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Lies and secrets — by Salman Tarik Kureshi


In the coming week, the nation will commemorate the thirty-third anniversary of the day on which Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s soul was forcibly separated from his body. For more than sixty percent of the population who came into this world after that April morning, Bhutto is a chapter — albeit a major one — in their Pakistan Studies textbooks. But to the dwindling numbers of my generation, this powerful personality had been a towering reality in our lives. Loathed by many, loved by many, he aroused powerful emotions in all. Destroyer of the state or its rebuilder, there was nothing ordinary about him.

That a figure of this stature could be first imprisoned and then killed by vicious political pygmies, as if Gulliver had been overpowered and strangled by the Lilliputians, could only have happened in a country like ours. However, my purpose today is to ask my readers to consider the question marks regarding Bhutto’s death. How did he actually die? Was he hanged or beaten to death or starved? And (since the case against Bhutto is generally regarded as false), who actually murdered Nawab Mohammed Ahmed Khan? And why?

As for Bhutto’s successor, we know even less about how he died or who was responsible. And what was actually buried in the forecourt of the Faisal Mosque — that too is a mystery, a secret.

This is a land of lies and secrets, the lies we tell ourselves and the secrets we keep from our people. To begin with, even the very narratives of the independence movement were contrived well after the event, with concepts like ‘the ideology of Pakistan’ being promoted by Yahya Khan’s fanatical Information Minister General Sher Ali Khan as late as 1969. In the poisonous era of Ziaul Haq, the wholesale rewriting of the history of this region achieved the seal of completion. As a result, our origins and identities have become confused and lost in a non-historical melange of half-truths and outright lies.

Look at all the blind spots. How did it come about that the very founder of the nation had to suffer for over an hour on a stretcher on the open tarmac of Drigh Road Airbase because no ambulance was there for him? Who were the assassins of Liaquat Ali Khan? Hayat Sherpao? Benazir Bhutto? Akbar Bugti? How did Hassan Nasir die? Or Shaheed Suhrawardy? Or Shahnawaz Bhutto? Or Murtaza Bhutto? Or Saleem Shahzad? One could go on in this refrain forever.

The worst examples are the lies we tell ourselves regarding the wars we have fought. We celebrate the 1965 war as a victory, whereas the valour and fighting ability of our officers and men was squandered in defending Lahore and Sialkot when we had set out to conquer Kashmir. Worse still was the 1971 war when, unable to accept the confederal arrangement for which our then largest province had voted, and unwilling to negotiate with them, we unleashed unspeakable violence upon our former nationals and handed over half the country to the Indian army.

The Zia regime spun every kind of confusing fog around the origins and purpose of the so-called jihad in Afghanistan. The Soviet Union, we were told, had this inexplicable thirst for ‘warm waters’ that was driving them southwards to conquer first Afghanistan and then Pakistan. And the Afghan jihad had arisen in ‘spontaneous’ resistance against this. Looking back at what proved to be one of the most fateful decision points in Pakistan’s history, it is doubtful we will ever know the truth about what is now the world’s longest lasting war since the 14th century.

Still further confusion surrounds the sudden eruption from Pakistan into Afghanistan in 1994 of Mullah Mohammad Omar’s Taliban warriors, whose appearance on the historical stage led to untold consequences for Afghanistan, for Pakistan and for the world in general. Our armed forces remain locked into what is clearly a long drawn-out counter-insurrectionary campaign against the Taliban and their allies in Pakistan. Terrorist bands, drawing sustenance from the same sources of ideological inspiration (and funding), have repeatedly blown up and murdered the citizens of Pakistan. They have also launched spectacular terrorist attacks against other countries, one of which was the Mumbai carnage, which upended the peace process between Pakistan and India, throwing years of effort into the trash can. It brought the citizens of this country to the brink of a war that could have led to nuclear annihilation. And yet we are in the dark regarding the true authors of that attack and their objectives.

More recent still is the Osama mystery. Beyond the issue of violation of our sovereignty by the US armed forces, the reality is that the most wanted man in the world was living here among us for nine years. This presumed fugitive enjoyed the ministrations of three (no less) wives, numerous children and assorted servants, etc. Is it plausible that no one spotted one of the world’s most recognisable faces as he moved his substantial entourage to Peshawar, Karachi, Haripur and Abbottabad?

The purpose of this article is not to speculate about these mysteries, only to point at some of the secrets around us and the lies that surround them. We are not helped by the smokescreens created by many of our political leaders, media personalities and so-called ‘analysts’. It is more than being in a state of denial; it is active collusion in spreading the web of lies that is strangling the people of Pakistan.

It is long past time that our governmental authorities ‘came clean’ before the people. Corruption, mass murder and outright treason have been perpetrated upon Pakistan’s citizens. They deserve to know the truth. It is necessary to point fingers and name names, rather than continually sputter on about ‘conspiracies’.

Having come clean, we must ‘clean up’. I do not believe there is any ambiguity about what has to be done and, clearly, the process of deep disinfection has to be complete. Nevertheless, and this is the point, the people first need to know the truth of where things have gone wrong, and they need to endorse and participate enthusiastically in the processes of rectification.

This has perhaps been the biggest failure of the Zardari-Gilani government. Elected on the crest of a popular wave for the restoration of democracy and constitutional rule, they have failed to communicate with the people at large. President Zardari can be masterful in his tactical handling of political grandees. But neither he nor any other significant member of this government seems disposed to communicate meaningfully with their electorate. This is at the very least an ironic comment on a party formerly led by such communicators as Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir.

Source: Daily Times