The tragic flaw

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Let’s not confuse democracy with family fiefdoms and business conglomerates

 

And let me speak to th’ yet unknowing world

How these things came about. So shall you hear

Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts;

Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters;

Of deaths put on by cunning and forc’d cause;

And, in this upshot, purposes mistook

Fall’n on th’ inventors’ heads – all this can I

Truly deliver.

 William Shakespeare, Hamlet

When I was studying for a master’s in literature, a question that we often debated was whether Shakespeare’s masterpieces would classify as ‘tragedy’ or ‘tragedies’. This was so because there were uncanny similarities in the plots of most of Shakespearean scripts that would unremittingly head towards the ultimate tragic denouement which, predominantly, appeared to be self-inflicted.

What are the essential ingredients to the ensuing catastrophe that apparently awaits the nation? It may actually require volumes to expound the entire repertoire of the political leaders’ follies, but, principally, the tragedy is contained in their selfish commitment to advancing personal interests and perpetuating family fiefdoms as the most integral component of their political strategy and operational mechanism in preference to the combined interest of the state and the people. The military dictators have not been free of committing a similar blunder particularly when they would attempt to carry the mantle of a political role to legitimise their coup and elongate their stay in the corridors of power.

The Pakistani landscape finds an unmistakable resonance with the tragic spirit and the most gruesome enactments contained in the Shakespearean masterpieces. A C Bradley, possibly the most celebrated authority on Shakespeare, divides tragedy into an exposition of the state of affairs, the beginning, the growth, the vicissitudes of the conflict and the final catastrophe or the tragic outcome. Bradley emphasises the Aristotelian notion of the tragic flaw: the tragic hero errs by action or omission, this error combining with other causes to bring about his ultimate ruin. The idea of the tragic hero as a being destroyed simply and solely by external forces is quite alien to him and not less so is the idea of the hero as contributing to his destruction only by acts in which we see no flaw.

This uncanny similarity, joining the traditional plot of a Shakespearean tragedy and the perpetual tragedy that has been repeatedly enacted in this country, exclusively scripted, directed, produced and supported with nauseating sound-effects composed by the criminal political mafias operating here, is woefully disconcerting. Whether it be the case of the classical tragedy, its medieval and the renaissance versions, or the modern concepts of tragedy, there is an unequivocal convergence around the common factors of an inherent tragic flaw and an exaggerated proclivity for self-infliction in the characters that perpetuate the conditions leading up to the bloodbath on the stage before the final curtain is drawn — a general direction in which Pakistan seems headed barely four days before completing sixty-eight years of its independence.

What are the essential ingredients to the ensuing catastrophe that apparently awaits the nation? It may actually require volumes to expound the entire repertoire of the political leaders’ follies, but, principally, the tragedy is contained in their selfish commitment to advancing personal interests and perpetuating family fiefdoms as the most integral component of their political strategy and operational mechanism in preference to the combined interest of the state and the people. The military dictators have not been free of committing a similar blunder particularly when they would attempt to carry the mantle of a political role to legitimise their coup and elongate their stay in the corridors of power.

Nawaz Sharif’s tragic flaw is his fatalistic penchant for being the imperial despot who forever sits on the throne. In his quest for glory and an unchallengeable and uninterruptible hold on power as well as to secure the rule by his coming generation, he has made a concerted bid to subvert the state and liquidate its multi-faceted assets. He has done so because he sees these as potent threats to his perceived ascendency. The military is a threat. The ISI is a threat. A genuinely independent judiciary is a threat. A free and fully-empowered Election Commission is a threat. A credible electoral system ensuring a transparent process is a threat. Conducting an audit of the flawed elections is a threat because that would only prove what is already widely known. Initiating a genuine dialogue to constructively engage other political forces is a threat. Conducting an independent and transparent enquiry of the excesses committed by the government and its security extensions resulting in deaths of the unarmed and the innocent and apportioning responsibility thereof is a threat. Allowing the judicial arm of the state to proceed with looking up the leaders’ accounts and assets and undertaking an enquiry of their financial conduct is a threat.

