Time to cast off despair - Roedad Khan - Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=44820&Cat=9

To no nation has fate been more malignant than to Pakistan. Born at midnight as a sovereign, independent, democratic country, today it is not just a “rentier state,” or a client state – but a slave state, ill-led, ill-governed by a corrupt, power-hungry junta imposed by Washington. No wonder, the Pakistan dream has morphed into a nightmare. Sad, but true. Our political and military leadership bear collective guilt for the loss of our sovereignty, the loss of our independence, and the dismal fate that hangs over our people.

Today, Pakistan is in total disarray. It looks frozen, with apathy below and paralysis above. Weighed down by abject poverty, income inequality, social injustice, crooked politicians, a carousal of corruption scandals involving the elite, and both the president and the prime minister corrupt to the core, Pakistan has nothing to smile about.

What with drone attacks and the cold-blooded murder of two innocent Pakistanis in Lahore by a CIA agent (now safely back home), we are indeed walking through the Valley of Humiliation. Underlying and aggravating the anxiety generated by such ills is a deep sense of impotence.

Pakistan has long been saddled with poor, even malevolent, leadership: predatory kleptocrats, military-installed dictators, political illiterates and carpet-baggers. Today, Pakistan is a nation of teahouse politicians, with no commitment to principles and no values. Here we have pocketbook liberals, pseudo- democrats and orthodox religious leaders concerned only with short-term profit and only too eager to do business with the military. A chasm separates them from most Pakistanis who see them as a predatory group, self-enriching and engaged in perpetual intrigue while the country collapses.

When societies fail to solve the urgent problems that confront them, a terrible package of ills – breakdown of law and order, famine, epidemic, and collapse of state institutions – begins to afflict them, turning stagnation into decline. And when these are joined by centrifugal forces of disruption, decline can turn into the collapse and demise of the state.

One thing is clear. Our corrupt leadership is trapped in a time warp sustained by US power and dollars. Pakistan, an America colony in all but name, is at the beginning of the end and resembles a fading star. A terrible explosion could happen any moment. Food prices are rising; the value of the rupee is dropping sharply; dollars are disappearing from currency exchange shops. It is not a recession, not a depression – it is a mess.

Against the backdrop of such terrible events, the Hayatabad dharna led by Imran Khan against American drone attacks on our soil, offered a respite from the pervasive sense of gloom and doom. Otto Von Bismarck once famously said that political genius entailed hearing the hoof beat of history and then rising to catch the galloping horseman by the coattails. This is exactly what Khan did from April 23-24, to the surprise of friends and foes alike.

At a time when most of our leaders, scared of their own people, are either bunkered or in self-exile abroad, Khan, with an uncanny sense of what the national psyche needs, and against the advice of government and security agencies, announced a two-day open air dharna in Hayatabad against American drone attacks.

He mobilised the people and galvanised them into action. Thousands of people, young and old, men and women from all over KPK and Fata, including some from Punjab, rallied to his call. The atmosphere was celebratory. Exposed to the blazing sun for two days, he spent the night, unarmed and unprotected, on the Khyber road under a starry sky. What impressed the Pakhtuns most was his boundless courage and his readiness to take risks for a good cause. By this simple act of courage, he won the hearts and minds of Pakhtuns all over KPK and beyond.

In contrast with the aging profile of the current political leadership, Khan’s supporters are all young. There was something very moving about the young men and women I met at the dharna – so full of fire, curiosity and promise. Khan electrified them. He spoke with buoyancy and hope. His message: No drone attacks. Our aim: A sovereign, independent, corruption-free Pakistan. A wind of change has begun to buffet Pakistan. Change is in the air but little will change until this corrupt regime falls.

There is a generation of young students coming of age in Pakistan that is educated, hard working, innovative and imaginative. But too many of them are also disillusioned, betrayed, defeated and disengaged. We have a responsibility to help them believe in themselves and in their power to shape their future and the future of their country. Can Khan alone can inspire them? Does he have that passion burning within him that will unleash youth power and set the nation alight? He will lance the poisoned carbuncle and clean the country of all the mess? That is for sure.

One thing is clear – youth anger is on the rise in Pakistan. Young people have slender prospects of finding jobs, or building a prosperous future for themselves. Unemployment rates even among the educated are as high as 80 percent in some areas. Few can travel. Emigration is a frustrating dream. Things are made worse by cronyism and corruption. Frustration is brimming over.

In these harsh and difficult political times, the question of character is at the centre of our national concerns. Of late, in Pakistan, the question of leadership has come to the fore and the quality of governance has been held up to ridicule. What is the secret to long-term success? For a person, party or nation, the element essential to success is character. “Fame is a vapour, popularity an accident,” wrote Horace Greeley, “riches take wing, and only character endures.”

If a president or a prime minister has credibility and integrity and if he is believable, nothing else matters. But, as is the case in our country today, if he has no credibility and no integrity and there is a gap between what he says and what he does, nothing else matters and he cannot govern.

We live in a profoundly precarious country. The current course of events is unacceptable. But the good news is, we are finally uniting and beginning to channel this anxiety into action. If young people in particular, take to the streets – as they have in other countries and as they have in the past in this country, in defence of our core institutions, things will change. The status quo will shift, corrupt rulers will crumble, and people will once again believe in the power of the powerless. The long nightmare will be over. It will be morning once again in Pakistan.

The political momentum now rests entirely with the people. They can smell the march of their own power. At last, people have found their life mission, something to fight for, something to die for: fighting dictatorship, military or civilian. They have also found the tool to achieve this mammoth task – street demonstrations and dharnas. It is time now for our men and women to assert themselves. Tomorrow will be too late.

The writer is a former federal secretary. Email: roedad@comsats.net.pk,www.roedadkhan.com

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