Reconciliation - Tanvir Ahmad Khan - Wednesday, March 09, 2011

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Words often have an interesting history of their own; they mean different things to different generations and get upgraded or downgraded over the years. The most obvious word on a downward spiral in Pakistan today is ‘reconciliation’ which only three years ago meant survival, hope and eventual glory.

Reconciliation – the concept and the word – is indispensable to bankers, lawyers, social scientists and many other professionals. It is the glue that binds secular human transactions together. Yet, it also has a sacred heritage. Readers of the Bible would know its numerous uses to capture and convey a higher experience. “For if while we were enemies,” we read in Romans 12 “we were reconciled to God”; here the word means the end of estrangement between the forgiving Lord and the sinful man through the agency of Jesus. Offering your gift, “first be reconciled to your brother and sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:24); here it defines the social compact. This ancient word, replete with law and love, is getting its bottom knocked out in Pakistan as it increasingly gets applied to all kinds of Faustian bargains. The Supreme Court alone seems to be concerned with its association with man’s moral being.

We owe the present extensive use of ‘reconciliation’ to the late Benazir Bhutto. In a conversation with me Dubai , she used it to denote a comprehensive process to end conflicts in the world of Islam as well as the partisan contests that keep destroying Pakistan’s democracy. Invited to speak at the launching in February 2008 of Bhutto’s remarkable book Reconciliation: Islam Democracy and the West, I tried to highlight her rationale, programme of global reconciliation and her project for internal harmony.

On February 27, 2008, Mr Asif Ali Zardari hosted a lunch for the newly elected members of the three leading parties. The leaders seemed to be ready, as I wrote at the time, to “come to grips with the debris left behind by the tornado that struck Pakistan’s constitutionalism on November 3, 2007”. Many milestones in that constitutional restoration were reached but not without sad events that ran contrary to the letter and spirit of Benazir Bhutto’s book.

Not surprisingly, the result is not reconciliation but a return to the kind of politics that demolished elected governments in the 1990s. For the broad masses, the word ‘reconciliation’ has come to mean fresh bargaining for partisan profit every few months. Bhutto had written in her book that extremism is fuelled by poverty, ignorance and hopelessness. Pakistanis today are poorer than before and hope seems to have died with her. Extremism claims hundreds of lives every month. Is this the note on which her putative followers are to end their five-year stint in power?

Like other major parties in the world, the Pakistan People’s Party adjusts to changing dynamics. Benazir Bhutto realigned her father’s left-leaning anti-imperialist party to the post- 1989 realities and the dominant neo-liberal global economic order. In Dubai, she spoke to me about how she would reconcile her relations with the West with the aspirations of her own people. Those who inherited her party, by right or stratagem, have not shown her ability to conceptualise the process; nor do they have her charisma or flair to connect with our downtrodden people.

The PPP does not appear to be able to articulate a national narrative. Our despairing people die a thousand deaths while, reportedly, the land is stalked by foreign secret agents and saboteurs all armed with lethal weapons and visas, allegedly, issued by our embassy in Washington. ‘Reconciliation’, with its sacred biblical roots, withers on the vine.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

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