. . . . . .  


Last Sunday morning, in Lahore, I discovered that all the shops – the bakers, the butchers, the mini and supermarkets – were closed, by order of the government to save electricity. Only pharmacies remained open to supply the sick. The living had to make do with stale groceries.  

I returned home and asked myself: Who over the past seventy-five years should be held culpable for bringing our country to this state of national decomposition?  Why are we still short of everything that makes ordinary life livable? Why are we like aged beggars still dependent on handouts from the Chinese and the Saudis? When will we admit that this mirage of solvency is sustained by onerous loans and remittances from Pakistanis too frightened to return home?

We suffered Ayub Khan’s Green Revolution, endured Z. A. Bhutto’s Islamic Socialism, survived Ziaul Haq’s Islamic revivalism. Democrats ransacked our coffers in the name of patriotism. Plutocrats fattened themselves professing public service. Autocrats rewarded themselves bountifully for having saved us from ourselves.

The last war we fought was over fifty years ago. The last demonstration of our nuclear capability was almost twenty-five years ago. We have the 10th most powerful army in the world, ostensibly to resist an enemy which has refused to talk to us for over four years, and thwarts us at every international forum.     

I sought answers in the memoirs of General Zahid Ali Akbar Khan: Journey into History (2021). One of the Jalandari clan of Pathan migrants, his long career in the Pakistan Army involved him in ‘the construction of the Karakoram Highway[,] the country’s nuclear bomb, the army housing scheme, martial law, the Siachen conflict, and the building of the Kalabagh Dam.’ At a more senior level, he was involved in ‘resolved the power problems of the country, and winning the Cricket World Cup in 1992 as Chairman of the Cricket Board.’   

In 1987, General Akbar would have become Army Vice-Chief, had he not been pipped by General Aslam Beg. He was shunted sideways to WAPDA, where he presided as Chairman (1987-1992). WAPDA, after being hamstrung by intransigent unions and institutionalised inertia, was resurrected into active mobility. He recalls how incentives motivated WAPDA teams to reduce losses from 30% of power generated, to 17%. He ‘persuaded’ defaulters to pay their bills, and when they did not, he disconnected supply. He did this to the Multan garrison in the height of summer. The Commandant called General Ziaul Haq who assured General Akbar that the Garrison’s dues of Rs 800 m. would be settled. The next day a cheque for Rs 950 m. was delivered. The following day, the QMG appealed for the refund of the extra Rs 150 m., ‘sent by mistake.’  (Is that how the Controller General of Accounts operates?)            

Inevitably, General Akbar’s haughty style of governance spawned his enemies, including at least two prime elected prime ministers who sought to remove him before the expiry of his five year term, protected though he was by the WAPDA Act.

His book is replete with instances of the insidious ways he was offered bribes by contractors and suppliers everywhere in the world. Like ascetics and saints, General Akbar repeatedly faced temptation. He claims he resisted them. His resistance would have made a credible Pakistani answer to the Confessions of St. Augustine, had his reputation not foundered finally on allegations made by NAB for possessing assets beyond his declared means.  

What caused the noses of NAB’s bloodhounds to twitch? Was it the information that early in General’s Akbar’s career, he had obtained without any legitimate claim No. 171, Sarwar Road, Rawalpindi (next to the Pearl Continental, Rawalpindi)? Was it his ambition to set up two industrial units for broiler chickens and automatic kilns from a loan of forty lacs sanctioned by Z. A. Bhutto (then Commerce Minister in Ayub’s cabinet)?  The denouement occurred when General Zahid Ali Akbar was forced to return to Pakistan in 2016, accept a Plea Bargain with NAB, and pay ‘a ransom of Rs 199 m.’

After reading General Akbar’s book, I wondered why I, a civilian, am still a lesser Pakistani? I wondered why my taxes pay for his pension (and to thousands of retirees like him) out of the civilian portion of the national budget, when the state pays me nothing for equivalent years of service to the nation? It cannot even guarantee me a grave.

I am prepared to drink hot water in lieu of tea, walk instead of using a car, live half the life I want to, provided every minister, every government official, every officer in the armed forces undertakes to do the same. Why do they protect themselves with over-armed escorts? They have nothing to fear from us down-trodden, miskin civilians. Their real enemy is their hubris.              



 [DAWN, 30 June, 2022]


30 June 2022
All Articles
Latest Books :: Latest Articles :: Latest SPEECHES :: Latest POEMS