The political system that is central to the authority of the government is based on the necessity for all its components to be corrupt. The election-time is a time of investment by the candidates and their patrons and promoters to ensure that their nominees are returned to the legislatures. The ensuing five-year tenure is the period devoted to making up for the election-time investment plus a lot more to be set aside for illicit use in the future to ensure a seat close to the power echelons. All conceivable stakeholders – they make for a long and sickening list — demand their pound of flesh which has to be paid many times over to keep them in the loop. And who bears the cost of this malevolent indulgence? It is the state that suffers repeatedly to maintain this corrupt chain of activity to continue delivering an unending supply of individuals of the most decrepit variety to the assemblies – people who don’t have the foggiest idea of what legislation is all about and what would be the impact of their actions on the state. All they are interested in is to keep their patrons happy and contented so that they would be available the next time around to patronise them on their way to the assembly chambers. The stinking cycle continues and no one, practically no one, wants to change this as they are all its ultimate beneficiaries. This constitutes the cardinal component of the tragedy that stalks the country.

The tragedy is further compounded by the presence of a pitiable bunch of cronies and paid pedestrians and foot-soldiers around the prime minister whose consuming passion it is to please the master through all his misconceived flights of fancy. They come from multiple backgrounds: the lowest stock of the political variety, heads of criminal mafias, petty gangsters, members of a thoroughly politicised, corrupted and inefficient bureaucracy, representatives of the business community who have prospered by evading paying their due liabilities to the state and soliciting undeserved benefits from the government and its various institutions, the legal king-pins who have fattened their bank accounts through securing payments from the government exchequer, and battalions of miserly hangers-on who are ever so eager to prove their ‘loyalty’ to the master. This lowly stock is selected to constitute the team of the emperor’s advisors because it is only this stock with its ‘corruptibility’ quotient that the leader finds comfortable resonance with.

Understandably, the Sharifs and democracy cannot coexist. The two are divergent commodities with one being the very antithesis of the other. The two should be separated and put in their respective slots: the Sharifs in the slot reserved for despots and democracy in the slot reserved for a desirable ultimate objective. It is the path to the latter that is strewn with potholes. All experiments in democracy so far have failed to help the evolving of a democratic mindset. The political parties that provide the platform for these despots to wear the apparel of democracy are not democratic in their internal working. These are ruled by family mafias: the Sharifs, the Bhuttos/Zardaris, the Chaudhrys, and the pitiable rest. How can one have a democratic polity in the country without a democratic mindset and an egalitarian approach?

Nawaz Sharif’s tragic flaw is his fatalistic penchant for being the imperial despot who forever sits on the throne. In his quest for glory and an unchallengeable and uninterruptible hold on power as well as to secure the rule by his coming generation, he has made a concerted bid to subvert the state and liquidate its multi-faceted assets. He has done so because he sees these as potent threats to his perceived ascendency. The military is a threat. The ISI is a threat. A genuinely independent judiciary is a threat. A free and fully-empowered Election Commission is a threat. A credible electoral system ensuring a transparent process is a threat. Conducting an audit of the flawed elections is a threat because that would only prove what is already widely known. Initiating a genuine dialogue to constructively engage other political forces is a threat. Conducting an independent and transparent enquiry of the excesses committed by the government and its security extensions resulting in deaths of the unarmed and the innocent and apportioning responsibility thereof is a threat. Allowing the judicial arm of the state to proceed with looking up the leaders’ accounts and assets and undertaking an enquiry of their financial conduct is a threat. What is not a threat is an uninhibited use of the state’s security apparatus to kill and eliminate political opponents. In the process, the Sharifs have become both the literal and the allegorical personifications of what can be safely construed as an inveterate evil:

A sight most pitiful in the meanest wretch,

Past speaking of in a king;

 William Shakespeare, King Lear

Nawaz Sharif desperately projects himself as a democratic ruler, but behaves as the anointed emperor, ala the undying Amirul Momeneen penchant and would not hesitate for a moment to resort to the ugliest and the meanest tactics which are pregnant with the prospect of dividing the nation along dangerous lines, be these religious, sectarian or ethnic. The only criterion is that such a move should serve his selfish and deceitful purposes.

