An unsung hero
What political truths have really changed and what haven't?
Any way one looks at it, the departure of Pervez Musharraf from office is a significant moment in Pakistan's chequered political history -- institutional interests (parliament, military) are trumping personal interests (Musharraf) even though, in the bargain some persons are set to make political fortunes (Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif and General Ashfaq Kayani).
While two military rulers before him (Generals Ayub Khan and Ziaul Haq) were not forced out by parliaments (one was shown the door by his 'deputy,' General Yahya Khan; the other downed through 'divine' intervention), Musharraf, perhaps the most powerful and intransigent of the country's four military strongmen, has been forced out by an assertive parliament for the first time in the country's history. For someone who professedly refused to 'demean' himself by appearing before an 'unruly' and 'uncivilised' parliament, it was ironic that, in the end, Musharraf sent his resignation to the speaker (again, fittingly, the first woman speaker of the country) of the National Assembly.
The way into the hot seat of Pakistani politics may have been swift for Musharraf, the way out was long and torturous -- from being kick-started by Benazir Bhutto's secret talks with him in 2005, in which her key demand in return for political favours was that he resign from the army, to more strident and aggressive political manoeuvrings by several actors including Nawaz Sharif and the judges who refused to swear oath of allegiance to a uniformed general.
The forced departure of Pakistan's last military ruler, in the end, turned out to be a national project in which, more or less, almost everyone joined in for the desired outcome. The end result may have pleased many, if not most, stakeholders but when overheated passions cool, the last of the hurrahs has been made and calculated analyses start emerging, there are several factors that will emerge as abject lessons from Pakistani politics. What political truths have really changed and what haven't? Here's a preliminary roster of hard facts or lessons of six decades of politics, a troubling testimony to the "more of the same" maxim:
The army in Pakistan is usually known for staging coups against elected governments but for a rare second time in 20 years, a serving army chief has stopped a president from scorning the popular mandate by sending a parliament packing. When President Farooq Leghari in 1998 fell out with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government, Army Chief, General Jehangir Karamat stopped him from dissolving parliament (it took Musharraf, another army chief to dislodge Sharif). And now in 2008, Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani stopped President General (r) Pervez Musharraf, a former army chief, from dissolving parliament. Musharraf thus failed to better Zia as the only army chief to have dissolved parliament (although he came quite close).
A sitting army chief (even a newly-appointed, relatively unknown one such as Kayani), is stronger than the former army chief (even if once powerful and a well-known commodity who has enjoyed international support for years such as Musharraf).
The Pakistan army, despite its history of indifference to democracy, cannot infinitely oppose popular sentiment. When the critical threshold of unpopularity is at hand, the army always enacts a tactical retreat to the political shadows to nurse its wounded credibility and recoup its perception as a popular, national asset. This has happened for a third time now in 2007-08 (the first was in 1971 and the second in 1988).
The Pakistan army has never had a successful internal coup; the chain of command has historically remained iron-clad and the army chief and his small band of corps commanders always keep a united public front. This single factor alone has ensured the army's primacy over the Pakistani polity. If this means sacrificing their current or former chief, so be it. Hence, Musharraf was asked to resign rather than leave his personal emotional baggage for the military to lug. Before him Generals Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan were asked by the army to go and spare the army the blushes. General Zia is the only army chief spared this sacrifice although other 'higher' powers did it their way anyway. The bottom-line remains that to protect its institutional interests the army can disassociate itself with its long time leaders.
Democracy may be a handmaiden to political and military forces in Pakistan to soil but come crunch time both democratic and autocratic forces rely on pragmatism to put up appearances of parliamentary supremacy. This has happened for the umpteenth time now. If this means turning yesterday's villains (Zardari, Sharif, Altaf Hussain) into today's heroes, or at various times heroes into villains (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir and Sharif), so be it.
Roughly 10 years of dictatorships give way to approximately 10 years of democracy in Pakistan. General Ayub ruled for 11 years and then democracy for 8 followed by 10 years of General Zia's rule and then 10 years of the Benazir-Sharif followed by 9 years of Musharraf. The next several years look set for overt democratic rule, especially with Musharraf's resignation forced by both a resurgent parliament and a cautious army led by a new army chief who likes shadows more than he likes limelight.
