Condemned to Repeat History

In every case, selfstyled prophets of change in Pakistan have failed to deliver on their promises.

In the wee hours of the night of 5 November 1996, Pakistan´s President Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari summarily dismissed the government of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on charges of corruption and ineffective governance. In and of itself, the event was neither unexpected nor necessarily surprising (given the fate of earlier custodians of the prime minister´s mantle in Pakistan). For many Pakistanis, this brought back memories of the earlier power struggle between Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Nawaz Sharif; or, for that matter, between Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Benazir Bhutto. According to Ms Bhutto, an equally relevant precedent was the struggle between General Ziaul Haq and her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (and, proving once again that ironies do indeed multiply, let us not forget that Ziaul Haq was chosen by Z.A. Bhutto to become the Chief of Army Staff primarily because he was considered "utterly reliable"exactly the criterion applied by Ms Bhutto in selecting Farooq Leghari for the presidency).

Others, who tend to take a longer view of things and whose sense of history is not tainted by the partial accounts of events contained in ´official´ textbooks, were reminded of further precedents Mohammad Ali Bogra and Ghulam Mohammad; Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy and Iskandar Mirza; Malik Feroze Khan Noon and General Ayub Khan (see table). My own thoughts, however, were transported even further back into history to the power struggle for the Moghul throne between Aurangzeb Alamgir and his elder brother Dara Shikoh.

Granted that Benazir Bhutto is no Dara Shikoh, nor Farooq Leghari an Aurangzeb Alamgir. But historical exactitude is not the point in taking a more historical view of events, a distinct continuum can be traced back, at the very least to Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh, but probably much further back still. This continuum is worth pondering over, for it is likely to tell us something important about us modern-day Pakistanis and our polity. At a minimum, it illustrates how the corrupting influence of power can turn the closest of allies against each other son against father, brother against brother, protege against mentor. This, however, is also not the point. If it were, we could easily have illustrated it with the fate of Abel at the hands of Cain.

The reasons for tracing this continuum are more subtle, and may be more profound from the perspective of building a stable political system in Pakistan. They relate to the use of selfproclaimed moral rectitude as a political tool and the legitimacy that such rectitude has come to acquire as an acceptable reason to overturn the system at will. This may have been acceptable if those usurping the system in the name of a superior moral fibre had then set out to reform the system so that the essential purpose of their ´crusade´ was fulfilled. This, however, has not happened it did not happen with Aurangzeb; it certainly did not happen with Ghulam Mohammad, Ayub Khan, Ziaul Haq, or Ghulam Ishaq Khan; and it seems all but unlikely that it will happen with Farooq Leghari.

The test of the success of the crusades that these selfstyled reformers embarked upon does not lie in whether the targets of their wrath were indeed morally assailable, corrupt, ineffective, or incompetent. The real test of their success would lie in whether they were able to eventually create a better system by doing what they did which, in each case, was essentially to subvert the system either by breaking the law or by trampling upon the established norms of behaviour. While Farooq Leghari´s case may still be too close to call, in every other case on this list, the selfstyled prophets of change failed to deliver the changes they promised.

Real Tragedies
The real tragedy of the Aurangzeb-Dara Shikoh episode is not simply the cruelty that Aurangzeb demonstrated towards his father and brothers, nor that he stole from Dara a throne that rightfully belonged to Dara. The real tragedy is that, despite doing all this, he failed to do the things on whose basis he had originally justified his actions. In the final analysis, his treatment of his father and brother(s) made the empire no more egalitarian, no more just, and no more longer-lasting than it otherwise would have been. Arguably, Aurangzeb only created the conditions for the eventual dismemberment of the empire.

Similarly, the real tragedy of the musical chairs that has been played out for the prime minister´s office in Pakistan over the last 50 years is not simply that we, as a nation, have developed a tendency to elect one government more corrupt, more ineffective, more arrogant, and more ineffectual than the preceding. The real tragedy is that despite all the midnight operations, despite all the martial laws, despite the culture of ad hocism, despite the parade of caretaker prime ministers, and despite having performed so many major surgeries on the Constitution— we are no closer to creating a stable political order than we were at the moment of Independence. Some would say that we are actually more distant from that goal today than in 1947.

We are reminded that nations that do not learn from their history are condemned to repeat it. By extension, one might add that those which actually misrepresent their history tend to fare even worse; they never even get the chance to learn from it! That is particularly true of Pakistan where most of the names of our prime ministers, much less their fate, have been systematically and consciously wiped out from the national historical memory; mentions of .Bogra, Chundrigar, Noon and Amin are hard to find. History books, especially academic history books, are no more than ´feel good´ inspirational stories of past glories—real or imagined—rather than as an inventory of lessons to be learnt from the past to guide our future.

The ´making´ of a history that one can justifiably be proud of cannot be substituted with the rewriting of history to suit our self-serving delusionary goals. The first, and minimum, step to learning from history has to be to acknowledge it. Considering the way Pakistan has treated its own history, history has treated Pakistan amazingly graciously. This, however, cannot last forever. Farooq Leghari, therefore, has before him an entire lineage of predecessors— from Aurangzeb Alamgir to Ghulam Ishaq Khan—who failed in the test of history. It is now his turn to stand the same test. History will pass judgment on him, not on the basis of whether his charges against the Benazir government turn out to be true—the overwhelming consensus seems to be that they are largely correct. History will pass a judgment on Farooq Leghari on the basis of whether he is able to set in place a suite of systemic changes that will eventually make it unnecessary for his successors to take the steps in the middle of dark nights that he was compelled to take. If he were to fail this test, it would certainly be unfortunate for him; much more than that, it would be unfortunate for Pakistan.

A. Najam, from Pakistan, is currently at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is also affiliated with the Programme on Negotiation at the Harvard Law School.

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