Power to the people

Posted on October 27, 2020, 3:05 pm
7 mins

“Mrs Clinton, I should probably let you know that when I lived in London I used to throw rocks at the American embassy in Grosvenor Square.”


“Don’t worry, Mr Governor so did I.”

This conversation happened between Hillary Clinton and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer during the former US Secretary visit to Lahore in October 2009.

An address to the students of the Government College University (GCU) Lahore, one of Pakistan’s leading educational institutions, and a visit to Punjab Governor House (GH) was the part of the former US President candidate three-day visit to Pakistan.

The red and white huge buildings of the GCU and GH in the capital of the country’s biggest province were the hangovers from the colonial era and both housed at the famous Mall Road with some three kilometres distance from each other.

During the address, she shed some light on the history of Pak-US relations and approach of the then Obama administration towards Islamabad. As a nascent reporter for a newswire, I was covering her visit to Lahore.

Clinton faced some tough and interesting questions from the audience after the lecture. A student asked her: “why there’s a fundamental difference between the way American democracy works and the way ours is encouraged to function. And while you keep stressing on the return to democracy for Pakistan, my question is: Does the U.S. Government support summoning former President Pervez Musharraf to a competent court within Pakistan for being tried for treason because he was obstructing democracy?”

Now part of the 11-political party opposition alliance the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), the PPP was then in power. But, the real ruler 0f the country was President Parvez Musharraf-the chief of the army staff (COAS) who came to the power in 1999 after a coup against the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif democratic government. Nawaz’s party PML-N is also part of the PDM these days.

Musharraf chose to stay in power as president and resigned as COAS after 2008’s 11th general elections of Pakistan history since its independence from British rule in August 1947. The PPP came to power two months after the assassination of its chairperson Benazir Bhutto, the two-time prime minister of Pakistan and first democratically elected woman chief executive of a country in history of Muslim world, during a public rally in Rawalpindi, a city close to Pakistan’s capital Islamabad.

Her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the ninth prime minister of Pakistan, was hanged to death on a highly controversial court decision in a suspicious murder case. He was executed in the jail of the same city in 1977. The first prime minister of Pakistan Liaqat Ali Khan met with the Benazir style execution in 1951 during a public rally in Rawalpindi. No one exactly knows the conspiracy behind the killings of the two prime ministers of Pakistan. The PPP terms Mr Bhutto’s execution a judicial murder.

From the killing of Pakistan’s first prime minister after four years of country’s independence to the assassination of its 11th and 13th woman prime minister in 2007, the country’s power remained directly or indirectly in the control of military establishment and from onward there came a major shift in its policy: control the power through hybrid regimes. And also, since its birth, Pakistan served America’s cause willingly or unwillingly—from split of Soviet Russia in 80s to serve as a key player in normalizing China-US relation in 60s—in exchange of billions of dollars of aid programs, which were hardly spent for public welfare.

Currently, in power, the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf was the third political party, which is apparently running the state affairs since the Hillary Clinton visit to Pakistan in 2009.
(Pakistan People’s Party 2008-2o13.Pakistan Muslim League 2013-2018).
But, Pakistan is now passing through a critical and perhaps decisive phase of its history major political parties joined the hands for real democracy in the country.

As the people of America are set to choose their leader in next month, the question asked by a student from Mrs. Clinton still stands valid—why there’s a fundamental difference between the way American democracy works and the way Pakistan’s is encouraged to function?

It is hoped that the Pakistani-Americans, the single largest country group within America’s 3.45 million Muslims and those include thousands of professionals which give them influence much larger than their size, will certainly take into consideration Pakistan’s problems when they would vote for America’s next President.

When Mrs. Clinton was leaving Lahore, she looked out on the acres of flat lawns of Governor House in the middle of the city and informed by witty Taseer: “I am sorry Mrs Clinton, We used to ask distinguished visitors such as yourself to plant trees in the lawns of Governor House here. Even the Queen planted one.”

“The tradition has stopped?” she asked.

“Well, Idi Amin planted one – but then he ate the gardener,” was his response.

It is said that she had giggled all the way back to Lahore airport to this great delight.

Perhaps, Taseer used to throw rocks at the American embassy in Grosvenor Square in 70s to express solidarity with John Lennon’s “Power to the People.”

Both Taseer and Lennon were assassinated and Pakistanis have started singing Power to the People.

The author writes about religion, politics, agriculture and 1947’s Indo-Pak partition. He can be reached @imiftikharalam

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