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Residents of Florida endure natural disasters. Pakistanis suffer man-made ones.

To outsiders, Pakistan is less a country than an unpredictable volcano. Unlike natural volcanoes which spout smoke and lava through a cone, the toxic magma bubbling below Pakistan can surface anywhere, suddenly, without warning. The first warning plumes of smoke usually appear in the skies above Islamabad. Then, in response to some primordial signal, the lava of dissent seeps simultaneously through fissures across the country, disturbing the nation’s equilibrium.      

Six months ago, the political scene in Pakistan appeared as deceptively dormant as Sicily’s Mount Etna. The sky was cloudless. Today, Pakistan competes with Indonesia’s Mount Agung which rumbles ominously, threatening to erupt and bury everything that lives on the island of Bali.

Many question whether Pakistan is a country at all.  Is it a modern, sovereign state, capable of determining its own policies, regulating its own economy, conducting its own foreign policy?  Or is it, as naturalists suspect, a brainless, disoriented octopus whose various tentacles operate at odds with one another?   

Those cursed with a memory will recall the earlier Islamabad dharnas in 2013 and 2014, incited by Tahir-ul-Qadri, first without, then with an unenthusiastic Imran Khan. The outcomes of those raucous dharnas were two agreements, signed by impotent governments. By doing so, they conceded equivalence to insurrectionists who possessed more vigour than legitimacy. Anyone who wonders where those scraps of paper are today should scavenge in the debris swept up after the crowds had been ordered to disperse.

Throughout history, such scraps of paper have had a short shelf-life. In 1914, Great Britain signed a paper guaranteeing the neutrality of Belgium. It did not prevent the First World War. In 1938, Britain’s Neville Chamberlain and Germany's Adolf Hitler signed an agreement in Munich guaranteeing the future of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland. Hitler dismissed it later as a ‘scrap of paper’ and invaded Poland, precipitating the Second World War.

The latest scrap of paper signed by Minister of Interior Ahsan Iqbal et alia and by four hirsute representatives of the protestors is likely to meet the same fate, the heavy-handed signature of a Major-General of the ISI as ‘guarantor’ notwithstanding. Would it be lèse-majesté bordering on treason to ask whether that army official stood as guarantor of performance by an elected civilian government or compliance by an unelected, organised rabble?

To appease the mob, the Minister of Law has been sacrificed. It will not take long for them to tire of gnawing his bones. How long will it be before another call is made, another sacrifice demanded? 

Minister Ahsan Iqbal must rue the day he left the shaded arbor of the Planning Commission for the merciless heat of the Interior Ministry. In October 2017, within days of assuming office, he had to endure the indignity of being thwarted by an underling in the Pakistan Rangers when he tried to enter an accountability court where his leader Nawaz Sharif was being arraigned. This past week, he has been told that the only uniform that will come to his aid in battling an insurrection in the country’s capital is of the Pakistan Rangers. And as if that was not thorn enough, he has to suffer the daily barbs of his predecessor Chaudhry Nisar, a back-seat driver in search of an official limousine.

Mr Ahsan Iqbal’s neglect of the brewing Faizabad crisis may have been caused by his having to chair the 7th Joint Coordination Committee of the CPEC. He was needed to secure the lid on its details. The prime minister Mr Shahid Khaqan Abbasi pleads no such distractions. Like all his predecessors, he is mesmerised by the Saudis.

At the drop of a diminishing petrodollar, he flew to Riyadh along with his Defence minister, the Chief of Army Staff and the head of ISI. Why he had to go so suddenly, what he discussed with the octogenarian King Salman, what instrument Pakistan will play in the discordant orchestra, conducted by the hyper-energetic Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman to a score composed in Washington, are not available to Pakistan’s public.

If punctuality is the politeness of princes, secrecy is the prerogative of Pakistani prime ministers. They operate on the principle that what the electorate does not know, its heart will not grieve over. The public is expected to believe that Pakistan will provide ‘technical and human resource’ cooperation to the Saudis. Isn’t that a euphemism that could be applied equally to that other band of mercenaries – the Swiss Guards protecting the Pope?

Ironically, for the past few days, Pope Francis has been visiting Myanmar and Bangladesh to commiserate with the homeless Rohingya Muslims, while leaders from forty-one Muslim countries congregated in Riyadh to determine how best to annihilate fearsome fellow Muslims who populate the borderless Islamic State.





30 November 2017
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