Sunday, October 19, 2008

So What's Mush up to?

When politicians get defeated in elections and have to leave office, they still manage to command some column inches in newspapers and some face time on tv, so that people know that a comeback bid is in the works.
But it’s different for ousted military rulers like Parvez Musharraf. It’s strange to think that it’s been exactly two months (and one day) since the former Pakistan president quit office to avoid impeachment. After one or two days of where he might go and what he would do, he disappeared almost entirely from TV and newspapers after dominating them for eight whole years. Pouf! Just like that.
For sure, his name does get invoked a hundred times a day by media, politicians and political pundits, mostly to roundly condemn all his policies. We have also been told he’s spending his time playing golf and bridge with friends. He’s also said to have hosted a dinner for some retiring army buddies at his Army House residence in Pindi. We know he went to Karachi for a few days to be with his daughter. We also know he arrived in Lahore on October 18 and disappeared towards some “secret” destination.
But he’s himself been completely invisible, offering no pearls of wisdom on what’s going on the country
(and plenty is), as if he had all along been just some Parvez on the street with no interest in anything but getting along with his life. Not one interview, not one press conference. That may well have been the condition of his being allowed to remain in the country – that’s another big mystery. Just what exactly was that deal? Everyone knows in their bones that the Pak Army stepped in to protect him from being exiled or prosecuted but there’s nothing more about this.
But in the last two or three days, there have been some teeny-weeny reports, quoting anonymous sources, about his intention of making a “political comeback’ once he moves into his house in Chak Shehzad, the equivalent of Delhi’s Sainik Farm ( btw Chak Shezad is all legal, the similarity is in the population profile -- rich) on the outskirts of Isloo. Apparently, that little piece of architectural candy with slopey green tiled roofs set in four acres is going to become a “hub” of political activities for all those disgruntled with the current dispensation.
I find it hard to believe that Mush is really going to move into that under-construction farmhouse when it’s ready in a couple of months. It’s zero from the security point of view, unless the government barricades the entire area. All those rich neighbours of his must be nervous already about what’s coming to them.
If he does move in and starts holding a political darbar there everyday, what chances of his comeback? In my humble view, Pakistan is nor ready yet for Musharraf Mark II. In the last one year or so, he’s been hated at different time for different reasons. Right now, it’s for dragging the country into the US war in Afghanistan (as if there was a choice!) and almost equally, for bad economic policies that are now threatening to bankrupt and ruin the country so badly that the government has had to get out there with a begging bowl.
But let’s not foreclose any possibilities here…

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Moon Politics

Eid Mubarak everyone. It is customary at the end of the Ramadan month to participate in the the great suspense thriller called Sighting of the Moon. In Pakistan, this heavy burden lies on the shoulders of a bunch of wise men called the Ruet-e-Hilal committee.

They haul up a telescope to the highest building -- in Slammers it is the Saudi-Pak tower -- and everyone waits for them to tell it like it is. The ReH has branches in main cities and further down in the structure, zonal and district committies.
On Sept 30, the wise men, whose GHQ is Karachi, decided to keep the nation in suspense until about 11 pm. The moon was reported elusive in Islamabad and many other cities and Khi said it would announce the final decision after poring over more results. As the clock ticked, Pakistanis reconciled themselves to one more day of fasting, said their tarawiyan -- special prayers during Ramadan -- and were almost preparing to hit the sack when...
Past 10 pm, the NWFP government announced the moon had been definitively sighted in Pesh, and other places in the province, so as far as it was concerned, Eid was on October 1.
An hour later, the wise men in Khi, who had been holding out until the last minute, threw in the towel and also announced an October 1 Eid.
Now all this wouldn't be such a hassle if it were not for several things: a) people working away from their homes return on the last day of fasting so that they can spend Eid with family, but they get blindsided by a last minute announcement like last night's and b) Chand Raat (moon night, literally) is a festival by itself and it has people coming out in the droves for last minute shopping etc, and because of that it's a big thing for trade and business too. This year, Chand Raat was wrecked. Still, the 11 pm announcement sent women screaming out of their homes at that late hour to buy sweets, bangles, footwear, get their hands hennaed etc. while traders wondered how much more business they might have done if the announcement had come slightly earlier.
A friend came up with the interesting wisdom that betting syndicates must have been involved. The longer it took, the higher the odds on betting on October 1, and those who bet on this unlikely possibility, must have cleaned up massive amounts when the announcement finally came, he was certain. As for those who bet on Oct 2, LOSERS! Hmmm...
But as in Monty Python, look on the bright side of life. For the first time in many years, and at least in the two years since I've been here, all of Pakistan is celebrating Eid together on one day. Last year, I think the country had three Eids, and the year before it was two.
But everyone is quite sick and tired of this annual end-of-Ramadan moon politics, and people are asking why not do it scientifically, like the Libyans. There, Gaddhafi or someone says, ok folks, according to all the astronomical evidence we have, this is the day on which the Eid moon is due to rise, tough luck if you can't see it, but it's there somewhere. And everyone goes with this.
Or just follow the Saudis, considering that's where Mecca is. This year, the Saudis and the whole of the middle east celebrated Eid on Sept 30.