Pakistan Kafkaistan: Where the Absurd is always Normal

Posted on May 6, 2007
Filed Under >Raza Rumi, History, People, Politics, Society
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Raza Rumi

Raza RumiFranz KafkaThe current political dramas, uncertainty and confusion seem to be extraordinary. But is this really that unusual?

History, if anything, has prepared us for the bizarre and the peculiar. I was therefore prompted to jog my memory and dig out snippets that remain semi-buried in my fallible mind.

Colonel Ilahi Bux, the personal physician of Quaid-e Azam M.A. Jinnah recounted in his little book, With the Quaid-e-Azam During His Last Days, how our executive machinery treated the Quaid when he returned to Karachi after his recuperation in Ziarat. This is a scene from Marquez, the head of state, Governor General and Pakistan’s real, and perhaps the only principled advocate lying in a broken ambulance on a road side and the Madar-i-Millat (mother–ofà ƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“theâà ¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“nation), his sister, waving a copy of the newspaper to keep the heat and flies away! And this was no ordinary VIP. The rescue ambulance arrived hours later but the damage had been done.

Mohammad Ali JinnahFatima JinnahLiaquat Ali KhanHuseyn Shaheed Suhrawardhy
Ayub KhanZulfiqar Ali BhuttoGeneral Yahya KhanGeneral Zia ul Haq

Beyond belief? Yes.

The Quaid passed away in 1948, and his Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was shot down by a “lunatic” in 1951. To date, we have no clue as to who hatched the conspiracy, with what motive and why the first Prime Minister was brutally murdered. The assassin was overpowered and killed in the melee that immediately followed the killing. Later the investigating officer’s plane went down with the case files. Thus, we shall never find out the truth; and that is extraordinary. Alas, there is no Oliver Stone here to produce a film on this assassination. Even Kafka, whose vision the Pakistani officialdom typifies, would have been shocked at such developments.Madar-i-Millat Fatima Jinnah’s radio address on Jinnah’s anniversary was censored due to a “technical” glitch. Later, she dared to challenge the Army Chief Ayub Khan in the 1965 Presidential race. Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, another “extraordinary” legal phenomenon of Pakistan, has held time and again that Fatima Jinnah did not die a natural death but was murdered. 

He could be wrong, but do we care?

The great Bengali Prime Minister, Husain Shaheed Suharwardy, believed in the future of a united Pakistan. A capable lawyer, politician and a man of letters, he never gave up even after losing his political space. And, what happened in 1963? Suharwardy was found dead in a Beirut hotel in mysterious circumstances. We are not graceful enough to remember him let alone determine the cause of his death. Extraordinary by all means.

Our history makers were not content with such magic-macabre realism. So, “we” decided to initiate army action against our most populous province in 1970. The West Pakistani elites (and this includes everyone and his uncle in the power circles) refused to hand over power to the majority party from the Eastern wing. So while blaming the Hindu teachers in Bengal and ridiculing the treacherous non–martial race, we were relieved to give away the one province that had in real terms struggled for Pakistan. There was a long period of amnesia and silence slightly stirred by the publication of the Hamood ur Rahman Commission Report (that exposed the army action) in 2000 and an apology tendered by General Musharraf in Dhaka later. UNESCO now celebrates the International Mother Language Day on February 21 every year in commemoration of the Bangla language riots of 1952. Ironies don’t shock us anymore.

In the 1970s we lived happily-ever-after under the ostensibly democratic rule of Mr Bhutto that culminated in his physical elimination through the judicial process. The basis of his sentence was evidence that sensible jurisprudence will consider unreliable and defective. The weekly Economist then ran a cover story titled “We Also Hang Our Prime Ministers.” Decades later, a Freudian remark of a Supreme Court judge (who later served as the Chief Justice) in a TV interview in 2004 failed to shock us when he said that this was kinda mistake. Doctrine of necessity stretched beyond the Kafka-esque limits!

The succeeding ruler, another General, proved to be even more peculiar. Having shaken the social and political foundations of the country for eleven years, Zia ul Haq left the world in bizarre circumstances: uniformed with stars, a copy of the Holy Book on his lap, a Jewish US Ambassador by his side, riding in an army plane and yet blown up in the summer heat of 1988. We added it to the layer of our tormented memories.

The film noir played during the decade of the 1990s starred “democratic” regimes playing hide and seek, displaying a wee-bit more maturity than high school governing bodies. Strange was the murder of a sitting Prime Minister’s brother in 1996; and to make matters worse, the PM herself was implicated in this gory act by none other than her self-appointed cronies!

Sordid as this was, the attack of political workers on the Supreme Court in 1997 made the Chief Justice leave his courtroom and hide. More mind-boggling was the split within the Supreme Court then, as judges passed judgments against each other with abandon. Extraordinary that a part of the current judiciary defenders’ brigade includes some of the stalwarts who ordered or ransacked the Supreme Court making Pakistan appear as a fiefdom from medieval history.

Let’s end with the extraordinary events of October 1999 when the Prime Minister and his close confidants apparently prepared a sub-jail for the serving military chief, without an inquiry of course, and actually believed that they could execute this Alice in Wonderland plan of removing and locking him up!

Welcome to Pakistan, Mr. Kafka.

Raza Rumi blogs at Jahane Rumi and writes for The Friday Times, where this was first published.

34 responses to “Pakistan Kafkaistan: Where the Absurd is always Normal”

  1. Aqil Sajjad says:

    As a not so powerful country in a dangerous and strategically important neighbourhood, Pakistan was always going to be under pressure from superpowers. We did not have the luxury of being able to overlook the possibility of Russian expansionism, nor could we ignore the threat from India. We did open up ties with China against American wishes in the 1960s though. Perhaps we could have tried to be more neutral between the Americans and Russians, but that would have brought its own complications.
    We did get a lot of badly needed economic and military assistance from the US, so there is not much to complain about the 1947-79 period. After that, we did shoot ourselves in the foot by creating and handling the militants in a way that only weakened the state’s rit and strengthened extremism. But again, we should not forget that even if we had taken a different course after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, it would also have been fraught with difficulties.

    We badly messed up on a lot of things, we have been unable to get even the basics of governance and politics right, but in my opinion, foreign policy in the 1947-79 period is certainly not one of our major failures.

  2. Raza Rumi says:

    Alvi Saheb and Anwar: these are distinct markers of the spectrum – are we mere pawns in the imperial and neo-imperial games or fully responsible for our plight? I would say that the truth lies somewhere in between.

  3. Anwar says:

    Dear Pervaiz sahib I really do not have the answer to your questions. If we connect the dots in Rumi’s post can we think otherwise? I have only tried to fill in the blanks – very reluctantly, and I sincerely hope that I am wrong.
    Believe me it was very difficult for me to write it but after reading Ibn-e-Khuldum a couple of times I have learned to keep emotions out of any context.
    In the last line of my previous post I have posed a question about the current leadership crisis and I hope the good readers of ATP will help find the answer.

  4. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:

    “Pakistan… a pawn….always a banana republic”

    “barriers constructed by British to prevent Russian heavy armor to cross into India”

    Anwar: You have created an interesting theses here. I have seen similar comments by some non-Pakistanis writers as well. Is Pakistan as a state nothing but a tool in the hands of imperialists? What does that make us Pakistanis as? Fools??

  5. Babbi says:

    These events will continue to happen no matter what until and unless we start thinking as a nation and not individuals.

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