Shock therapy for a confused republic - Ayaz Amir - Friday, March 11, 2011

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For two things the Islamic Republic stands out in all its glory: the highest levels of radioactive confusion and self-righteousness anywhere on the planet. We moan constantly about the state of the nation, and for valid reasons, but because of pathology or a congenital condition, getting to the bottom of things is not a national specialty.

About how it all began in 1947 or before, we should give up the discussion and turmoil. Enough of confused and incomplete forays into the past. Let us concentrate on the present if at all we are interested in trying to fight the ills plaguing this land, pregnant with promise at its birth but now overloaded with problems.

After three years of Zardari and his feckless dispensation, everything suggests a nation and a people whose cup of patience has run over. This country is not ripe for revolution. Let us be clear on this score. But it stands on the verge of disorder. No one expects anything from this regime, not even its fervent partisans, if any are left. Yet we are stuck with it. And as it is not in our power to make time stand still, our problems are mounting – some inherited, others made worse by an incompetence worthy of the highest prizes.

So, as Lenin would have put it, what is to be done? Two fronts demand the most urgent attention: the economy and the Afghan war, the second fuelling the fires of militancy and extremism not only in Afghanistan but Pakistan as well.

The longer our involvement in this war the more we get burned. This connection is lost on many of the ‘liberal’ tribe – amongst whose number I count myself – who are anti-extremist and partisans of ‘the war on terror’. If we are to win our side of this war, and get the better of the forces of extremism, we have to opt out of America’s lost imperial venture in Afghanistan. This won’t be easy but since when were tough decisions easy?

Both the economy and the war call for tough decisions, which only a strong government can take. The circus before us, amusing and tragic by turns, scarcely answers to this description.

So the question really is, does the political class, and those perennially agitated by political questions, wait out the next two years before elections are due? Or should a national hunt be on for alternatives?

Democracy’s votaries, most of them armchair warriors, say the march of democracy should not be interrupted. They have a point and history too is on their side. Extra-constitutional adventures have cost Pakistan dear. If the factors accounting for the mess Pakistan is in are enumerated, military interventionism will top the list.

Even so, democracy in Zardari clothing is a hard act to swallow, tempting one to stand accepted wisdom on its head. The information revolution has compressed the meaning of time. Zia could be endured for 11 years, Musharraf for not more than eight and a half, and Zardari for not more than three. The prospect of two more years of the present dramatic cast is enough to send a tremor through the stoutest heart.

So what are we left with? If not military intervention – and may the gods spare us that – what else? Fresh elections is the only answer. This government can do nothing worthwhile either for the economy or the Afghan war. We need a fresh set of decision-makers, which makes a recourse to the people imperative.

It is not so much a question of what is to be done, as of who is to do what needs to be done? If ever Pakistan stood in need of men and women of action and vision, it is now. They won’t come from Mars but from within the nation’s bosom. If not, woe betide the Islamic Republic and let it look to its salvation where it will.

Even if, when elections are attempted, the same lot we see today is recycled, to increase the sum of our misery and despair, it will still have been worth it because stagnant waters become clearer and lose some of their slime with a bit of movement.

Elections will also provide an opportunity to bring some of the disaffected Baloch, if not all, back into the national mainstream. Balochistan needs the most urgent attention. Musharraf and his generals, who deserve to be put in the stocks on this account if no other, allowed Balochistan to fester and become a seedbed of anger and alienation.

This is a collective indictment against the entire nation. We say we are God’s chosen and anointed – part of the mythology we have nurtured since the country’s birth. But look at it this way: if we can’t solve the problems of eight – repeat eight – million people, how in the name of all the furies do we go about solving the problems afflicting 180 million people?

Round-table conferences or a conclave bringing the political leadership and judges and generals together is another recipe for endless talk and more confusion. The judiciary, in any event, is fanning its own bits of confusion. These days it looks more like an alternative centre of executive power than anything else.

Pakistan doesn’t need prescriptions. We have all the world’s clichés, and to spare, at our disposal. If words and stale communiqués could be of any use we would have been out of the woods long ago. Pakistan needs a strong course of medicines and strong doctors to administer the poison. Where do we get them from? This is our foremost problem. Elections are a means to this end.

Not a government of experts – a formula scripted by the devil – not a council of wise men or women (alas, none around) but a recourse to the people. And let their choice be what it will. At least the dull waters will have been stirred and some of the enthusiasm lost since the last elections will hopefully return.

To repeat, if the economy is to be pulled back from the edge and the umbilical cord linking Pakistan to the quicksands of Afghanistan to be cut, fresh hands are called for on the national tiller.

The clamour of the religious armies is not the cause of Pakistan’s distress. It is but one symptom of the larger problem which has Pakistan in its grip. This won’t be loosened without a rethinking of national priorities. We have enough problems of our own. We should look to them instead of being distracted, and tempted, by foreign adventures.

Much of the army’s angst in the wake of the Raymond Davis affair is misplaced. Army and ISI want the terms of engagement with the Americans, especially the CIA, to be redefined. This is akin to wanting a rent agreement renegotiated whereas Pakistan’s problem is to seek a closure of the original agreement.

Pakistan needs other things, like preferential trade access. It doesn’t need Kerry-Lugar largesse. It doesn’t need USAID. It doesn’t need the biggest or second-biggest American embassy in the world in Islamabad (in the process of being built). And the army’s officer corps should not be so set on going for training courses in the United States.

The Americans are training our commandos in Cherat. They are imparting training to the Frontier Corps. They are training our naval commandos. And after feeding with golden corn the holy cow of national security all these years we thought that if not in inter-continental ballistic missiles we were at least self-sufficient in basic military training. We never cease to be amazed.


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