VIEW: Burying bullets for ballots —Elf Habib - Saturday, November 20, 2010

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Despite the riveting romance, thrill, promise and appeal of instant impact and rapid reforms generated by revolutions, the evolving human mind, attitudes and realities have been gradually turning to the domain of dialogue and compromise with the widest participation of stakeholders

Dilma Rousseff’s recent success as the first female president of Brazil signals not merely a radical change for her region but also a far wider global message on the futility of armed conflicts and struggles to realise some cherished revolutionary reforms. Dilma, the daughter of a Bulgarian lawyer and a schoolteacher, joined a Marxist organisation while still an economics student at 19, rose to its leadership, illumined its ranks and ran an underground newspaper. She was branded Joan of Arc by the army dictatorship. This epithet, incidentally also slapped on Benazir by Zia, ignites some painful memories in Pakistan and has been a familiar ploy of dictator generals. Dilma was arraigned in 1970, brutally tortured and incarcerated for three years. Gradually, she reoriented her crusade as a Marxist mentor, embraced the election route and had her husband to congress in 1982. José Pepe Mujica, elected as President Uruguay in October 2009, similarly left the armed struggle. In 2008, Prachanda, the Maoist guerrilla leader in Nepal, had accomplished almost a similar feat.

Written in the life and struggle of Rousseff and the leaders of her genre are the lessons for the Taliban and kindred conglomerates of extremist flanks and factions, that the gory and torturous trails of coercion and destruction must be abandoned for a more effective, eclectic and amicable political process to conquer hearts and minds. Strictly speaking, the Taliban tempest for an obscurantist medieval mode of life cannot be compared to the futurist Marxist dream for human dignity and equality to be implemented by demolishing the lure, lust and dominance of wealth and means of its production and distribution. Yet, despite the variance, value and wonder of any particular ideology, the element of war and violence in it have to be phased out for the relatively more alluring ambience of peace, prosperity and reconstruction.

Dilma is now, for instance, ranked as the 16th most influential figure on the planet but her land, like larger parts of Latin America, suffered a long spate of armed strife, spurts of revolutionary zeal, insurgencies, coups and ruthless counter-revolutionary crackdowns by military dictatorships. Castro’s triumph in Cuba in July 1959 had, in fact, inspired a new wave and spirit of revolution. Che’s call to other countries to make their own revolutions radicalised their students and workers, rattling unpopular rulers. Foreign aid and intervention multiplied to counter the growing revolutionary tide. Vigilante cells and death squads were sponsored and military dictatorships were prompted. Che’s own tragic end in October 1967 was merely a prequel to a long night of horror and state terror to crush the liberals, leftists and democrats. Brazil endured military dictatorship from 1964 to1985 and 339 cases of disappearances committed by it have now been documented while about 100 died in various encounters. In 1975, a special cross-border grid of the counter-insurgency agencies called CONDOR was created by the dictatorships of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay to hunt, harass and eliminate the dissidents. More than 3,000 were killed during the 17-year Pinochet rule in Chile alone. Its democratic government has now offered lifelong support to over 28,000 victims tortured during the same period. The Harvard Centre for Latin American Studies revealed that about 30,000 perished in Argentina between 1976 and 1982 while 10 times more were swept into Central America from 1978 to the 1990s. Some 80,000 to 300,000 were carried away by the murderous partisan warfare in Colombia between 1948 and 1964 while more than 50,000 succumbed to the wars during the 1980s and the escalating guerrilla battles in the 1990s.

The death and destruction in Nepal, which is quite close to our heartland, similarly has also been quite shocking. Disenchanted with the political process, the Maoists launched an underground venture in February 1996 and were soon catapulted to the forefront of national politics. But about 13,000 lost their lives and 70 to 80 percent of them are known to be civilians. Most of these casualties are said to have been inflicted by the Royal Army but the Maoists certainly have to share a part of the blame. The guerrillas, however, gradually redefined their national agenda to install an elected constituent assembly to draft a constitution for a federal, democratic, secular and egalitarian republican state and, contrary to all predictions, emerged as the largest majority party in the constituent assembly. The constitution drafted by them has already ousted the monarchy entrenched for over six centuries.

Their progress, for some time, has been stymied by internal fights yet their potential and credentials as the largest political force are quite beyond question. Some western countries still scoff at their strategies yet their achievement, like some former Latin American Marxist mentors like Dilma, lies in the marvellous perspicuity of their insight and analysis to infer the inevitable need to pursue the peaceful political path. Dilma, at her debut as a Marxist activist, is actually known to have debated the peaceful versus perilous armed pursuit and preferred to partake in the latter. The dilemma had similarly confounded the founders of the Marxist dream. Yet, despite the riveting romance, thrill, promise and appeal of instant impact and rapid reforms generated by revolutions, the evolving human mind, attitudes and realities have been gradually turning to the domain of dialogue and compromise with the widest participation of stakeholders. The scepticism about the lasting impact and utility or ‘balance sheets’ of some great revolutions ushered through millions of deaths, devastation and irreparable social and psychological trauma has now been growing for quite sometime. The millions lost in the process unfortunately could never share the paradise and utopias built with their blood. The efficacy of varying versions of west European democracy crafted through relatively far less blood and more parleys, pursuance and ballots, consequently, has become far more appealing.

Even in Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is known to have discouraged the purported Al-Zulfikar type ventures by his scions and aficionados. Benazir similarly advocated and pursued a peaceful path of dialogue, reconciliation, reverence and submission to the will and verdict of the electorate. The transition of Nepal and some Latin American states from their long turbulent past pounded by the paroxysms of inflamed passions, revolutionary zeal, armed encounters, fiery feuds, massacres, heists, killings, kidnappings, state terror, repression, dislocation and destruction, once again proves the futility of violent armed conflicts beckoning the inveterate extremist hordes around us to recalibrate and replace their tactics of bullets, bloodshed and brutalities with a more rewarding recourse to persuasion and participation through ballots.

The writer is an academic and freelance columnist. He can be reached at

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