March 24, 2008. The atmosphere in the Pakistan National Assembly was clearly emotive. After a long, hard and bloody journey democracy finally triumphed over dictatorship. The parliament chose Syed Yusuf Raza Gillani as the leader of the house by a huge margin, paving his way to take on the mantle of the most volatile nation in the Indian sub-continent.
Yusuf looked elegant in his business suit. He shook hands with everyone amidst the sloganeering and clamor. Bilawal Bhutto, the scion of the Bhutto family, wept quietly in the visitor’s gallery. It would have been his mom’s moment of glory had fate not decided otherwise. Syed Yusuf, the loyalist that he is, straightaway walked to the gallery and held Bilawal’s hand, amid roaring cheers.
Pakistan has entered a new era. Yusuf leads a rainbow coalition. Dawn succinctly puts it: ‘The coalition consists of the election victor PPP, which calls itself social democratic, its former arch-rival right-of-centre PML-N, Pukhtun nationalist Awami National Party and Islamic fundamentalist Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam. Urban Sindh’s MQM, which is still out of the coalition, is ethnic-based.’ In simple words the new leader has to hold together a flock of disparate views and ideas. The name of the game is accommodation.
Syed sahib, also called Makhdoom Yusuf, sounds very much a Bhutto guy. In his short speech he promised a UN enquiry into Ms Bhutto’s assassination [to a thunderous applause], a national apology for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s judicial execution [another applause]. To please the Nawaz camp, he called for restoration of the higher judiciary [standing ovation]. How times change? They say if you don't create change, change will create you. Poor President Musharraf!
In the end, March 24 may well be remembered as Pakistan’s day of redemption. The country has recently witnessed mayhem. Pakistan has been through hell and back. It has been a rat’s nest where suicide bombings became a rage. Judiciary was kicked around. The media was gagged. Nawaz was publicly humiliated. Late Benazir Bhutto’s security was compromised. A change of guard can be expected to greatly emolliate the badly bruised soul of Pakistan.
It is redemption time for everything dear and beautiful this country has lost in the last one decade. It is also time to heal some deep and dark wounds. There is an impelling need to make the institutions strong and democratic. This is the time for love and peace. Education and upliftment. Some introspection and generous forgiveness. Atonement.
Pakistan’s new leaders should not squander this moment.