By Ameer Bhutto
June 11, 2011
In an interview with Oriana Fallaci, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto said that when he was awakened by the sound of gunfire in Dacca on March 25, 1971 and saw the army sweeping through the city, he wept and said “My country is finished!” Today, Pakistan stands at the same threshold of history. The circumstances and the players on the stage are different. The poisoned chalice we hold to our lips is different. But the country is being pushed towards the same outcome. It is Pakistan’s present generations’ greatest misfortune that they are eye-witnesses to the systematic dismemberment of their country. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was right; independence was indeed a myth. But the myth has now become a nightmare.
What is left of Pakistan? There is no visible administrating authority. A free-for-all prevails, in which the politicians in power are looting the state in broad daylight, vital state institutions are decaying due to neglect and the appointment of cronies who only cover their sponsors’ criminal tracks, the government has done its best to sideline the judiciary by flouting its authority and the houses of parliament have been reduced to a joke. The hapless citizens do not know whom to fear more; criminals or those who are supposed to protect them from criminals but are themselves out of control. The remaining vestiges of sovereignty have been sold to foreign masters for the sake of power.
Consequently, while the people of this country stew in the sweltering heat without electricity, without water, without petrol or gas, without security, without access to adequate educational or medical facilities, without solace or succour and without any ray of light or hope of relief from the painful battles they wage every day just to survive, those who wield the reins of power make hay while the sun shines and pander to their foreign masters who sustain them in government.
In just the last month, we have had to endure the US Navy SEALs operation to take out Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, the terrorist attack on Mehran Naval Base in Karachi, the Kharotabad incident, the murder of a journalist in Islamabad, and now the Clifton shooting, to mention just a few prominent incidents. These are symptoms of a comprehensive collapse. Such a status quo is unsustainable.
Pressure is building towards a climactic explosion which will blow away much debris, but is also likely to irreparably damage the edifice of the state. The important question is, who is attending to the national interests of Pakistan?
Countries have to be governed. Problems and crises need to be resolved. Policies and plans have to be made for the future. Laws, structures and systems have to be evolved, refined and updated. Development work has to be carried out. The writ of law has to be established. There appears to be no one doing any of this crucial work.
How can this mess be set right? There are corrective mechanisms that can fix a system or jolt it upright, but a society that possesses the wherewithal to deploy such mechanisms would never let things deteriorate to such an extent as this in the first place. The process begins with the electorate making the right choices at the polls based on merit, past record, and a sound manifesto for the future. But that does not happen here.
Our choices are ruled by personality cults, which charlatans and their puppeteers find convenient to manipulate, leaving the people writhing in agony till the next election. But given the chance to remedy their mistake, the electorate repeats the same mistake all over again. This is what has been happening since 1988. We are told that the electorate will mature in time and learn to properly use the vote. The problem is we do not have the luxury of time, like most western democracies which developed over several centuries. Struggling in a sea of crises, we have to either swim or sink today, not a hundred years from now.
The second option is honest and sincere leadership that can pull us out of the quicksand. We do not have that either. How can we, when the electorate falters at the first step of the process? Despite the examples of the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein, our rulers prefer to stay in power with the support of foreign powers rather than the support of the people, like Iran’s President Ahmadinejad. That is why they serve foreign interests rather than national or public interests. In an almost comical development, the Sindh Assembly recently banned smoking hukkas, as if that was the only vice left in society!
The nation can expect no good from this lot. When all else fails, the system and state institutions can rescue and resuscitate the country, provided they are vibrant and effective. But the system is not allowed to function here as it should and institutions have been rendered hollow and ineffective through years of manipulation by successive governments. The constitution, parliament, laws and courts have atrophied under the influence of those whose intentions and purposes are not identified with national interests. If even this option fails, then there have been instances in history whereby intervention by military rulers has provided the requisite jolt that has saved countries from ruin.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Jamal Abdul Nasser, Fidel Castro, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata come to mind. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s experience with military rule has been far less constructive. Besides, whether it is because of their engagement in the war against extremists in the northern areas, the hopeless economic situation, or foreign pressure, there appears to be no evidence that the men in the GHQ are prepared or willing to make a putsch.
The last option is a mass public uprising along the lines of Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab states. When people lose confidence in the system and those who run it, they come out in the streets and take matters in their own hands. The people of Tunisia and Egypt even shattered the age old myth that revolutions cannot occur without strong leadership. But there are no signs of such an uprising in Pakistan. People protest sporadically and burn tires because of power outages and water shortages but there was not a squeak out of them over issues of national sovereignty like the Raymond Davis issue or the US Navy SEALs operation in Abbottabad.
The government has turned us into a nation of beggars. Instead of questioning why millions are spent daily on lavish presidential and prime ministerial palaces while even after almost 10 months, the flood refugees have not been fully rehabilitated, people are content to live off handouts. Those who used to, in the name of honour, kill any man who so much as glanced at their women folk, now send their women to stand in lines outside banks all day and suffer unmentionable humiliation for a few rupees of charity. This once proud nation has become addicted to taking the path of least resistance, even if doing so piles on more misery and insult upon them.
So if the electorate cannot make the right choice at the polls, the government is not sincere with the national cause, the system and state institutions are atrophied and useless, the army is not willing to intervene and people are not ready to come out in the streets, then what’s left?
We have pretty much run out of options as far as corrective mechanisms go. Decay, left unchecked, can only generate more decay. How will this country survive the crises it faces? How will it withstand the menacing storms that loom over the horizon? I now begin to understand what Pervez Musharraf meant when, in his farewell address to the nation, he said “Pakistan ka Khuda Hafiz”.’
The writer is vice-chairman of the Sindh National Front and a former MPA from Ratodero. He has degrees from the University of Buckingham and Cambridge University.
Source: The News, Pakistan