To achieve the evil designs, Nawaz and his brother of the fake police encounters’ notoriety, have used every vile trick in their armoury. Saying that the Sharifs literally bought their way to the prime minister’s office would be an abject understatement. They actually did that and have used more of the same potion to elongate their stay in power, be it stabbing their benefactors in the back, or using the ill-gotten funds to secure political support, politicising the bureaucracy and crime, weakening and pushing other state institutions to the point of becoming dysfunctional, rigging the elections, assaulting the judiciary through their paid goons, kidnapping and torturing their opponents, using the state machinery to brutally threaten and eliminate their political adversaries, and employing just about every vile trick that one could conceive of to subdue any opposition to their usurpation.

The other key instrument that the Sharifs have nearly perfected is the art of corrupting and purchasing everyone who has a role, no matter how insignificant, to play in the dispensation of things in the state of Denmark where just about everything stinks to the core. The cumulative result of all this has been the virtual opposite of what they intended to achieve by employing these devious tricks. Having lost legitimacy and relevance in a fast-changing world that requires more sophisticated democratic values and a decidedly irreversible progressive and enlightened approach, the Sharifs have been pushed far into a dark dungeon with little to no light filtering through. That makes for a tragedy which is even more haunting than what could be gauged by Shakespearean proportions.

The only way out of the existing crisis is to take a step back, ponder the prospects in total objectivity and take decisions which will work for the state, not individuals. Democracy should remain the ultimate desirable objective, but the path leading to it should be carefully chiselled that would allow for adopting sustainable solutions in place of contrived appendages that have failed to deliver. All protestations to the contrary should be read in the spirit of Cleopatra’s parting words who killed herself to escape the fear of being paraded through the streets of Rome by Caesar as war bounty:

Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have

Immortal longings in me.”

All their proclamations of carrying the people’s mandate bear no value or relevance because their election was grossly fabricated in the first place. It has also not delivered any relief to the hordes of the down-trodden and the underprivileged whose life has become even more difficult, thus further depleting their chances of survival. This is principally because the avenues for inducting the genuine and deserving people to the legislatures have been completely blocked through a combination of blatantly tampering with an inadequate and inefficient system as well as by using partisan state machinery that is briefed in advance of the results that need to be secured.

Understandably, the Sharifs and democracy cannot coexist. The two are divergent commodities with one being the very antithesis of the other. The two should be separated and put in their respective slots: the Sharifs in the slot reserved for despots and democracy in the slot reserved for a desirable ultimate objective. It is the path to the latter that is strewn with potholes. All experiments in democracy so far have failed to help the evolving of a democratic mindset. The political parties that provide the platform for these despots to wear the apparel of democracy are not democratic in their internal working. These are ruled by family mafias: the Sharifs, the Bhuttos/Zardaris, the Chaudhrys, and the pitiable rest. How can one have a democratic polity in the country without a democratic mindset and an egalitarian approach?

The only way out of the existing crisis is to take a step back, ponder the prospects in total objectivity and take decisions which will work for the state, not individuals. Democracy should remain the ultimate desirable objective, but the path leading to it should be carefully chiselled that would allow for adopting sustainable solutions in place of contrived appendages that have failed to deliver. All protestations to the contrary should be read in the spirit of Cleopatra’s parting words who killed herself to escape the fear of being paraded through the streets of Rome by Caesar as war bounty:

Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have

Immortal longings in me.

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