarising consequences.


It has been suggested that the novelty of impeachment is intended to serve as a distraction from the government’s failures on various other fronts, from prohibitive food prices and power shortages to the restoration of the Supreme Court chief justice and other judges. Is it really in the president’s interest to collude in such a masquerade, particularly amid indications that the government will have little trouble in drumming up the parliamentary numbers required to humiliate him?


His remaining options are even more unpalatable. Dismissing the government and the assemblies would seem absurdly self-serving; besides, another bout of elections would probably produce an outcome broadly similar to the February results. The fourth alternative, that of instigating a coup, would for a number of reasons be tantamount to sheer madness.


Musharraf has been quoted as saying that he sees no reason to slink away as he has done no wrong. But that is entirely a matter of perception: his level of unpopularity suggests most Pakistanis believe he has a great deal to answer for. Constitutional violations are only a small part of governmental misconduct over the past nine years – and the charge that officials plotted to queer the pitch in economic terms before the elected government took over is particularly worthy of investigation. Besides, the fact that the president’s only allies of note are the Chaudhrys of Gujrat speaks for itself, and does not reflect too well on his political skills.


If Musharraf seriously wishes to test his popularity, he could seek votes of confidence from the provincial and federal parliaments, and to then resign in the (more or less inevitable) event of an abysmal showing. This could be accomplished within a day or two, whereas impeachment could be a painfully protracted process. It would be extraordinarily silly of the president to allow his military instincts to cloud his political judgment at this juncture.


That said, it would only be fair to note that, however questionable  Musharraf’s status as an elected president might be, absolutely no one has voted recently for either of his two tormentors – the Alif and Noon* of Pakistani politics, Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. If Musharraf goes – as he certainly ought to, preferably without too much of a fuss – and is succeeded by a PPP nominee rather than Alif (or, for that matter, Noon) himself, the  cosmetic stature of the prime minister will in all likelihood be “balanced” by an impotent presidency. For the first time in the nation’s history, neither the head of state nor the head of government will wield real power. That’s something to ponder on while marking Independence Day on August 14, a commemoration traditionally characterized by selective amnesia.




FROM the ridiculous to the sublime: last Saturday brought sorrowful tidings from Houston, where efforts by surgeons to mend Mahmoud Darwish’s  broken heart came to naught. “We have lost part of our essence, the essence of the Palestinian being,” commented Hanan Ashrawi on the death of a poet who for nearly five decades inimitably articulated the suffering of his people, the agony of dispossession and exile, and – unfailingly – the hope of reunion with the beloved, a dream that remained unfulfilled. Darwish parted ways with the PLO in the wake of the Oslo travesty 15 years ago, yet Mahmoud Abbas didn’t think twice before declaring three days of mourning in a nation that remains bereft of statehood.


In 1971, when his decision to live outside the occupied territories was roundly criticized throughout the Arab world, Darwish noted: “I am not the first patriot or poet to leave his country in order to draw nearer to it.” He lived in Moscow, in Cairo, in Beirut, in Tunis; it was 26 years before he returned to a homeland from which he perforce remained estranged, settling in Ramallah. During a poetry reading last year, he described the violence between Fatah and Hamas as “a public attempt at suicide in the streets”.


Many years earlier, he had lamented: “If only these verses/ Were a chisel in the grip of a worker,/ A grenade in the hand of a fighter/ … a plough in the hands of a peasant”. In due course he was elevated, inevitably, to the ranks of a 20th-century pantheon that includes the likes of Pablo Neruda, Nazim Hikmet and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Darwish, who once described himself as “the envoy of a wound that does not bargain”, shared with these three a Marxist-humanist perspective that ensured he was always more popular among Arab people than among their unrepresentative rulers.


Israeli reports of his demise mentioned that in 2000 the education minister, Yossi Sarid, had recommended including some of Darwish’s poems in the high school curriculum, but the idea was vetoed by the prime minister, Ehud Barak. It is unlikely that the Israelis will change their minds now that the poet has been interred in the land he loved so passionately, perhaps amid an olive grove. And even if they did, it is all but inconceivable that they would authorize schoolchildren to become acquainted with particularly potent diatribes such as the early poem On Man, which goes:


They gagged his mouth,

Bound his hands to the rock of the dead

And said: Murderer!


They took his food, clothes and banners,

Cast him into the condemned cell

And said: Thief!

They drove him away from every port,

Took his young sweetheart,

Then said: Refugee!


O you with bloodshot eyes and bloody hands,

Night is short-lived,

The detention room lasts not for ever,

Nor yet the links of chains.

Nero died, Rome did not:

With her very eyes she fights.

And seeds from a withered ear

With wheat shall fill the valley.


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