The knights of our times - Sana Bucha - Sunday, February 13, 2011

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Farhatullah Babar, the Presidency’s crier, comes to the centre of the capital to make an announcement: “Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Three years after ‘King’ Zardari pulled his ‘Excalibur’ out of the stone, he is, for the first time, calling all his knights, his most beloved, his most faithful to convene at the round table!”

President Zardari has finally decided to share – not his wealth – but the problems that face Pakistan currently, from its economic woes to that man called Raymond Davis. And he is beckoning all his knights – preferably in their shining armour – to help re-conquer his kingdom.

Camelot was King Arthur’s kingdom, one he inherited by a stroke of luck. Tradition has it that Merlin, the magician, had placed a sword in a stone, saying that whoever drew it out would be king. The sword was yanked out by Arthur.

With a bit of luck, and a sympathy vote bank to boot, the Presidency is Zardari’s. As Merlin’s magic made Arthur king, Zardari was gifted the reigns of the PPP and eventually, this country, by the magic of a will. In the same way that many before Arthur tried to pull out the sword but to no avail; Musharraf’s ouster was attempted by many, but Zardari saw it to fruition.

The call for a round table conference brings to mind the 13 noble knights of Arthur’s round table. In the desi version, King Zardari is a leader of different sorts and his knights an eclectic band of leaders.

King Arthur’s closest ally, friend and confidant was Lancelot. Just like Fazlur- Rehman, he was the first knight to join the round table. Rehman Sahab – known for his swaying towards the ‘ruling’ elite - was the first to join the Zardari camp. Lancelot was seen as the most chivalrous knight, but he also caused the most trouble and eventually led to the downfall of Camelot. Like Lancelot, Maulana never fails in gentleness – it takes an innocent question like why people refer to him as Maulana Diesel to lose his cool! Lancelot was also very willing to help “others”.

Maulana is helpful in various ways. He was an ally of the Musharraf regime even when he was the leader of the opposition. Similarly, Maulana started off as a staunch coalition partner for Zardari but is now leading the religious right against the government. History has it that a mystical figure’s fostering and caring made Lancelot became one of history’s greatest knights. The mysterious elements of our establishment have harboured Maulana for so long that there is little doubt that he will live to be the greatest ‘knight’ of Pakistan. Lancelot was good friends with his co-knight, Sir Gawain, who I believe may hold some semblance to our prime minister.

Traditionally, Gawain is the principal hero and the exemplar of courtesy and chivalry but it is Lancelot who always takes center stage – stealing the limelight from other knights. Maulana Sahab always knows how to gain importance – he was the only knight to have the honour of dining with King Zardari before the round table event! Whereas, Lancelot was the eternal troublemaker, Arthur had Sir Bedivere to fall back on. Bedivere was the most loyal of Arthur’s men and was with him till the very end. Where allies and partners have disappointed King Zardari, Asfandyar Wali Khan has remained his most ardent supporter, helping Zardari gain some credit with an operation in Swat and Malakand. But the best knight proved to be Sir Galahad. All knights were asked to perform the ritual pulling out a sword from stone. Only Galahad was able to, proving that he came in closest to Arthur. Mian Nawaz Sharif can hold some similarity to Sir Galahad – only he can pull the plug on Zardari!

In history, the round table has immense importance. A round table has no head – implying that everyone who sits around it has equal status. King Arthur created this table to prevent quarrels among his knights, none of whom would accept a lower status than the other. King Zardari’s problem is the fact that he wants his knights around him at the round table but still wants to maintain his position as head. However, he doesn’t realise that the table may be his, but its head has always been occupied by someone else. Be it the West, or our powerful establishment, they have always maintained the head position and will continue doing so unless the knights at the round table become one. Some of our knights invited to the round table are heroes and champions of a just cause. However, jealousy, envy and the desire to topple Zardari as head of the table might distract them.

Leaders become only as powerful as the country they rule. It’s not personal gain, wealth or vendetta that makes them true knights. It is the strength that they draw from their people that earns them a place in history. The people of this ‘kingdom’ need true leadership – someone who can swim against the tide, take tough decisions that may not necessarily go down well in their own constituencies.

The knights of our times have failed so far. Only two per cent of Pakistanis pay tax – and that figure is not going to change unless RGST and agricultural tax are imposed. We need visionaries who change the destiny of our people, not those who bow before pressure groups. The religious right should be confronted; what is it about the blasphemy law that compels them to protest? What is it about them that a prime minister with a a two-third majority, or even one who enjoys a unanimous vote of confidence, bends over backwards to satisfy those with a three per cent vote bank. What does it say about your leadership when you are bullied by non-state actors?

And what kind of leaders can’t dare to question why they must always give up a majority share of their budget every year to the most powerful – no questions asked, no explanations required. And what kind of people’s representative looks to the West for their cues?

The idea of the round table is epic. It took petty rivalry, a villainous traitor and grave misunderstandings to break the harmony of this group. It could very well happen that the round table that Zardari has called will make no impact. We are all sceptical about Zardari’s motives – and rightly so – and doubtful of his knights too. But history is often about defying the sceptics.

The writer works for Geo TV.

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