At a fork in the road
23 June, 2011
By Roedad Khan
There is a saying in China that “you should not only focus on your head when you have a headache because the real reason for your headache could be your foot”.
The debacle of May 2 was an incredible spectacle. What caused it? How, people wondered, had it come about? What were the terrible weaknesses and defects that had brought the country to such a low and pitiful state?
Not long ago, the Republic had been strong enough, its government, army, people, and institutions tough enough to explode its nuclear device in the teeth of opposition from the world’s sole surviving superpower, and to survive a succession of bloody and disastrous battles. In the ensuing years, something happened that sapped that strength so that in the span of a few hours, while the guardians of our frontiers slumbered away, the myth of Pakistan’s independence was shattered.
Pakistan, possessing one of the finest armies in the world, lay prostrate, leaving the country dazed and totally demoralised. How had we fallen to this state? What were the reasons for the lack of military response? What were the reasons for the political and moral collapse leading to the debacle?
Who is to blame for the May 2 debacle in Abbottabad? The army? But an army can rarely be stronger than the country it serves. How strong was Pakistan on the eve of the ordeal it was about to undergo? People had been watching with increasing apprehension the country go downhill, its strength gradually sapped by dissension and divisions, by an incomprehensible blindness in foreign, domestic and military policy, by the ineptness of its corrupt leaders, and by a feeling of growing confusion, hopelessness and cynicism among the people. No wonder, trust in institutions was at historic lows.
Today Pakistan is in a state of permanent crisis. Its shaky parliamentary system is bungling along rudderless, invoking deep concern among a bewildered citizenry with its political shenanigans. Its foreign policy is in ruins and the domestic quarrels are more venomous than ever. The government avoids tackling urgent problems, its ministers complacently certain that it would not be they but their successors who would have to shoulder the burden of resolving them. They find it easier to stand still, to stand pat, do as little as possible, displease as few as possible, and mint as much money as possible in the shortest possible time.
Sixty-three years after independence, Pakistan has a dysfunctional, lop-sided, hybrid political system composed of incongruous elements, a president facing corruption charges at home and abroad, scared of his own people - a non-sovereign rubber-stamp parliament, and a weak, ineffective corrupt prime minister. The opposition languishes in torpid impotence. The regime has forfeited popular support and is seen as the playground for corrupt, self-serving politicians whose primary concern is to loot and plunder this country.
Parliament, the so-called embodiment of the will of the people, a sleepy, drowsy body, is fake, overpaid, and underemployed, and is becoming more and more odious and stupid. It is deaf and blind to the anguished cries rising from the slums of Pakistan. Quite a few members of this august body are fake degree-holders. They concealed the truth, misrepresented their qualifications and managed to enter the parliament through shameless, blatant lies and deceitful means. Instead of masquerading as chosen representatives of the people, they should all be tried and sent to prison.
Pakistan will be Pakistan again as soon as we have swept away this scum, and there will be no Pakistani who will not cry with joy when that happens.
The army has lately begun to realise that it has been led into an absurd war, a meaningless war, a war against its own people, a war which has cost it thousands of precious lives, a war that is not theirs and has been imposed on them.
The Pakistan Army is suffering from sclerosis in the high command, from a wave of pacifism in the country, and from an utter confusion in parliament and the government. Top generals are clinging to their posts long after superannuation. The Pakistan army, like the French army, on the eve of World War II, is being run by Methuselahs, beholden to a corrupt president owing everything to Washington. Meanwhile, the people of Pakistan had been put to sleep with a pleasant dream based on a false sense of security. Now reality has hit them.
Today Pakistan, a thinly disguised civilian dictatorship, is a paradise for gangsters, swindlers, smugglers, tax evaders, fake degree-holders and so on and so forth - all the dregs of humanity. People openly talk about the corruption, indiscretions, follies and vulgarities of President Zardari, a parvenu, his corruption and avarice gargantuan, his ambition overweening, whom fate has so rashly planted in the presidency. He will stop at nothing to keep his lock on power. It seems that in the death throes of his regime, he will take Pakistan with him.
It is hard to exaggerate the baleful impact of Zardari’s rule: the oligarch and the mafia who have stolen every asset of any value, the inflation that has ruined the middle class and the poor, the corruption that has corroded all values and humiliated every decent citizen; and the insecurities that have filled everyone with fear and anxiety.
The present leadership is taking Pakistan to a perilous place. Terror is the order of the day. Pakistan is experiencing the warning tremors of a mega political and economic earthquake. We have President Zardari. And little hope and no cash. This is a particularly perilous time for Pakistan to have a president who is facing corruption charges at home and abroad and whose moral authority is in shreds. At a time when the country is at war, President Zardari, the Supreme Commander, spends almost his entire existence in the confines of a bunker - his macabre domicile which he seldom leaves these days. He is more concerned about protecting himself and his ill-gotten wealth rather than protecting the country or the people of Pakistan.
The Pakistan army is a people’s army, in the sense that it belongs to the people of Pakistan who take a jealous and proprietary interest in it. It is not so much an arm of the executive branch of the government as it is an arm of the people of Pakistan. It is the only shield we have against foreign aggression. In the absence of authentic institutions, it is the only glue which is keeping the federation together. Don’t weaken it. All efforts by enemies of Pakistan to alienate it from the people must be frustrated. Individuals are expendable. Institutions are not.
By all means, reform the army and the ISI. But why only the army and why only the ISI? Why leave out corrupt political institutions and thoroughly corrupt holders of public office at the summit of power? One thing is certain. For anything to change in this country, everything has to change. What this country needs today is a mighty but bloodless revolution.
Today the nation is clearly at a fork in the road. We can follow the line of least resistance, turn a blind eye to all that Zardari is doing, and continue to follow the road that has led us where we are today. Or we can choose the other road. We don’t need pitchforks and guns. If parliament is unable or unwilling to respond to public demands, people will, perforce, take the issue to the parliament of the streets, as they have done in the past.