Everyone, everything on fire
The ongoing, seemingly endless and apparently merciless turf war entered yet another stage yesterday. This time in the form of a fire-breathing dragon determined to expose the custodians of Pakistan’s feared judiciary. The ball is squarely in the other court or so it would seem.
It has come full-circle. Not long ago, similar charges led to historical events. Pakistan’s horizon changed. Democracy was restored. The judiciary won an epic battle, the CJ a huge personal victory. Judicial activism corralled what was perceived as a possible democratic avalanche. Very quickly all sides moved to occupy territory outside their domain. The turbulence provided some good and some bad, as is usual.
A lesson well learnt in the circuit of life is to never underestimate your adversary. When you believe he is down and out, and slacken, he invariably comes back with a force that will knock you off your feet. And yet we see this happen all the time. Inevitably, as history proves, this artificial invincibility is the downfall of many ‘almost won’ battles. So near and yet so far!
The war assumes greater dimensions when institutions feeling challenged and threatened support the personality clash. It gives the strategic depth we talk of often in another context. Today we are confronted with the battle for the ‘establishment’. None of the players involved wants to take a step back. Zardari is a proven fighter, a remarkable success in a situation that would have the bravest run for cover. The CJ has been reincarnated through an unprecedented public movement in Pakistan. And the military can safely count multiple victories in its battles with the institutions. When giants go to war, the ground trembles, boundaries crumble.
I, the born optimist, look at this philosophically. Via this ensuing battle, in time, we will reach a solution. The defining boundaries of governance will be secured and misguided, malafide trespass will become a thing of the past. I believe we will see this in this lifetime. The fact that it now appears that the government will run its full five-year term despite the many serious confrontations on the political and domestic front strengthens my optimism. It’s a seriously major landmark in our history.
It goes without saying domestic instability has been the greatest detriment to Pakistan’s progress. Immature opposition to measures and projects desperately required over decades has caused the country immeasurable losses. Many of these absolutely essential infrastructure projects now cost exorbitant sums and thus are no longer viable, causing a huge vacuum. Corruption has been a curse. We stand today in a quagmire with a deficit infrastructure and shaky manufacturing base despite absolutely unlimited resources.
Tell me what this country does not have. We have land, water, sweet and sea, minerals, agriculture, billions of tonnes of coal, an industrious, hard working people; you name it we have it. And why is it not being put to use? Because we cannot come to terms with this: God’s blessing. Our turf battles have overtaken the needs of the nation, consumed the media and provided few real solutions.
In this backdrop, we need to view the world outside. Unfortunately, we are too self-absorbed to get the real gist of our status in the comity of nations. Yes, it’s all very well to be gung-ho and combative, but it doesn’t get us anywhere beyond a false sense of pride, amid much concern and seriously difficult situations. The immediate neighbours are going out of their way to enable friendships and harness investment successfully. I’ve met foreign investors in all three immediate neighbours to the East and they lament the waste of vast opportunities in Pakistan owing to the instability caused by domestic strife and the unfortunate warlike situation on our borders. Tell them it’s a thousand plus miles away and they look away unconvinced.
The negatives emanating from soured relations with the US have added to the poor perception. I am assuming both sides have valid arguments but to go beyond this is essential. Why are we driving the US administration to issue warnings from neighbouring countries? Because they feel we are not ‘hearing’ what they tell us during bilateral meetings. Enough of these are being held. I would say our rhetoric and pre-managed, stereotype statements over the years have run the course. Arguments appear weak and unsubstantiated. The really valid one being humanitarian concern over collateral damage from drone and allied attacks on our side of the border.
If it’s once again bruised egos that are driving dissent then we need to quickly address them before it gets further out of hand. If the US was to carpet bomb the sensitive areas over a few days, we will be in serious difficulties without any coherent response available except if we seek total disaster. There will be a run on the PKR and planeloads of the entrepreneurial class will make a quick exit to greener pastures. So give them the routes they want post haste.
While the dragons and dragon slayers play the game out, let’s quickly agree that yes, freedom of thought, independence of judiciary, democracy and military might are all very important but let’s also follow the important adage of ‘for the people, of the people and by the people’. And if the people need to be educated, let’s do it selflessly and not dupe them into playing our selfish interests.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.