The twilight of hope? Ameer Bhutto - Thursday, April 28, 2011

Security of life and property, along with trade and commerce and pooling of multifaceted individual talents and skills to derive maximum communal benefits, formed the nucleus of the justification for the origin of the modern state as we know it. As mankind evolved, scattered and isolated dwellings proved to be inadequate to satisfy increasingly complex requirements. Thus villages, then towns, then city states and finally the modern state came into being. In time, the concept of national sovereignty took root in reaction to the hegemonistic designs of the more powerful states among them and the archaic notion of rule by divine right gave way to political legitimacy derived through the sanction of the people and democratic rule became the most morally acceptable system of government.

Pakistan stands without any of the above justifications of statehood today. In my previous article (‘Hanging by a string’ April, 13 2011), I touched upon the fact that this country had drifted far and wide from its founding ideology. To summarise, having been founded in the name of Islam, Pakistan is now stigmatised as the prime manufacturer and exporter of religious extremism and terror.

Though the ideology of Pakistan is based on the sanctity of minorities rights (Muslims being a minority in India), minorities of all sorts and those who champion their cause have become hunted prey in this country. Having been lured by the promise of autonomy and sovereignty in the Pakistan Resolution, the smaller nations that opted for Pakistan have been subjugated by the heavy handedness of the majority. But the situation is more dire than the fading out of core founding values; the very raison d’ etre or justification of statehood and the foundations of modern socio-political structures that are a cine qua non for the existence of states have either disappeared or are eroding under an unrelenting attack from indigenous and foreign vested interests.

On the issue of sovereignty, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whose name and legacy the present motley bunch pounce on like a political ATM cash machine to bail themselves out of the mess they often make, confronted foreign hegemonic powers even though he had to ultimately face the gallows. Even Musharraf, a humble servant of the foreign overlords, found the will to deny his benefactors now and then, for which they dumped him into the trash can of history. The incumbent lot has learnt the lesson from the fate their predecessors suffered that if you want to save your necks and your hold on to power, prostrate yourselves before the foreign masters and deny them nothing. Compromise national sovereignty. Compromise your principles, integrity and commitments to the people. Compromise everything, but keep the gora sahibs happy. Thus, they have handed the country over to them on a silver platter. In return, the foreign masters prop them up in power and give them free reign to run the country into the ground with their corruption and incompetence.

Under international law, drone attacks on our soil are nothing short of an open declaration of war against Pakistan. But our government can only muster up lame verbal condemnations only for public consumption. We fell to a new low when the CIA chief recently told the head of ISI in no uncertain terms that they needed neither our permission nor our assistance in the pursuit of their military objectives in Pakistan since their own intelligence and operation network is now well established here. Where does that leave Pakistani sovereignty? How can we still claim to be independent? All that remains is for Americans to declare Pakistan to be the fifty-first state of the United States of America and issue all of us American passports.

As far as security is concerned, no one is safe even inside their homes. In rural areas streets are deserted well before sunset as no one dares venture forth. Murder, kidnapping for ransom and looting is rampant even in broad daylight in crowded cities. Karachi, the erstwhile city of lights, has become a killing field, with target killings going on unabated. Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa is held under some semblance of control only because of the heavy military presence there. No members of government or senior civil servants dare set foot outside their bunkers without the protection of an army of state security forces and private bodyguards. The entire neighbourhood where Zardari’s home is located in Karachi has been cordoned off by security forces and massive iron fences erected, making life a painful ordeal for the residents of the area. How can a government that devotes most of the security resources to protect itself but still fails to save governors and ministers from assassins provide security to ordinary citizens?

How can trade and commerce flourish with target killings, suicide and bomb attacks, extortion, kidnappings and lootings turning ordinary citizens into hunted prey? What little is earned by the fruits of their labour that escapes the clutches of street criminals is robbed by the rulers. A few months ago a forum of local businessmen put out a report showing that an estimated thousand billion rupees are embezzled annually. Under such insecure conditions foreign investment has fizzled out and the economy is floundering. We are living off aid and handouts that come at a crippling price and mortgage our future while making slaves of us all.

We do not fulfil the democracy criteria either. Democracy entails a clash of ideas which gives the electorate a genuine choice of different solutions to the country’s problems. Here we find no ideas, no prescriptions or solutions, but only a mad dash for power based on outdated loyalties to personality cults. What little variety of ideas existed has been smothered by this government under the guise of mufahimat to silence all dissent and invite all and sundry to the grand banquet of power. They grow fatter while the nation suffers. Recently it was revealed that about a third of the names in the 2008 electoral rolls were bogus entries, laying to rest all claims of genuine public representation.

This country cannot cope with the onslaught of vested interests much longer. Few seem to appreciate the seriousness of the situation: All justifications of statehood already stand eroded; if the state institutions and structures are also hollowed out to the extent that they implode under their own weight, Pakistan cannot and will not survive. Yet, for some reason, if one talks about constructive change, even some seemingly reasonable elements in society wail like banshees. If one talks about mal-administration and corruption, one is counted among the ‘chattering classes’. If one talks about the compromising of national sovereignty, one is labelled as being ‘ultra-patriotic’. They relish with unconcealed glee the fact that all prophecies for the collapse of the current dispensation have proven inaccurate thus far, even though it is amply self-evident that their sole agenda is to derive personal and political benefits, even if it destroys the country.

Dishonest practices, lies, deception and unashamed breaking of promises by these so-called leaders, instead of being condemned as criminal conduct, is heralded by some as political acumen and savvy. Expertise at looting the country is seen as political genius. This amounts to the incineration of honesty, sincerity and commitment to the national and public good on the funeral pyre of all that is good and holy. It amounts to the surrender of hope and a fateful resignation to remain mired forever in the filth and sleaze in which Pakistan is drowning. We cannot let this happen. We cannot allow the agents of the status quo to rob us of hope. Hope is the seed from which blooms the possibility of positive, progressive change. Without it, we have nothing.

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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