Life’s greatest tragedy

  • Some crimes are their own worst punishment


Prime minister Imran Khan is set to inaugurate the Kartarpur Corridor on November 9. The project has been completed in record duration to make it in time for the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, to be celebrated on November 12. On Sunday, Bilawal Bhutto was asked about the government waiving the passport requirement for pilgrims. This is what he had to say: ‘In isolation it would have been a good step; and we would have lauded it. But in the geo-strategic context [after Aug 5 and its aftermath], how can the prime minister claim to be an ambassador of Kashmiris and at the same time offer such concessions? The message he is sending to the Kashmiri brothers is that he is not only unwilling to fight for them; but is also unable to sympathise with them. Pakistan must reconsider its foreign policy; and dispel the impression that the government has made some sort of a deal on Kashmir – an impression reinforced by such gestures.’ [Author’s translation]

Stripped of the geostrategic mumbo-jumbo, Bilawal’s argument is essentially this: to show solidarity with oppressed Kashmiris, Pakistan must make it difficult for the Sikh community to pay its respects at Kartarpur. It would be a gross understatement to say that this makes no sense whatsoever. Are we in some sort of a contest to decide who is more bigoted, India or Pakistan? This would be one hell of a trophy to compete for, wouldn’t it? By the way, weren’t we told that Bilawal was a ‘progressive liberal’?

While there could be any number of legitimate responses, on the part of Pakistan, to political and religious suppression of Kashmiris in India; making it harder for the Sikhs to visit their pilgrimage sites is not one of those. Pakistan must treat people of other faiths (within and outside Pakistan) well, regardless of the maltreatment of Kashmiri Muslims and other minorities in India. The Kartarpur Corridor is the best thing conceived and executed by the two countries in recent times. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to recall a more historic and meaningful step on our credit in a very long time (it’s not as though we are spoilt for choices in this regard).

While there could be any number of legitimate responses, on the part of Pakistan, to political and religious suppression of Kashmiris in India; making it harder for the Sikhs to visit their pilgrimage sites is not one of those

Of course, Bilawal knows all this only too well. But he also feels obliged to play the role of an opposition leader. It’s useless to talk about morality here, realpolitik being what it is. Unfortunately for Bilawal, political expedience and petty dislikes often force one to go against one’s better judgment; and in the long run against one’s own good too. It’s a pity when this happens to somebody like Bilawal, who is often hailed as the leading liberal voice in politics.

Of course, Bilawal is not the only one guilty of this. Only the other day Ahsan Iqbal also expressed his displeasure on the passport relaxation. Not that many people take very seriously what he has to say on any given issue. At any rate, unlike Bilawal, Iqbal is hardly the champion of liberal values.

While the author has never been optimistic in this regard, there’s this hope shared by many that Bilawal could be the sane voice in politics that the country badly needs; especially on the liberal side, considering how the liberals seem to have collectively lost their souls, a process fittingly culminating in so many of them pinning their hopes on Maulana Fazlur Rehman and his march (talk about desperation). They have now been reduced to such a state that it’s a safe bet they would support the devil himself if he appeared to be in the opposite camp to Imran Khan, their ultimate nemesis- so much for our liberals.

Unfortunately, Bilawal too has been equivocal on Maulana’s ‘Azadi march’. He started in fine liberal style declaring that his party won’t condone playing of the religion card for political gains. But before long he was found standing shoulder to shoulder on the container with the Maulana, beaming as the latter played to his gallery of religious zealots. Probably the only member of the PPP that gave a good account of himself was Aitzaz Ahsan, who had no qualms in calling a spade a spade. The rest of the party leadership was too blinded by their hatred for Khan to recall what they stood for- so much for the only mainstream ‘liberal’ party in the country.

While there are many tragedies in life, arguably the greatest of them all is to gradually become a replica of what one stood against. Liberals would admit to relating to this, to themselves in the weak moments just before and after sleep, even if not to anybody else. Some crimes are certainly their own worst punishment.