By Ayaz Amir
November 01, 2013
Pakistan’s problems are unfixable, my considered opinion after working journalism’s fields for over 30 years. Not that the problems are complicated or unique. They certainly are not. Only this that the jokers entrusted by us through the ballot box, or selected by Providence in its infinite mercy, with the task of fixing them are, well, jokers. See the light of intellect shining from their countenances and few other conclusions are possible.
People who find it hard to unlock YouTube, to give an absurd example, because they are afraid of their walking shadows and fear that by removing this ban they would be tempting the furies, how on earth does anyone expect them to sort out other problems? Calibre and capacity…that is the leading Pakistani problem: the deficit of ideas more alarming than the power deficit or our skewed balance of payments.
This inadequacy is not specific to the Sharifs or the other lumberjacks cluttering the political spaces. This cuts across the social and political spectrum. A nation of nearly 200 million souls – a tribute to the one thing in which we excel, our powers of procreation – a burden on the planet, but a mass which is directionless because of the leadership shortage.
Take any subject – school curriculums, the funny history we teach in our classrooms, and the history morons or illiterates we produce as a result, our starved social sectors, the attention we don’t pay our doctors (which is why, given the first opportunity, they run off to Saudi Arabia), our drains and water courses choked by that invention of the devil called the plastic shopper, or anything else, the medium of instruction, a common education policy, talking to the Taliban, recognising the extremist threat for what it is, etc, etc. To set any of them right you need decisions to be taken and the thought made flesh, crowned by action.
In other words, you need leadership. This can be leadership of any kind – political, military, bureaucratic, or even theocratic as in the case of Iran – but there has to be a driver running the train, a helmsman on deck to steer the ship over the waters, a conductor to lead his orchestra, a captain to lead his team. None of this is profound stuff…it’s very, very basic. But in Pakistan we just don’t seem to get it. From a pool of mediocre choices we select the worst examples of mediocrity expecting them to perform miracles. When that doesn’t happen we become cynical or frustrated.
Cynicism as an intellectual pose only the well-heeled can afford, scanning your morning newspaper as you sip your coffee and allowing yourself a cynical curl of the lips as you see the mug-shots on parade, and of course some kind of crystal glass and amber liquid to go with it as evening falls. For those without such advantages frustration is the next best option. And the way things are going, frustration is on the rise. Anyone can see it.
A growing youth population and not much to look forward to in life…it’s hard to beat this as a method of generating discontent. Happening to drive through Lahore Cantt. some weeks ago I suddenly came across thousands of youngsters, some from as far away as Khushab and Sargodha, standing in line. To test their luck for 26 posts of upper division clerks in the Cantt’s garrison schools, and every second guy standing there was an MA or an MBA. Next time any police jobs are advertised just see the multitudes turning up for the 100 or so jobs on offer, again graduates and MAs desperate to make the grade.
But all said and done we have to be grateful to the present ruling lot who are proving to be the last nail in the coffin of Pakistani illusion-making. With president Zardari around, Punjab took mental refuge in the notion of a Sharif victory, convinced that everything would turn around and better days were at hand. Now that the Sharifs, in near record time, are proving the hollowness of their triumph, the space of illusion has shrunk, and if the gods are kind very soon it would have disappeared altogether.
Imagine the lifetime spent in disabusing ourselves of the competing attractions of the PPP and the PML-N. Tired of one set of jokers the voting public would plump for the other, and so the political see-saw would go up and down, the Bhuttos and the Sharifs deriving sustenance and oxygen from the mutual dictatorship of their mediocrity and ineptitude, to say nothing of their talent for mind-boggling corruption. With the swift defrocking of the present dispensation, the swinging of the pendulum should cease. This game has run its course. There are no more illusions it can yield.
We have seen the retreat of military rule. We have seen the arrival of democracy. For the first time in our history we have had a peaceful democratic transition. We have seen the rise and fall of the PPP and now we are seeing the dimming of that other beacon of hope, the PML-N. We have even tasted the fruits of that wonder, the independence of the judiciary. From one set of illusions we have travelled to another and we have arrived at the journey’s end of illusions…or at least of those illusions with which we have lived so long. The old cups lie shattered; all the old wine is either drunk or split. A new Maikadah (tavern) is waiting to be raised.
But from where come the new tavern-keepers? Who steps into the breach, what fills this gaping void? The Taliban have taken the measure of us, they have tested what there is of the Pakistani state and their appetites are whetted, their ambitions aflame. Like the invading armies of old who came over the Hindukush Mountains, through the Khyber Pass, drawn as if by a magnet to the riches of India, they sense their opportunity in the confusion we have made of our republic. So our problem becomes one of holding the line. What armies do we raise to stop their advance? What walls do we erect to keep them at bay?
Victory and defeat are first in the mind. What happens on the ground comes afterwards. The France of 1940 had lost it even before German divisions swept over the Maginot Line. The German advance into Russia a year later was spectacular, the Germans breaking through Russian defences and encircling entire Russian armies, taking hundreds of thousands of prisoners. But the Red Army, despite suffering catastrophic losses, kept on fighting. Russia’s spirit did not collapse.
We seem to have lost the will to fight. Our dithering and lack of resolve are an invitation to adventurism and anarchy. We probably need more gunship helicopters and night vision devices but more than that we need to steel our hearts, encase our hearts in iron. The will to fight must come before the ability to fight.
What was the Taliban commander, Latifullah Mehsud, doing in Afghanistan before the Americans nabbed him? He was hobnobbing with the Afghan intelligence service with a view to creating problems for the Pakistan Army. When states become weak that is what happens: even the meek start conspiring against you.
The old politics is dead. It has outlived its utility. A new politics is waiting to be born. But the old question: who steps into the breach?
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