By Ayaz Amir
December 27, 2013
Turkey, one of our closest friends, holding a special place in what there is of the Pakistani heart; Turkey with whom our ties are not just those of history but also of the imagination; our friend in good days and bad; one of the few places on earth where the word Pakistan does not beget a cynical smile.
But, heretical thought, can there not be too much of a good thing? No, this deserves to be qualified. We can never have too much of the Turkish nation. But a government is a passing phenomenon. It is not the nation. I can love the US, or things about the US, and yet wince at the mention of George Bush. I can think warmly of India as an historic entity, yet be appalled by the notion of Narendra Modi as its leader.
The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is a great leader of his country, elected to office three times in a row. Under his stewardship Turkey has witnessed remarkable economic progress. He visited Pakistan when Yusuf Raza Gilani was prime minister and there was a lunch for him at the Serena Hotel, the arrangements (on the part of the government) so slipshod that I felt embarrassed. Once upon a time we used to be very good at this kind of protocol. This too has gone down like so much else.
Anyway, Erdogan addressed a joint session of parliament as well and when he finished the then leader of the opposition, our friend Nisar, instead of uttering the short words of welcome customary on such occasions, usually with something written on a piece of paper, inevitably spoke longer than was necessary. It was a goodwill visit and something or the other must have been signed…but that was it.
This week Erdogan was again on a visit to Pakistan and some MOUs about this and that were signed. Again that was it. Nawaz Sharif soon after becoming prime minister visited Turkey; Shahbaz Sharif keeps hopping over to Turkey on the smallest pretext; the lemon that is the Lahore Metro has been built with Turkish help. In the rental power scam of the last PPP government, a Turkish ship supposed to generate power lay anchored off Karachi. It also figured in that scam and was the subject of a NAB inquiry.
Not to forget something else, authorities in Lahore have sent a detailed sewage map of the city to the mayor of Istanbul’s office to seek help in the disposal and management of solid waste.
The Sharifs have ruled or partly-ruled Punjab for the last 30 years – repeat, 30 years. This is the younger Sharif’s third stint as chief minister, having just completed a full five-year term. Now he is asking Turkish help for waste disposal. Recently in Delhi, donning a hard hat and his trademark jacket, he was seen going around checking out waste disposal facilities there. When will his research conclude? When will he be able to apply its findings to Lahore?
Or has this more to do with culture than anything else? Until not long ago village and even town houses here used to be built without proper toilet facilities. In villages nature’s open spaces took care of waste disposal. The same laissez-faire attitude accompanied the building of Islamabad which, incredible as it may sound, fifty years after its founding still has no proper facility for waste disposal, with refuse and waste dumped in open spaces. At least we are a nuclear power. That should be of some consolation.
Where has this digression taken me? To return to our subject, let us have stronger ties with Turkey. Let us emulate Turkey in its achievements. But Turkish visits, to Turkey or from Turkey, while they play well in Pakistan can also begin to grate if overdone. The Sharifs are overdoing Turkey even while presiding over a sense of drift at home.
There is also another pattern which emerges. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), in power since 2002, has very strong ties with construction and business interests. The summer riots in Istanbul, the most serious challenge to Erdogan’s authority since he came to power, were sparked by a controversial construction plan in the city’s central Gezi Park. Now Erdogan’s government is embroiled in a corruption scandal which came into the open after the arrests of individuals very close to the ruling party. On Christmas Day three cabinet ministers resigned, one of them calling upon the prime minister to do the same.
Do appearances count for anything? When Nawaz Sharif visited Turkey last September some younger members of his clan, with no position in government, accompanied him. They were again seen at the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore during Erdogan’s visit. Some of them are looking after the family business in London.
The other government, again embattled, which Pakistan’s present rulers have been courting, is the Shinawatra government in Thailand. The AKP in Turkey has ties to the construction industry and big business. But the Shinawatras are big money themselves as is the ruling gentry in Pakistan. Is there a pattern here or is this all mere coincidence?
One thing is for sure. The neoliberal economic model which has played havoc in so much of the third world is the unspoken economic doctrine in force in Pakistan today, the IMF deal a part of this package. It’s all very well to say, as the IMF does and as the government agrees, that subsidies should be cut and no one should have a free lunch. If the resulting pain were equally shared there would be no problem, and little to complain about.
But the beauty of the neoliberal model is that all the burden is placed on the poorer sections of society – which is called economic adjustment – while the rich not only continue to have their free lunch, their portions are larger than before. And privatisation when it occurs, and the way it occurs, contributes to their wellbeing even more.
Yellow taxis and laptops for students and loans for youth are just sweeteners, meant to distract minds from the harsh reality of some of the sharpest inflation Pakistan has known. And when Turkish and Thai visits are thrown in, with family members themselves involved in big business heavily in attendance, we have no real idea as to what is happening behind closed doors, but the MOUs signed and the accompanying publicity give the impression that rulers are not slumbering, that they have the national interest at heart and are working day and night for the country’s progress.
Meanwhile, spare a thought for the mobilisation of national talent. Reminding an older generation of what Zulfikar Ali Bhutto said of his “talented cousin”, talented daughter is chosen to head the youth loan scheme. Because the Punjab chief minister is half-running foreign policy and performing the role of number two national statesman (after the prime minister) there must be someone to look fulltime after Punjab. Who more suitable than the chief minister’s son, duly appointed to head a Punjab committee? To deal with MNA complaints, and they are feeling ignored, another committee is constituted – headed, naturally, by the same son of the Punjab chief minister… and the prime minister’s son-in-law as one of the other members. Call this democracy, Pakistani style.
Ranjit Singh’s was the first kingdom in Punjabi history. What we have in Pakistan today is a slight improvement on that: something close to the first elected monarchy.
An important side-effect of this development is that to all intents and purposes the Kashmir problem stands resolved. The leading flavour of Pakistan’s elected monarchy is Kashmiri, this the common defining factor of the inner core of power today. We may not get our water policy right – the Kishanganga verdict in the International Court of Arbitration instructive in this regard…we did no homework when we went there – but at least we have our higher politics all straightened out.