Pride and passion

When maxima­l is costly, optima­l can be the best take-away. Take it.
By Shahzad Chaudhry
Published: August 23, 2014

The writer is a defence analyst who retired as air vice-marshal in the Pakistan Air Force

Imran Khan and I have two things in common: we are of roughly the same age, and have similar experience of the general environment while growing up; and second, we have both tasted success in sufficient measures. The latter is important as much as it is worrisome because it embeds in a personality a disposition that amounts to invincibility. The larger and longer the pale of success, the more entrenched is the characteristic. And this is heady stuff blanking away realities that soon catch up to bring home the limitations to the power that one assumes is his to keep.
There are, however, also differences as are bound to be in two people’s respective experience even as they chart a separate course in life. I certainly have had to struggle harder than him in climbing such a ladder to higher achievement, while he was born literally with a silver spoon in comparison. With a family to boot, initial barriers were overcome simply by the strength of his genealogy, as he found glory. I, a son to a typical farming family of Punjab, had to begin my struggle early, very early, and chart my own course ahead.

Our respective fields of profession meant a measure of ‘application’ adding value to what was naturally endowed; his cricket, mine flying — only a minuscule make it successfully in combat flying. He became a champion cricketer before the eyes of the world; I, accomplished enough in the art and science of flying, known within my narrow spread of profession. There is, however, a crucial common between us that paved the way for our respective success: passion, that he calls ‘junoon’; and application, that composes hard work, perseverance and resilience. It is ‘application’, and the knowledge of what it takes to succeed that keeps one grounded. Passion alone can be a misleading teacher. Varying amounts of application in one’s experience could engender a different value of grounding.
There is another teacher in life that is a bigger and a better teacher than success — adversity. Beyond the common losses that each of us share in the cycle of life, there are some that are personal; especially, if it also involves one’s ‘junoon’; like experiencing an early end to one’s career built around passion. He did not have to experience such setbacks. He rose to become the skipper of the national team, and won his country the world cup. That is akin to a soldier rising to be the chief of his service, and then winning his nation a war. He did both; I remained shy of both despite similar levels of passion.
In learning ‘why’, there lies the key to understanding Imran’s current dilemma; one moment a heady mix of a likely victory celebrated through visible devotion of his fans, and at another a constant chatter that tells him he has the system and himself locked into a grid with no way out; the cost too horrendous to imagine — to himself and to the political system of which he now is the shareholder. We are into what one might call ‘a political paralysis’ — a government unable to function. To most in the country, Imran’s passion has brought us into this blind alley. ‘Events’ now dictate how Pakistan will react, rather the other way round. This is called ceding control to extrinsic processes, such as street power. This is a failing of the government.
An initial attempt at dialogue between the two was soon taken over by primordial recourse to battle positions when the Parliament provided the government a ‘thumping’ support. Political sanity is in serious short supply in a nation that thrives on passion to the point of frenzy. We fail to realise that those who touched greatness did with heaps of ‘application’ added to such passion. Knowing it had little to fear after support from all state institutions the government simply forgot about remedying the shortcomings that had first been the reason the PTI and the PAT moved against it.
This is what ‘adversity’ might have taught Imran: as you near the peak, there are many who are ready to throw you off. You might think of them as lesser people, unsuitable to the lofty heights that they occupy instead, but them all — the environment, the elements — can combine to thwart your moment of ascent to the peak. They bring you down in the name of a system, with which they have common stakes and shared interests. They will do so without concern for how far you may have travelled and how arduous and how steep had been your ascent. Systems win; individuals lose. Systems can be overturned by revolutions alone, but revolutions are destructive; not every structure can take a revolution.
When the US political system shuts down because of a gridlock — at times for months — it still has the resilience to resume and recover when it restarts. For Pakistan where daily borrowing is to the tune of rupees five billion just to make the system run, no authority in control means that both the state and the nation will crumble. It is to keep the basic unit functioning that we step back, that we withdraw, that we forsake our ambitions. This, too, is the ultimate sacrifice especially when passion drives your ambition.
And this is what ‘application’ would teach you under the circumstances: the need to persevere ‘within’ a system; to work the possible avenues and incrementally evolve the system closer to the dream that one carries. The system like a mountain is else too heavy to move despite the passion. Knocking against it is decimating your own existence.
Another lesson of politics resides in its definition: the art of the possible. A pursuit of the impossible in contrast is irrational. Irrationality and audacity are mutually replaceable commodities; if you win, you will be called audacious; when you lose, you will be termed irrational. The line is thin and the cost is huge. The cases that Imran or Tahirul Qadri make are genuine, but against a system that decides to stand against them en bloc, they may not make much difference beyond D-Chowk. Under such circumstances you play for a draw, which is as fair a result if not as exciting. When maximal is costly, optimal can be the best take-away. Take it.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2014.