Cutting through the bullshit.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

A depressing evening

My colleague Khadim has asked me to circulate his reminiscences of the night of the Musharraf coup in 1999.


A depressing evening

The night Musharraf took power


Khadim Hussain

Darkness had already enveloped the small provincial town of Mingora.

I was alone in my room reading something, probably Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. The bachelor hostel was the only accommodation for single lecturers at Mingora’s only postgraduate college, where I was teaching English literature at that time. The TV was on but I was not watching. They had not yet introduced the cable networks in that particular corner of the country, so all one had to watch was the drab PTV.

All of a sudden, the TV lost the signal and all I could see on the screen was a black spotted line. The place was unusually silent. This was depressing me. I left my room to look for my colleagues who lived in the same hostel. Not one of them was to be found. Probably they had gone out for a pleasant walk on the banks of River Swat.

Suddenly there was blackout—power shutdown? Regular load shedding? I left the hostel, leaving the lights and TV in my room switched on. I searched for somebody to talk to, but to no avail. I just wandered the streets aimlessly. Depressed and disappointed, I started back to my hostel. The whole town was deeply soaked with darkness.

When I approached the hostel, the power returned and I could hear an unusual sound coming from my room. I entered the room and saw a general on the TV screen speaking to the hapless masses of Pakistan. Martial Law again? Yes, it was Pervez Musharraf justifying his takeover and announcing a six point liberal agenda for his newly installed government. I could hear the crack of Kalashnikovs firing in the air. I could also hear cheering and sloganeering on the street outside my hostel.

I wanted to stop them. I wanted to rebuke them. I knew I should tell them the coup was a cause for shame, not celebration. But I could only look at the thin crowd through a half open window.

Fear, shock, pain—I felt them all but I couldn’t tell which dominated. My mind blanked. I started looking for something to distract me for a while until I came to my senses. Turning the pages of a diverse collection ranging from the history of workers’ revolutions to classical English novels, I felt alienated - extremely lonely, helpless, and unusually tense.

The next morning, I got up a little late and had no desire to attend my classes. Everything seemed so futile. Instead of going to the college, I went straight to the bar near my hostel. I found an old progressive buddy who had been a kind of political mentor throughout our student years together. He went on to become a senior lawyer practicing in Swat.

Assuming that he might be feeling the way I was, I started talking about how to agitate against the new monster. He surprised me by replying, “My dear fellow! You probably want to become another Hasan Nasir (a member of the Communist Party of Pakistan, martyred by General Ayub’s regime) but nobody else wants to”. I was shocked—pain, fear, and doubt surrounded me again.

Disappointed, I went to the offices of a few local newspapers. But most of the journalists were busy talking about the golden era just set in. I tried to analyze the situation for them, but they said everybody had supported the coup d’etat. I turned the pages of almost all the national dailies and found everybody of note supporting Martial Law, or probably salivating over the prospect of a share of the pie. Only Afsiab Khatak (the then chairman Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and now the provincial president of a secular political party, the Awami National Party) had issued a statement condemning the coup.

It was afternoon by then. I went to see one of my friends—Ziuddin Yousafzai (a poet and owner of a private school in Mingora), to discuss this new challenge to our cherished ideals. We agreed at least to protest the imposition of Martial Law. We wrote some handouts condemning Martial Law and wrote our names on them and pasted them on the walls of some crowded shops and mosques. For some days, we were completely ostracized.

A few months later, we started to hear some voices coming out to distance themselves from the military rulers. But they were still only a few.

It has taken eight long years for multitudes to come out against the military rulers. Will the professional middles class (lawyers, teachers, doctors, etc.), take up the real issues of the masses? Will the people of Pakistan be able to take matters into their (our?) own hands? Is there a revolution in the offing? Will the people be able to decide about the real owners of this ‘Land of the Pure’? Will the masses be able to head towards a new social contract?

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