THE WAY IT WAS: The almonds will bloom —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

Zardari was courteous, relaxed and full of beans. Everyone praised his courage. He graciously accepted the compliments and added, “Remember, I could not have done it without your support”

Mian Muhammod Bakhsh writes Dushman maran te khushee na kareay; sajanan we mar jana (Be not merry at the death of an enemy; for those you love must also die). There is great wisdom in this small couplet often engulfed by malice.

“What are we doing here covering the proceeding of the funeral of a man who was a committed terrorist and murderer of innocent children?” asked a woman commentator of the Fox News, a pedestrian right wing American television channel that I infrequently switch on to amaze myself. Was it not obvious that Fox News needed to be there to cover the funeral perceived by the world as an international event? Fox News, as is its custom, used the opportunity to badmouth a hero who had resisted US-Zionist efforts to dehumanise, marginalise and obliterate the Palestinian nation. The world does not expect anything better from Fox News but could they not have waited for the funeral ceremony to end before resuming the business of abusing, denigrating and attacking anyone and everyone perceived to be hostile to US interests — be it God himself.

I cannot recall precisely where or in what context Longinous states in his famous dissertation on literary criticism, Longinous on the Sublime, that even enemies deserve an honourable burial. But I suppose in order to subscribe to the ancient Greek worldview a person needs to be honourable himself. The modern American hero regards honour an obscurantist virtue. Honour restricts; imposes restraints, demands courtesy, loyalty and humanity. The American hero — bearing an automatic weapon the size of Madagascar or wielding a bow the size of a wooden plough, with arrows tipped with deadly explosives — is believed to need a passion for vengeance, not a sense of honour.

Asif Zardari is out on bail after the largest innings in incarceration history of South Asia. Ghinwa Bhutto is shocked and surprised that he has been released so soon. I wonder if she can count up to eight. I trust she must be painfully reflecting, “It was only the other day that he was apprehended. How come eight years have drifted by in a day?”

This reminds me of a Persian monarch who on a sharp winter morning asked a famous Persian sage for a gift that should be source of everlasting comfort and guidance to him. The following spring when the almonds were in full bloom the sage returned. Wishing a happy new year to his majesty, the king of kings, he presented an ordinary-looking ring and pleaded that he should never take it off. On the ring were inscribed the words: “This moment, too, will pass away”. The Shahenshah lived a long life and ruled well. The ring would warn him in his moments of happiness that good fortune was not forever and at the times of unforeseen misfortune cheer him that the dark clouds would finally lift.

Asif Zardari may not be a Mandella as someone insisted the other evening at a Thanksgiving dinner cooked by my friend Irfan Hussain. In the past I have had jibes at Irfan for serving me barbequed squids that were as hard and rubbery as tennis shoe soles. But that was long ago. The turkey roasted for the occasion and served with cranberry sauce was exceptionally delicious. Asif Zardari may not be Mandella but he was no tender meat for his enemies either, or they would have pot-roasted him years ago. It was not that they did not use all the recipes to tenderise him. They sliced his tongue and exercised various pressures but he just wouldn’t yield. Any cook could have told them that Zardari was no goose.

After eight years he has emerged unscathed. If at all there is a change, the years of incarceration seem to have made him even tougher and more determined. The time, I am sure, has tempered him and like us all made him wiser to what we are dealing with. But surely, only time will tell. Asif Zardari may not be a Mandella, but with his courage and fortitude, he has doubtless earned the respect of his harshest critics. Refusing deals and bargains he relied on the judicial process that makes snails look fast. Someone remarked at the Sindh Club Sunday brunch that he should help the government save face by at least agreeing to a traffic offence. He may not be a Mandella but he has emerged as the most popular leader in Pakistan after Benazir Bhutto.

Zardari’s release marks a change in the political climate. The system General Musharaf put together will not last for long. The erosion will be fast. Zardari is a consensus man, which is what is need today. Consensus is something General Musharaf has spurned for the sake of holding on to everything. General Musharaf has tried to play off one political force against the other. He has marginalised the two mainstream parties, the PPP and PML(N) and made false promises to the religious parties — succeeding temporarily in his purpose of dividing a democratic national alliance that seemed to be taking shape on at least three important issues: full and unfettered restoration of the 1973 Constitution, integrity of the state institutions i.e. the judiciary, the election commission etc and the review of the civil-military relations so that civil society can assert its control over all organs of the state.

I called on Mr Asif Ali Zardari at Bilawal House in Karachi. He was courteous, relaxed and full of beans. Everyone praised his courage in facing his unrelenting adversaries for eight long years. He graciously accepted the compliments with broad smiles accentuated by his moustache that now have streaks of silver. After a while he looked up at a group of visitors who were warmly eulogising his steadfastness, and remarked, “Remember one thing. I could not have done it for even one year without your prayers and support.” He proceeded then to tell the tale of a man who at an annual town festival dared everybody to pull down his uplifted arm. No one took him on. His brother, however, shouted from across the arena that would do it. The man exclaimed, “You can’t do that! It is on the strength of your arm that I have undertaken to throw the challenge.”

The weather is changing and fair days should return soon. In the meantime let’s tend the almonds and hope that they will one day burst into bloom.

Prof Ijaz Ul Hassan is a painter, author and political activist