We moan about symptoms and peripheral things. We are still not getting to the heart of the matter. Dunces cannot be Salahuddin Ayubis. Traders and bank-loan specialists, nurtured in the bosom of military rule, cannot become nation-saviours.
Put any cream on them, any makeup, darbari journalists – and there is no shortage of that breed here – can sing their praises and invest them with imaginary qualities, but none of this will make the slightest difference. Dummies will remain dummies.
Pakistan can have not one democratic transition but a dozen but as long as the political process only throws up the characters we have known – Zardari, the present torch-bearers of enlightenment and progress, not to mention military saviours – not only will things remain the same, they will get worse.
We’ve seen this happening time and again. But we keep hoping for miracles. To state the obvious, and I have done it many times, with the old ingredients you can only get the old porridge…a lesson lost on the Pakistani political class and the great Pakistani awam.
So much has been written about the Sharif visit to Washington, and there’s little to add. But what exactly were we expecting? That our PM would arrive at the White House and floor Barack Obama with his eloquence? That his articulation of issues would be so profound and compelling that the American president would be reduced to admiring silence?
A third-time prime minister looking so ill at ease…twice sipping from the glass of water by his side, shuffling and looking nervously at the speaking notes he was clutching in his hands, Obama looking like an advanced professor and our PM a very baffled student. To complete the picture of awkwardness, our PM read from his notes. He had to give no lecture on philosophy, only utter the usual platitudes which are the standard fare on such occasions, but even this was proving difficult. And in the end he called Michelle Obama Mr Obama before hastily correcting himself (the video of this is worth watching).
But these people who can be such lords at home and get so hot under the collar in that setting are the guides we have chosen, of our own free will, to pilot our ship to the shores of progress and prosperity. Just shows the choices we have. However we shuffle our pack of cards, hoping for our luck to change, this is what we get: limited souls, a long succession of them. Whatever their other differences, the factor which unites them is the desperation to make the ritual pilgrimage to Washington.
There’s no point in going over their names and recounting their exploits. The point is that this is the leadership class we have and unless this changes little else will change. Taxing the rich and thus adding to the sum of national revenue, facing up to the Taliban threat, producing more energy and curbing line losses, reforming the state administration, all these require strong leadership. From where do we get this?
This is the mother of all challenges. Everything else comes afterwards. But if the only thing our political environment permits is the triumph of one set of freebooters after another, heroes and mahatmas who can only look out for themselves, how on earth do we begin fixing our affairs?
The Sharifs are very good at some things, like running their industrial and business empire. They need no tutorials on that. If they are out of their depth when it comes to other issues, that’s the package we settled for – or the choice Punjab made – in the last elections. And we are stuck with this package until the next turn of the political wheel. That’s the meaning of democracy. You make your choice and then live with it.
Lampooning Nawaz Sharif therefore, even if there is much to lampoon, solves nothing. Offering him gratuitous advice about how he should be doing this and that is pointless, because with his strengths and weaknesses he is what he is and will remain that way.
Cont on page 2....
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