The president in Pakistan represents the four federating units of Pakistan. If the four provincial legislatures don't want him -- all four last week asked him to seek a vote of confidence from national parliament or face impeachment -- he can't stay.
The Supreme Court may adjudge favourable verdicts under pressure from the army (dismissals of the Benazir and Sharif governments, Musharraf's re-election) but it cannot confront the parliament and retain its respect at the same time. The Supreme Court packed with judges who swore oath of allegiance to him, legalised his controversial re-election as president while he continued to serve as army chief, but the will, force and wisdom of an elected parliament has effectively nullified the court's patently biased judgement.
Pakistani rulers, whether democrats or dictators, may rule for long (Ayub, Zia and Musharraf) or short (Z.A Bhutto, Benazir and Sharif) -- but no amount of international help can either save them or keep them popular unless Pakistanis want. Today Ayub, Zia and Musharraf -- all wildly popular in the international arena stand as the most reviled rulers among Pakistanis while Z A Bhutto, Benazir and Sharif may have been branded corrupt and inept by the international community, they are, today, Pakistan's most popular rulers ever.
Embracing America for legitimacy is akin to a prolonged kiss of political death for military dictators in Pakistan. Ayub, Zia and Musharraf drew their international legitimacy from their closeness with the White House but their single biggest "sin" is considered their preference for Washington's backing more important than popular support back home. In short no military ruler ever had a constituency to answer to other than the US and paid a price for it in the long run.
The army may retreat from public view now and then but that is not equal to giving up a behind-the-scenes profile of influence. The retreat is always a voluntary abdication of a public role, not actual, or forced. The army wasn't indifferent to its plunging public image in the past, isn't so now and is unlikely to be different in future.
If you have a military background in Pakistan, you may go in disgrace (Ayub, Yahya and Musharraf) but you will neither face a formal trial nor pay with your life. Civilian leaders, on the other hand, will either have to pay with their lives (Liaquat Ali Khan, Z A Bhutto, Benazir, Bugti) or with long spells in jail or in exile (Sharif, Benazir). Likewise only civilian leaders face corruption charges and do rounds of courts (Sharif, Benazir) but not military rulers (Ayub, Yahya, Zia or Musharraf).
In Pakistan it pays to have a career in the army when retiring as president; you get to fade away gracefully and even get an odd guard of honour. Bhutto, Benazir and Sharif, on the other hand, due to a lack of a military background, were unceremoniously booted out; the latter two not once but twice.
Military rulers get an all-paid official residence and security when leaving office, whether forced or voluntarily (Ayub, Yahya and Musharraf) while civilian rulers usually go to jail when leaving the Prime Minister House -- Z A Bhutto and Sharif. While Benazir did not go to jail, she was held incommunicado for some time while her husband twice went to jail for long stints straight from the PM House.
Whether they go in disgrace or not, the family members of military rulers never get to pay for the sins of their general. The family of civilian rulers on the other hand have hell to pay. Z A Bhutto's wife and children had to go in jail or exile (or both); Sharif's brother had to go to jail and their families to exile with them, Benazir's husband had to go to jail for long stints.
The only civilian rulers in Pakistan who fare well are those handpicked as prime ministers -- Zafarullah Jamali, Shaukat Aziz and Shujaat Hussain. Muhammad Khan Junejo, also handpicked, however, is the exception. He paid for with his government for believing he did not need to coordinate too much with Zia on governance and policy issues. With no public constituency and a background in dealing with dollars, Aziz is the dream handmaiden of Pakistani establishment.
If you are a military dictator in Pakistan you get indemnity quickly; not civilians. Yahya (despite being at the helm when Pakistan broke into two and losing a war) got indemnity from Z A Bhutto; Zia got indemnity through the 8th Amendment, Musharraf first got it through the 17th Amendment -- he now looks set to another. If you are a civilian, you will not get indemnity even though, unlike the military rulers, you never suspend, abrogate or tear-up the constitution. Merely popularly elected cannot just likely get you a violent end (Z A Bhutto and Benazir). Bhutto did not get indemnity and was hanged (for creating rather than decimating a constitution!); Sharif did not get indemnity and was exiled; Benazir did not get indemnity and took 8 years before getting peanuts in the shape of NRO, which her husband rather than her finally benefited from.
