Guest post by Salman Ahmad
“In the end, what we will remember is not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends – Martin Luther King Jr
The Chinese proverb goes May you live in interesting times and the past week has been nothing if not that. The openly accusatory e-mail exchange between Bilal Musharraf and myself, has been following a volatile trajectory in cyberspace.Its sparked off an intense cyber debate about whether I was right or not to disassociate myself publicly from Bilal’s father, Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf. When the destiny of millions of people is being jeopardized by a flawed regime, personal friendships have to take a back seat.
Artists by nature represent a global civil society. In Pakistan, as in much of the subcontinent, this role is misunderstood by many who think that dissent is reserved only for political opposition,media pundits, human rights activists and religious extremists.The people who think that I’m jumping on the post-emergency Musharraf-bashing bandwagon should know that ever since I can remember Pakistani governments have sought to muzzle artists and poets who show dissent and protest.The celebrated Pakistani poet,Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote “Bol kay lab azad hain terey” but Pakistani leaders’ favorite artists have been those who behave like court jesters — nacho,gao,khush karo aur bhaag jao — rather than informed citizens who have an independent view of politics and society. Most of my career has focused on entertainment blended with social themes expressed through music, poetry and documentary films.
In todays’s hyperconnected world,where pop culture drives politics, young music fans and college students openly confess that they no longer rely on cable news networks or mainstream radio for their socio-political news but are turning more toward musicians, actors and celebrities to inform them through facebook, myspace and youtube. Todays info-technology has also empowered Pakistani civil societyand indeed, that of the world — to participate in political debate in ways that counter the states desire to censor independent voices.
As a Pakistani, I’m affected by the local and global concerns for peace,justice and equality on our deeply polarized planet. As a world community we are intimately entwined in a dance of destiny and its our public role to keep governments honest and focused on serving the people not themselves or their cronies.
One of Musharraf’s staunch political allies is the MQM, who took part in a massacre in Karachi on May 12 which killed 40 people who were amongst thousands raising slogans against the govt and supporting the Pakistani lawyer’s movement for the restoration of the twice removed Chief justice of the supreme court,Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.In the past, MQM party workers have issued death threats to anyone who doesn’t toe their line.A few years back, when I refused to perform at their exiled leader, Altaf Hussain’s, wedding they also threatened my life. When I discussed the matter with lawyers I was told that no court would be strong enough to stand up to the MQM. President Musharraf has turned a blind eye to those who practice fascist politics and instead focused his attention on dismantling the independence of the judiciary by arresting supreme court judges who threatened to delegitmize his Presidency.
Like many members of my generation, I initially had faith in Musharrafs commitment to promote “enlightened moderation in Pakistan. We supported Musharraf because he assured the country that he would make politics accountable and transparent, fight extremism, remove media repression, and bridge the staggering chasm between Pakistans rich and poor people. Surely it can not be labelled opportunistic if we are disenchanted while he arbitrarily imposes emergency rule, bullies the media and arrests Govt. opponents.His contempt of civil institutions is a devastating betrayal of his earlier promises. Even a rock musician can understand that Pakistans civil liberties and laws are often abused by its leaders’ like unfaithful spouses cheating on their loved ones. Right from January of this year, I had been urging people close to Musharraf that he should think about his legacy and bow out gracefully.In August and September,these communications included very candid e-mails to Bilal Musharraf whom I have known for over a decade.All these concerns fell on deaf ears.
Ironically, the opening of the media and televised political debate is something that Musharraf can take a lot of credit for but when the same media started criticizing his govt’s high handed tactics he clamped down on it. The political crisis in Pakistan represent the birth pangs of a newly empowered civil society yearning for the rule of law. The recent struggles and sacrifices of lawyers, judges, journalists, students and civil rights activists should not be dumped into Pakistan’s long history of social apathy but needs to be nurtured by a return to the rule of law. The rewards could one day be a democratic Muslim country at peace with itself and the world. Religious extremists would be no match for a united Pakistan.
I have dedicated my upcoming performance at the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony on Dec 11 in Oslo to the Pakistan lawyer’s movement and civil society’s peaceful protests against an illegal Emergency and restoration of the deposed judges of the Supreme court.