Monday, September 27, 2010

Food for worms By Ardeshir Cowasjee

For some months prior to the alarming ‘demand’ (yes, in Pakistan politicians and others who feel they are of import always ‘demand’), the rumour mills were churning out scenarios of a ‘change’ in the present stunningly alarming dispensation.

What that good British citizen, who dwells happily in the Mill Hill area of North London ‘demanded’ was that certain army generals, whose patriotism would spur them on, should step in and do something, anything, to bring about ‘change’.

He subsequently clarified that he had not ‘meant’ that the country revert to the 1958, 1977 or 1999 modes but that the mighty military (which denotes just the army) should oversee a type of transition from an unwieldy government (the identities of the majority of its members are unknown to the public) to a tighter form of government less tainted by gross corruption scandals and equally gross incompetence, which could usher in some sort of competence (even a modicum would do at this stage). His next clarion call from London was for a revolution, which he said he would be willing to lead if the Karachi chapter of his party were to ‘allow’ him to return to what was once his homeland.

Now, any sort of revolution, be it along the lines of an uprising or of the national mindset (which is desperately needed) is not on the cards. Revolutions demand national cohesion, a common goal and vitally, a charismatic leadership. Pakistan is endowed with none of these attributes.

Anyhow, the utterances of Altaf Bhai of London Town certainly make an impact. His ‘demand’ and suggestion hold the media transfixed. Millions of words, written and spoken, are being devoted to them — all to no avail as it would seem impossible, in this morass in which we exist, to locate individuals available, able or willing to step in on a rescue mission (if there is one it will have to be arranged in Washington).

The sad fact is that right now, in the government, there is not one credible figure amongst those who were shot into empty slots via the ballot boxes which were visited, it has been calculated, by some 30 per cent of the great unwashed electorate under thrall of the feudals that control them.

So, Altaf Bhai’s request is not unreasonable it may be unrealistic. We have the White House, the army and the Supreme Court as bodies of men possibly capable of devising a team which could provide some sort of governance to replace the void in a country seen to be fast imploding. The scorn heaped upon the present so-called leadership is humiliating for the state and a large slice of public opinion — the media, internet, street talk — is firmly convinced that they can no longer stomach the government or parliament.

This does not denote that there is a clamour for martial law. But we do remember the mid-1993 situation when the presidential-prime ministerial relationship was such that the country was at a virtual standstill and violence a real and present danger. The army chief of the time, a most honourable general (yes, there are such men) stepped in and without raising his swagger stick, sent both the president and prime minister home. All was calm and collected; he organised an interim government of technocrats who constitutionally announced elections. The short-term problem was solved, the long-term problem remained.

As has been pointed out the president-prime minister situation today is quite different. As opposed to confrontation there is placidity, with the party chief president in full charge with his coterie of sycophants doing what they fancy.

Not only have we men and women placed in positions for which they are manifestly unfit but we have on our hands a national tragedy, the floods plus ongoing killings, bombings, and other sickening violence, all of which the nation has become so inured to that death and destruction are now a part of life.

As for priorities, for both the government and the nation they are skewed to the extreme. The national mindset is fixated upon concepts such as honour and dignity (of both of which we are bereft), the chips on the shoulders the nation bears are so glaring and confidence in the state is so shattered as to make us undecipherable in the eyes of the world. How, asks one friend from Britain, is the west to determine the sense of ethical values in the Islamic Republic if on the one hand it has to deal with the arousal of national ‘pride’ and indignation over some perceived slight or honest criticism, and on the other hand its inhabitants remain immune to the deep schisms existing in the land and to acceptance when Pakistanis kill and maim their co-religionists and fellow citizens?

We are also witnessing the reaction of the world to the floods’ begging bowl. Pledges are made, but hard cash is a rarity and when it comes in, dissatisfaction is expressed as to how it has been spent and into which pockets it has landed. This is a shaming fact. We are regarded as mendicants armed with suicide belts.

To repeat, ad nauseam: we are not living in the country envisaged by its founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Somewhere along the way, there should have been some heeding of what it was he told us he wanted. But no, Pakistan is a travesty of all the man stood for. Ninety per cent of the disaster that is Pakistan today hinges upon two factors enunciated by Jinnah, two factors ignored and thrown to the wicked winds: the first duty of any government is to impose and maintain law and order and, emphatically, religion is not the business of the state.

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