No civilian elected in a general election was ever guilty of violating Article 6 yet got punishments promised in lieu of treason (Z A Bhutto, Benazir and Nawaz) while all four military rulers who are patently guilty of breaching Article 6 always got scoot free and except for Zia and his exploding mangoes and Musharraf (who now plans to wield the power of the pen rather than his pistol) died a peaceful death.
By showing his work at this stage, Bashir Ahmad has reaffirmed his role in steering the new miniature movement in Pakistan, as well as confirmed his command on the skill and technique of the genre
By Quddus Mirza
Four bodies of deer with a single muzzle, from the work of Bashir Ahmad, is not just a reminder of the traditional art of miniature; the imagery of this kind echoes the tales and structure of Arabian Night, a book that has haunted the world's imagination for centuries.
The reason why this compilation of stories, weaved within each other, has fascinated readers and writers like Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Mario Vargas Llosa and our own Intizar Hussain, is because of its formal aspect that many authors aim to attain. This is the very quality which Gabriel Garcia Marquez talks about and uses in his fiction. It is the ability to construct a story that in its essence is fantastical, unbelievable and yet credible; an element well-employed in Thousands and One Nights, and by many other writers of fiction in various languages both in ancient and recent times. One of its examples is the way some demons are described in the Arabian Nights, like "Georges Djin was the first cousin of Satan". Hence this insignificant, rather funny, detail has effectively worked towards making the reader accept the existence of Djin as if it was a familiar being!
However this craft of transforming the unusual into ordinary is not confined to literature alone. In some other forms of expression, the makers of images (both still and moving), performers and singers have managed to present the imaginary world as if it existed in front of the viewers or audience. Due to this magical unfolding of the artistic product, the public is often enticed, only to realise later the momentary transposition of reality into fantasy. A parallel of this situation can be drawn with dreams; while sleeping one experiences a different, often strange, environment which is so convincing that it requires breaking away from the dream -- waking up -- to perceive its unreality.
Various art forms -- mostly traditional -- also trespass between the realm of reality and imagination. For instance, the conventional paintings of Aboriginal people of Australia refer to a state of dreaming. The imagery in these works -- from painting on bark, skin, paper to earth decorations -- deals with the illusory interpretation of the surroundings. In a similar manner, the miniature painting from Arab, Turkish, Iranian and Indian schools constructs a view of the world that may appear real, but is actually made up of fantasy. Humans, animals and imaginary creatures fly (just like the characters from the literary works of Magical Realism), change their scales and alter their appearances. In miniature paintings, one finds horses with wings moving across skies, demons occupying recognisable settings, birds and small animals carrying a large number of human beings, and the space stretched in such a scheme that differentiation between near and far is indiscernible.
All of this is rendered in such detail that one tends to consider the probability of these strange personages/phenomena. These 'risks with reality' are played with a craft that relies on details and intricate work and contributes towards its acceptance as the truth. Bashir Ahmad, the renowned revivalist of miniature painting in our age, has focused on this aspect in his work (spanned from 1971 to 2008). A collection of his graphite on papers was on display (from August 14-20, 2008) at the newly opened Ocean Art Galleries in Lahore. The exhibition was the second in a series of three shows. The first one was held in the Miniature Department at NCA, and the third one is scheduled for Ocean Art Galleries in Karachi.
Rapid exhibitions of this type are not unusual for a miniature artist. Ironically, a genre that requires painstaking attention and time-consuming work has produced painters who are manufacturing miniatures with great speed; and having regular shows, sometimes two or three in a year.
However, the case of Bashir Ahmad is different. Although he has trained a number of new miniature artists, he remained aloof from the network of exhibitions. For many years, teaching miniature was his main preoccupation. Now, after all these years, Ahmad has decided to exhibit in a row, maybe to witness how the currency of contemporary art of miniature has been converted into something different and alien. In that respect and in the context of modern miniature, his graphite works seemed simple, static, even stale. His efforts to recreate the traditional miniature in graphite pencil -- a present day version of conventional siah qalam -- could be read as a style distinct from other attempts of modernising miniature. Actually the earliest works in this exhibition were made between 1971 to 1985, long before the miniature became a modern day pursuit in Pakistan.
