A carnival atop a volcano - Roedad Khan - Friday, July 30, 2010

Source : www.thenews.com.pk

In the farcical system we have today, things are not what they appear to be. Realism does not exist in Islamabad because life in Islamabad is itself a fiction. The Constitution says one thing. What happens on the ground is something quite different. Behind the constitution, there is an unwritten constitution which governs the state.

Prime Minister Gilani, known for his sartorial elegance, is obsessed by externals and is addicted to appearances with a passion for clothes, collar and cuff. He shocked the nation when, just before midnight on July 22, he appeared on television, looking quite bedraggled, visibly nervous, overwhelmed by the "momentous" decision he was about to announce. His address lasted for a little more than two minutes. All he wanted to tell his people was that he had decided to extend Army Chief Kayani's term by three years in recognition of his services to the nation or words to that effect! Many questions come to mind. Gilani says it was a simple administrative matter. If so, why did he have to make the announcement on TV at that late hour in such a terrible hurry? Was it his own decision? Was it the supreme commander's decision? Was it their joint decision? My answer is no. Everyone knows where such decisions are made. Everyone knows where the true pole of power lies in this country. But more of that some other time.

These are dangerous times in our country. These are also anti-elitist times. Angry mobs are howling for retribution. Pakistan is seething in ferment and in disarray. This is dangerous. Under an imbecile and feeble government, as we have today, there is but one step from discontent to revolution. A sad situation, but true. The country appears to be adrift. Nobody knows where it was headed without wise and mature leadership to guide or direct it. Pakistan, a fractured and despondent society, unable to imagine a decent future for itself as it plunges into listless desperation and radicalisation, stands on the edge of the abyss. Signs of danger abound, but like the proverbial boiling frog, we seem unable to rouse ourselves. In our political life, we wait until things reach the emergency room.

What is most intriguing is that the rhythm of life remains, more or less, unchanged. "Everything seems", as Goethe said, "to be following its normal course because even in terrible moments in which everything is at stake people go on living as if nothing were happening". In Pakistan, as in geology, things can look perfectly stable on the surface - until the tectonic plates shift underneath. The straws in the wind are there. Time will show whether there are enough of them to make a bale of hay.

Sixty-three years after independence, are we really free? Are the people masters in their own house? I am deliberately putting the case with all its bluntness to highlight what is at stake. Today say "Pakistan" and what comes to mind – military coups, sham democracy, an accidental and powerful president, a non-sovereign rubber-stamp parliament, and a ceremonial prime minister. Today Pakistan is not just a "rentier state", not just a client state -- it is a slave state, ill-led, ill-governed by a power-hungry junta and a puppet government set up by Washington.

If you want to see the chasm between the grotesquely rich and the abject poor, come to Pakistan. The privileged few own the country and all the sources of life; the rest just pray or die. Pakistan today is a land of opportunities for corrupt, unscrupulous, unprincipled politicians holding fake degrees, dishonest civil servants, smugglers and tax-evaders who have bank accounts, luxurious villas, mansions and apartments in the west. A great divide, a yawing chasm – some call it a new Iron Curtain – separates them from their less fortunate countrymen, whose life is "nasty, brutish and short". They have a stake in the status quo or the system as they call it. While life at the top gets cushier, millions of jobless people and those at the bottom of the social ladder are forced to resort to crime merely to survive. Many of them are fleeing the country and desperately trying to escape to the false paradises of the Middle East and the west. The rich are getting richer, while the poor are sinking deeper and deeper into a black hole of abject poverty.

If you want to see how a free nation is stifled by authoritarian corrupt rulers through its own apathy and folly, visit Pakistan. Today Pakistan – battered, its pride bruised – is a pretty pessimistic place. One by one, the lights are going out. But there is still time for those to whom liberties, supremacy of parliament, the rule of law, the independent judiciary, democracy and civilian government mean something, to get together to decide how to meet this challenge. Submission to corrupt rulers is no option. I call it treason. The strong are strong because we are on our knees. All the philosophers tell the people they are the strongest, and that if they are sent to the slaughterhouse, it is because they have let themselves be led there. Tyranny is retreating everywhere except in Pakistan. The rule of law marching everywhere except in Pakistan.

One man, one man alone, my countrymen, is responsible for the mess we are in today. Zardari is the fault line that has fractured our country. Corruption at the summit of power is eating away the fabric of the nation. Zardari is at the apex of a deeply corrupt state apparatus. But he feels confident that as long as the army could be relied upon, the Supreme Court or public discontent presented no real danger to his rule. Time will show. We have to wait and see. The world failed to foresee the tidal pull of events in 1979 that swept away the Shah of Iran. The Iranian army, one of the best in the region, could not save him or itself from the wrath of the people. The world may soon see this historic event repeating itself in Pakistan.

The state of things has been so insufferable that one longs for it to be decided, as it must be now, one way or another. Unfortunately, the tyranny of the status quo is too strong and only a major crisis can produce a real change. When we organise with one another, when we get involved, when we stand up and speak out together, we can create a power no government can suppress. We live in a beautiful country. But people who have nothing but contempt for the people and no respect for democracy, freedom or justice have taken it over. It is up to all of us to take it back. And as Margaret Mead said, 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has'. Those who support the corrupt order are standing against the irrevocable march of history and are doomed to failure.

Who is in charge of this sad country today? I recall from my memory some lines from an unknown writer about a railway accident:

Who is in charge of the clattering train / And the pace is hot, and the points are near / And Sleep has deadened the driver's ear / And the signals flash through the night in vain / For Death is in charge of the clattering train.

I end this article with one of Prime Minister Chou en Lai's poems written in the early days of the struggle when Chinese faced similar problems as we do in Pakistan today.

A whirlwind pounds / Our heartsick land / The nation sinks / And no one minds.

Look where the Chinese are today. Citizens! No nation on earth has ever maintained its independence or its political institutions without a struggle.

The writer is a former federal secretary. Email: roedad@comsats.net.pk, www.roedadkhan.com

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