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10/01/2019
HEADS OR TAILS
ON PAKISTAN'S AMBITIOUS POVERTY

 

Travel broadens the mind and fattens the purse, as our prime minister Imran Khan is discovering. He has enlarged his earlier fund-raising experience by meeting leaders like prime minister Mahathir Bin Mohamad of Malaysia, president Recep Erdogan of Turkey, crown prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia,  and most recently crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the UAE.  His visits have resulted in our coffers being swollen (albeit temporarily). The price is that our international stature is being reduced to a size commensurate with our regional irrelevance.

Where is the self-respect we earned as a catalyst for the 2nd Islamic Summit held in Lahore in 1974? Where is our self-anointed indispensability as the US's crucial proxy in the global war against terror? Where is our goal to become another Asian tiger?  Gone, all gone. Far from being the only Islamic country with a nuclear power capable of bringing our foes to their knees, we now genuflect like an importuning bankrupt before Saudi Arabia, China, Turkey and the UAE. (“Brother, can you lend a buck for a bang?”)  To them, we must appear a nation of habitual scroungers, living (to borrow Juvenal’s caustic phrase) ‘in a state of ambitious poverty’.

Will we ever break the begging bowl which we unpack periodically as if it was some precious family heirloom? Will we ever see our state as rich as its leaders are? Will our politicians ever deliver on their voters’ legitimate aspiration that Pakistan becomes a pluralistic, functioning democracy in which everyone’s vote counts? And when will our elected representatives stop their macabre minuet to the death?  Not in the foreseeable future.

Soon, it shall be another hot summer of discontent, exacerbated by another sort of global warming. According to Robert Danton (a Harvard professor emeritus), there is ‘a climate change in politics’ in which ‘bigotry, bullying, mendacity, vulgarity…have damaged the atmosphere of public life. The protective layer of civility, which makes discourse possible, is disappearing like the ozone around the Earth.’

Professor Danton’s remarks target US president Donald Trump, but they have a wider application to countries such as ours. They should be heeded carefully, especially by anyone speaking or writing anything that will attract lightning.

Nevertheless, let us examine our current situation with steely eyes. The Parliament that we spent Rs 22 billion to elect six months ago languishes inert and impotent, its members enjoying perks and privileges without palpable performance. In it, a PTI government (which garnered 16.9 million votes) treats the PML-N (representing 12.9 m. voters) and the PPP (6.9 voters) with the same container-top condescension it sneered at them during the election campaign.

The mantra of selective accountability has been exposed, repeated without fruition and applied without conviction. Power has been fragmented. Effective power in India has devolved vertically from New Delhi to the states; in Pakistan it has been divided horizontally into separate power centres in Islamabad and within the Punjab.

Other countries - even Britain - must watch our dyslexic behaviour with bemusement, sympathy, even sadness. The British had Brexit as their Christmas pantomime. We have a Boxing Day farce. 

Other democracies must wonder why our politicians cannot be less venal to each other, why they cannot engage in debate without lacerating each other to shreds.    

Among them, the Turks may not be the best qualified to offer advice to us. In the 1960s, we were harnessed with Turkey and Iran into a US-designed troika called the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD). More recently, Turkey has had a curiously personalised relationship with our leaders. Former president General Musharraf spent his seven years of his youth in Turkey, becoming fluent in its language. Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif were believed to have lucrative business collaborations with Turkish companies. Shahbaz Sharif when Chief Minister Punjab used the Turkish model of public transport as an inspiration for his well-meant but costly misadventures. Now, PM Imran Khan has obliged president Erdogan by enforcing a ban on all twenty-five campuses of the Pak-Turk schools, set up in Pakistan by Erdogan’s former ally turned opponent, the US-based Turkish cleric Fetullah Gulen.  Their 11,000 Pakistani pupils have to find schools which do not have the misleading motto: ‘Two countries, One nation’.

President Erdogan still carries scars from his bouts against the Turkish military in his early years. Was he tempted to give his Pakistani guest for bedtime reading the famous Turkish fable of the two dragons? One dragon had multiple heads and a single tail, the other a single head but multiple tails. The multiple heads on the first dragon constantly savaged each other, while the tails on the second dragon followed obediently the commands of their single head.   

Pakistani voters are over-familiar with the denouement of that Turkish fable: the single-headed dragon survived, after devouring the other.

 

© F. S. AIJAZUDDIN    

 

[Dawn, 10 January 2019]

 
10 January 2019
 
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