The do-nothing brigade - Ameer Bhutto - Wednesday, February 23, 2011

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There is no sign of the revolutionary fervour in Egypt letting up, even though the ruling army council has thus far acted in accordance with public demands. The victorious people are pressing home their advantage as they continue to flood Tahrir Square in Cairo with a sea of humanity, to ‘protect the revolution and its demands’. Crumbling dictators in Libya and Bahrain have panicked and ordered the security forces to open fire on the crowds, resulting in hundreds of deaths, but the protests continue.

The people of Algeria, Yemen and Jordan are also out in the streets demanding social justice and democratic reform. Political tectonic plates are shifting all over the Middle East. Whether these mass movements encounter any degree of success in the immediate future or not, these nations will emerge from the chrysalis of new found public awareness and activism far stronger, more vibrant and more dynamic than before.

It is their good fortune that many of these movements are leaderless, with the public seizing initiative on their own. They have shown that it is the people, not leaders, who bring about revolutions. Leaders can preach revolution till they go blue in the face, but if the people are not ready, their efforts will go in vain. On the other hand, if the people are ready for change, they don’t need leaders to achieve it.

That is what makes the silence of the people of Pakistan quite unfathomable: how can they not be ready for change even now when people are committing suicides daily and parents are selling, even slaughtering, their own children, being unable to provide for them? How much worse do things have to get to ignite a spark in us? How much further must we fall? How long will we continue to sell out for a measly watan card?

The most noticeable difference between us and the mobilised Arab nations is that we have leaders. Too many of them, most of them enjoying the fruits of mufahimat. These leaders and some of the intelligentsia have become an obstacle to requisite change. Their message to the nation is simply this: do nothing! No matter how bad things get, do nothing. If corruption, incompetence and the low calibre of those in power are destroying the country, it doesn’t matter, do nothing.

If public and national interests are being sold to foreign masters for the sake of power, do nothing. If national institutions and pillars of state are crumbling before our eyes because of the malevolent manipulation of rulers, do nothing. Their prescription for the future of Pakistan is the exact opposite of that adopted by the leaderless masses in the mobilised Arab nations, because their own interests are linked with the status quo. It is a prescription that will sink this country.

Instead of playing a positive role in awakening the masses, the do-nothing brigade go out of their way to silence dissent and throw water over the burning embers of public discontent and resentment from which revolutions are born. Not only is political activism anathema to them, but any expression of anxiety and frustration also rubs their sensitivities the wrong way. If PIA employees strike against the systematic dismantling of the national airline by government appointed henchmen, they are called saboteurs and are manhandled by government hooligans. If the railway staff protests against non-payment of wages, they are called vigilantes. If civil society demands better governance and an end to corruption, lawlessness, poverty and unemployment, they are labeled ‘the chattering classes’.

Even public outrage over murder in broad daylight at the hands of a rogue foreign adventurer is referred to as ‘ultra-patriotism’. People are on the brink of panic in Sindh because, though new residential lodges costing three billion rupees have been sanctioned in Islamabad for members of parliament, even six months after the floods the three to four kilometre long breach in the Thori Bund near Guddu that drowned most of Sindh on the right bank last summer, has yet to be plugged.

If meteorological forecasts are accurate and there is a similar or less devastating flood expected this summer the river will once again flow, this time totally unimpeded, into the already devastated area, causing far greater destruction than last year. The do-nothing brigade would, no doubt, advise such people to stop whining and buy inflatable rafts! In short, it is not enough for the do-nothing brigade that people continue to suffer in this mess without hope for change, they would rather that they do so in silence.

If even the murder of our citizens by a highly suspect foreign national and the consequently emerging question of national sovereignty should not inflame national passions, then what should? Such passions are justified in light of the trust deficit this dispensation labours under. What has it done thus far to inspire confidence?

Everything, from its initial refusal to restore the judges to imposition of governor’s rule in Punjab, tacitly condoning drone attacks (according to Wikileaks), appointing corrupt and tainted persons to head national institutions and allowing foreign adventurers like Raymond Davis to roam our streets and kill our citizens at will, has only raised further doubts and suspicions about its competence and intentions.

Furthermore, it has, time and again, proven to be too weak to withstand pressure from even its own allies in power. How can it be counted upon to stand up to the United States of America? Revelations made by the Punjab Chief Minister that Rehman Malik tried to talk him into conceding diplomatic immunity for Raymond Davis and Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s disclosures, for which the do-nothing brigade have accused him of trying to emulate Zulfikar Ali Bhutto instead of considering the merits of his statements, have further exacerbated such apprehensions.

In any case, if we are guilty of over-reaction, so are the Americans. They have been desperate to free Davis from prison from day one. Even President Barak Obama himself has publicly pleaded Davis’ case and Senator John Kerry was sent all the way across the globe for this purpose. All this, just to free a murderer? Not likely. There is more to this than either side is letting on.

Prime Minister Gilani has suggested payment of blood money to settle the issue. When waderas, khans or choudharies thus settle murder cases in jirgas, they are vilified as blood thirsty barbarians. But the same is kosher to appease America and continue in power?

Just because Senator Kerry left Islamabad without securing Davis’ release does not mean that the matter is settled. The Lahore High Court has pointed out that the Davis immunity case cannot be decided without clarification about his status from the Foreign Office and the Foreign Office has asked for more time to submit its response. But if the Foreign Office was already clear that Davis did not enjoy blanket immunity, as Shah Mehmood Qureshi claims, then why has it now asked the Lahore High Court for another three weeks time to submit a response? Do they want to buy time to allow public passions to cool down before springing a surprise on the nation?

And if Qureshi had conveyed the Foreign Office view to his leaders, then why have they remained ambivalent and silent on Davis’ status for so long, choosing to lob the matter into court, like they lobbed the Benazir Bhutto murder inquiry into the United Nation’s hands like a hot potato? How can such clandestine conduct on the part of the government not raise public apprehensions and anger?

The legal drama has only just begun to unfold and until it is finally resolved, the people have every right to be concerned, even if it irritates the do-nothing brigade.

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.

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