By showing his work at this stage in his creative career, Bashir Ahmad has reaffirmed his role in steering the new miniature movement in Pakistan, as well as confirmed his command on the skill and technique of the genre. More importantly, he has revealed his approach towards this art. The change that was apparent on the surface was, in reality, no more than translating the gouache technique into graphite. Besides its laborious process, it somehow signified the artist's desire to introduce new elements in the composition, so one came across the formation of clouds extended out of the border in many miniatures. Likewise, a number of figures from western sources, and everyday life (for instance the model posing next to a female figure from the old miniature) suggest the newness in his ideas and imagery.
But, interestingly, in the majority of works (made between 1997 and 2008 and displayed at the exhibition), one hardly noticed any development in the aesthetics of Bashir Ahmad. In that sense, the notion of newness seemed as solid and static as the concept of tradition amongst our artists, not only practising miniature, but delving in other genres, too.
Sitar-maker Ramzaan Khan's dedication was matched by his contribution to instruments in an age that is fast switching over to computerised and electrically-generated sounds
By Sarwat Ali
Muhammed Ramzaan Khan, who died a few weeks back in Lahore, was an adroit maker of string instruments. All his life he kept abreast of the technique of making instruments to cope with the changing styles and tastes that the players demanded of the instruments.
His friends and followers insisted that he made fourteen kinds of string instruments including sarod, dilruba, surbahar, sarangi, santoor, veena, taoos, violin, surmandal, tanpura, guitar, rabab, and the sitar but due to limited demand the instruments over the last sixty years have not been mass produced. All the instruments made in Pakistan have been made to order and hence customised to the requirements and musical needs of individual players.
Of all the instruments sitar remained the most popular in the country and the fame of Ramzaan Khan spread only as a sitar maker. The customised nature of the instruments and the lack of required materials in Pakistan made him an innovative sitar-maker. Gourd in not readily available and the toonba has to be made of wood, the strings are not there, the wood of the best quality is not found here, the antelope bones are not sold. For making the bridges camel bone to synthetic material has to be improvised with.
Ramzaan Khan loved sitar and he learnt to play the instrument from Ustad Fateh Ali Khan of Kapurthala but his learning to play was to help him in making the ideal sitar. His ustad, seeing the immense talent, wanted him to play the sitar but he stuck to the more prosaic job of making it. He actually learnt the art of sitar making from his father Sher Muhammed. Hailing from Patiala and then living in Dujana, Sher Muhammed's father Rahim Buksh was a sitar maker and helped in the evolution of the instrument from an accompanying one to being played solo. After partition Sher Muhammed migrated to Lahore and set up a shop on Railway Road which became a haunt of musicians and music lovers of the city. Sher Muhammed was awarded the President's Medal for the Pride of Performance and his three sons Salahuddin, Ziauddin and Ramzaan Khan all worked on the string instruments. Ziauddin was also awarded Pride of Performance last year. Ramzaan Khan too had the credential to win the award but was consistently overlooked.
The musical instruments have been around, for as long as known history in the subcontinent but what exactly was their status in the musical hierarchy has been a point of contention. Many musicologists have suggested that the musical scale was determined by the instruments in which, at various stages, of its development the veena and the bansuri played crucial roles.
But writing about music and that too of the distant past is not more than conjecture. It is a reconstruction of those times according to contemporary requirements. It would be safer to say that the vocal music for most part was considered to be the highest form of music and all other instruments emulated the human voice. Our music in particular was voice-centred as it squarely placed the human being at the centre stage. Instruments were played either as rhythmic accompaniment, or if played solo, followed the pattern laid down by the vocal musical forms.
According to many musicologists, the rise of instrumental music in the subcontinent was due to the colonial impact. Western music had developed since the 15th century as instrumental music and the orchestras played a major role. Their major musical forms like the symphony and the sonatas were all instrumental music where the voice either played a minor role or was totally banished. Only in opera, voice played a dominant role.
The bansuri, shehnai, sitar, sarod, santoor as solo instruments do not have a long history. The rise of instrumental music in the subcontinent started in the later half of the 19th century but it really took off in the 20th century as instruments were creatively modified to play all the registers and to bring out the peculiarities of the raag in accordance with the individual timbre. Instrumental music is pure music and does not rely on the word to be appreciated and this absence of language barrier gave instrumental music a big boost after independence as Indian musicians who made a breakthrough in the West and internationally were all instrumental musicians, the most important in the pack being Ravi Shanker and Akbar Ali Khan.
