Hanging by a string - Ameer Bhutto - Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A number of analysts recently commented that cricket was the only remaining factor that united the people of Pakistan. If this is so then that is a very sorry state of affairs indeed. But the intensity of the frenzy that gripped the whole nation during the ICC World Cup and the fact that the same passion is woefully lacking in more weighty matters cannot but lead to the conclusion that these assertions are not so far off from reality.

Winning the World Cup was never going to address the issues of lawlessness, unemployment, sky-rocketing prices of essential commodities, corruption, systematic dismantling of state institutions and breach of national sovereignty. Yet the public remains idle spectators to all that, apart from the occasional gnashing of teeth and sanctimonious wailing over their misfortune.

As a consequence of repeated mishandling of a plethora of crises and issues of national importance, inequitable distribution of political power and national wealth and disgraceful governance, the sinews and tendons that normally bind society have atrophied and decomposed, leaving the country dangling by a cricket ball string. We have lost the common identity and purpose that led to the creation of this country.

Pakistan was founded on the concept of protection of the rights of the minorities (Muslims being a minority in India), but now the minorities and all those who speak out for them have become hunted prey here. This homeland of the Muslims has come into disrepute around the world as the breeding ground of extremism and terrorism in the name of Islam. The constituent units that came together to form Pakistan under the promise of autonomy and sovereignty in the Pakistan Resolution have been made to succumb to the dictatorship of Islamabad, controlled by the one majority unit. The dream has indeed soured.

If something is to be salvaged from the wreck this country is turning into, deep rooted change is urgently needed. The litmus test of any system is its ability to correct anomalies and jettison bad blood. This system has failed us on both counts. The institutions and organs of state that are its supporting pillars are haemorrhaging under the merciless onslaught of the Zardari administration.

If the judiciary tightens the noose around the government because of its corruption and misconduct, it is rendered helpless and ineffective by simply ignoring its orders with impunity. If NAB is an obstacle in the robbing of public funds and is unearthing ghosts of corruption scandals past, it has to be neutralised by putting it under the charge of a compliant stooge or crippled and rendered useless. If the HEC is pursuing members of parliament who hold fake degrees, it must be done away with. How can the state function without such vital institutions and organs?

There is often a tendency to cling on to the known and familiar, even though it is harmful, rather than venture forth into the promising unknown. This phobia of the new is exacerbated by fear-mongering by old crumbling orders. Presidents Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt both claimed that if they were to go, their respective countries would be plunged into civil war. They are both gone, but far from being plunged into civil war, their countries have made great strides towards liberal democracy. From being a one party dictatorship, newfound Tunisian liberty has found expression in the mushrooming of over thirty political parties within a few months. The dreaded secret police stands disbanded.

The 33-year-old blogger who played a prominent role in igniting the revolution over the internet and was imprisoned and tortured by Ben Ali is now a member of the interim cabinet. In Egypt, virtual one man rule has given way to profound positive change. Recently, the constitutional changes proposed by the interim ruling council were approved in a referendum. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for September with presidential polls to follow shortly thereafter.

But in Pakistan, apart from those who have a vested interest in the stagnant status quo, even some reasonably enlightened elements seem terrified of initiating any process of change. It is said that revolution causes too much upheaval and disorder. Did the partition of India in 1947 not unleash disorder in the short run? Was it not worth it? Instead of focusing on the transitory period of disorder, why can’t we look beyond it to the fruits that are to be reaped? The Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions caused temporary upheaval but the positive change there is already palpable.

In societies where the old failed order is firmly entrenched and refuses to make way, revolution becomes a necessary instrument of political progress. Just as cancer cells having completed their natural life-cycle, refuse to die and instead fester and become malignant, outdated and failed old orders in society too are a malignancy in the body politic of the state and need to be removed. Cancer can be successfully treated if detected in the early stages. Societies too can be saved from ruin provided the requisite change is brought about before it is too late. The beauty of democracy and power of the people is that it transforms seemingly chaotic discord into a melody from which order is born, embodying the will of the people and imparting legitimacy to representative governments.

There also appears to be an underlying fear in some quarters in Pakistan concerning the difficulty in evolving a consensus in the framing of a new order, the sort that was achieved in 1973. If there is indeed any substance to these fears and our sense of nationhood has disintegrated to such an extent that we can not even agree on how to save the state from sinking, then it makes the argument for change even more urgent.

The slide down the slippery slope of fragmentation cannot be halted by sitting on our hands and pretending all is well. We need to do something about it; the sooner the better. Let us not look to failed leaders and political parties to save us. They will do no such thing. They have their own vested interests to attend to.

What is needed is a general consensus among the people about the direction they want to go in. The skeleton of such a consensus already exists; people want an end to loot and plunder of the state, they want an honest and clean government committed to protecting national and public interests, they want safety of life, honour and property and they crave succour and sustenance. It is such basic aspirations that ignite revolutions and in the fires of revolutions are tempered clean and honest new leaders.

But the psyche of the people of Pakistan is quite baffling: We work ourselves up into a frothing frenzy over a game of cricket, but idly watch the cancer destroying our country from within. We smash our television sets to pieces when Pakistan loses in the World Cup semi-final, but do not seem to mind the compromising of national sovereignty in drone attacks or in the Raymond Davis case. What a strange nation we are!

We need to get our priorities right. Hard decisions have to be made, and soon. Anything that is meaningful and worth having cannot be achieved without struggle and sacrifice. A better and brighter future awaits the brave people of Tunisia and Egypt. They earned it by paying a heavy price for it. If we are not prepared to pay the same price, then we have no right to continue with our favourite national pastime of wailing on incessantly about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

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.

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=41284&Cat=9

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