Obvious changes were made in the way the instruments sounded, their range was made greater and the possibilities of graces and ornamentation were increased. The instrument, primarily from an accompanying instrument with the main emphasis being rhythmic, was developed to enhance its melodic content. And in this drive the instrument-makers made as much of a contribution as the musicians or the instrumentalist himself. But the role of the instrument-maker has largely been unsung and he has been condemned to toil in the shadows while musicians hog all the adulation on stage.
Thus, instrument makers have hardly been mentioned in the music literature. Ramzaan Khan also died unsung but his dedication was matched by his contribution to instruments in an age that is fast switching over to computerised and electrically- generated sounds. He upheld the primacy of natural sound and struggled in his small shop on Railway Road to be firm about his resolve.
Will he or won't he? That was our question as we tuned in to General (r) Musharraf's speech last Monday. Well, after a long self-congratulatory speech on his regime's achievements he finally did -- announce his resignation that is.
After the resignation we saw newspictures of people celebrating, but what I found very disturbing were the pictures of the former president's photographs being burnt. Misguided and westernised idiot that I am, I find effigy- and photo-burning to be expressions of a dangerously violent outlook. To my mind this is behaviour that certainly should not be encouraged.
It is amusing to see that the people now vociferously baying for Musharraf's blood mostly comprise rightist elements, and are mainly those who supported him throughout his nine years in power. They are nearly all people who sat in his selective assemblies, or who were part of a military establishment -- the Jamaatis, the Imran Khans,the lazy journalists, the myopic editors...
In my view General Musharraf was not the problem -- he was just a symptom. Putting Musharraf on trial or humiliating him or killing him will not solve the basic problem in Pakistan which is the vulnerability of democratic and judicial institutions and the power and vested interests of the military. People tend to get so caught up with personalities that they forget to analyse the reasons and situations that give rise to these individuals.
I know liberal women journalists who voted in favour of Musharraf in his 'Do-you like-me?' referendum. I found this appalling but their justification was that they wanted to support him because he was "anti mullah and pro-women". I was shocked that any so-called progressive journalist would go and support Musharraf because whatever he might be pro or anti, the fact of the matter is that he was a military dictator. He was a military dictator who had toppled an elected government simply because that government decided to sack him. He was a military dictator who perpetuated the idea that civilians were incompetent and that only faujis were capable of hard work, integrity and patriotism. He was a military dictator who tried to divide and buy off the country's politicians. He was a despot who was adamant that the country's major political leaders should stay away from the country. And he was a military dictator who insisted that we should view him as a patriot who was benevolently gifting to us democratic systems and a free media.
The interesting thing about Musharraf is that he was so earnest and convincing that a lot of people actually believed a lot of the things he said. He said he was cracking down on extremists and banning religious fanatic organisations. These banned extremist, murderous organisations simply regrouped under new names and carried on with their activities. He said he was cracking down on lunatics who used Islam as an excuse to maim and murder, yet under his regime Maulana Azam Tariq of the (banned) Sipah e Sahaba was allowed to be an electoral candidate and was elected to the parliament.
Musharraf said he was cracking down on the misuse of religion to mislead the people, yet in the 2002 elections the religious parties' alliance was allowed to use the election symbol of the book yet again. (Book with all its connotations of 'holy book' is a symbol that can be used effective to exploit ignorance and religious insecurity).
The fact of the matter is that Musharraf, like any other military dictator, used the rightist religious elements as his defence against the possible rise of democratic, progressive political systems. And the joke is that not only was the west fooled by his progressive, modernist rhetoric, so were many of us!!
There are many people who still insist that Musharraf should be sent into exile or else be tried. I disagree. I say: let him live in retirement in Pakistan, and let him see what his policies have done to this country. Let him suffer the price hikes, traffic jams, bomb blasts and assassination attempts. Let his opponents come up to him and take him to task, and let his supporters come and shake his hand in appreciation. It's his country too. We should break this cycle of forcing political figures into exile in far off lands through state sponsored harassment, financial ruin and persecution in the form of 'legal cases' along with the threat of violence to them and their families.
It is perhaps time to try and find a way to coexist despite differing views and interests. Let's look at how countries like Chile and Argentina have tried to move forward despite their bloody years of the American sponsored military crackdown on democratic and socialist elements. They too have tried to live together despite being a heavily polarised and fractured society. They have tried to hold murderers and despots accountable, eventually -- but through a system of law, documentation and investigation, not through lynchings and vendettas.