And why it gives rise to anxiety
Last week as I traveled through Europe, one question followed me like a wasp. Who is this new president of yours? Frankly it nonplussed me completely because I have no idea who or what he is. Most times I mumbled he is a party loyalist, I guess. How that qualifies him or entitles him to be appointed head of state is beyond me. Eventually I had no option but to admit that.
You know what people are like, Pakistanis and foreign friends or followers of Pakistan. They go on the usual bit about we thought change was coming – lessons were learned and merit will be followed. Yes, it’s true, that is what we were told and repeatedly. All appointments would be considered on merit, transparency and qualification for the task at hand. That certainly has not been the case. Despite what is considered a ‘small’ cabinet, an advisor and a minister have already been removed through court action. In both cases on grounds that even the minimum background search would have instantly revealed.
I’d given the government 100 days before I’d make objective reviews on performance. Unfortunately certain circumstances compel me to marginally reconsider this. At least on two issues, the first I wrote of last week about not paying tribute to the founder of the nation and the second is selection of the candidate for president of Pakistan. The common denominator here is Pakistan, Supreme to us all beyond personal loyalties or anything else. I’d like to believe this is only an ill-advised insensitivity, my gut however says different. This appears to be like reprimanding the system, establishment and the people for the shabby treatment 14 years ago by saying: this is what I think of you. It would be in keeping with the psyche. But I would like to still give the benefit of doubt.
Let us put aside any unnecessary controversy regarding the election process and consider that albeit ceremonial the president’s is the highest office in the country. The office demands immense respect and thus the selection of the candidate must reflect the government and peoples’ respect for this office. The only aspects to consider are merit and worthiness, despite the past.
Yes, the presidency has been occupied by the military-bureaucracy-judicial axis for much of the country’s history but when there is talk of change then this is the right time for it. But then take the right path and give the country someone of stature. An inconsequential person deprives the post of the exalted status it deserves. This is not a chamber of commerce election; it is election to the presidency.
Without bringing anyone into disrepute or any intention of casting aspersions, one can safely say there are genuine, very worthy candidates for the office from all four provinces. Mentioning names in the current context would be demeaning for them. It is unfortunate that people in high offices are intimidated by big national personalities, not necessarily just political opponents. This drives them to steer clear of big minds that advocate rationale and sobriety of thought and action. And it is this inherent discomfort that leads to a blinkered outlook and the complete reliance only on loyalists. But even loyalists fall within several categories and although it is still not valid ground for selecting the candidate, so if it must be than the best possible loyalist is the obvious choice. Given the original list, the universal opinion was that is what it would be!
The success in life of a candidate has to be a prime consideration. Everyone has a track record and at this, the highest level, they must have an impeccable balance sheet that is not only positive but stands every scrutiny. Each “magnate” is literally public property. His contribution to the development of the country, to the particular field his life has followed, to society at large and to be renowned and respected is very important. Men of letters, celebrated scientists, distinguished economists, philanthropists, and high achievers from all sectors must be the criteria. Men that fit this bill stand out. They speak for themselves. The new president sadly does not pass muster.
When a man becomes prime minister and thus primus interpares (the first among equals) and holds within his mind and hands the ability to guide a nation’s destiny for the limited time he holds such power, it is incumbent upon him to raise the ante. In considering the appointments he makes he should be guided only by merit and shun personal preferences and comfort levels. At times this means rising beyond himself. This is certainly not an easy task but given his changed status one that is of absolute essence.
Nawaz Sharif, as prime minister, is required to make three very important and highly sensitive appointments in his first six months in office. The three will determine the future of the country during literally his entire time in office (the president was the first of these). All of Pakistan, and the outside world, are looking at this and they will certainly be foremost on the PM’s mind. The first appointment therefore provides clear indication of what, perhaps, is to come. If we are to go by the current criteria than it appears being insignificant is significant. It unfortunately confirms that he perhaps continues to follow the criteria he had in the past and which landed him in serious trouble. This certainly gives rise to anxiety.
Reverting briefly to the controversy over dates of holding the election and boycott by some parties, my comment is that this was totally unnecessary and was made a mountain out of a molehill. The 27th Ramadan is not a holiday. And Umra during Ramadan is not mandatory. It is a luxury exercised by parliamentarians, politicians and the rich. And so what if members of the electorate were away and deprived of the right to vote? The EC selected a date; government should have followed it. Perhaps the SC needed to rise above the insignificance and the EC should have prevailed. Quibbling over petty matters as has been dominantin Pakistan’s past certainly does not behoove the largesse expected of national leadership.
In strangulating themselves scoring little points the larger plot eludes the focus demanded. Blatant terrorism has been unleashed and continues to rise – threatening to burst all scales. The performance of civilian security forces has collapsed; certainly so in the case of this jailbreak in DI Khan and previously during attacks on strategic installations. When a friend in Germany first informed me, I could not believe my ears. What has since been revealed is frightening. Police hiding in sewers and others running away is unbelievable. But that is what is apparently emboldening the terrorists.
On the face of it civilian forces are unable and not ready to maintain law and order by combating the forces perpetrating it. Intervention is required and must be sought. In the wake of this, continued deliberations to formulate a national security policy are meaningless. Those engaged in policy-making are not going to be at the frontlines fighting the national enemy, so implementation becomes the absolute key. The army cannot and will not act unless the prevailing ambiguity in the approach of political leadership is ended. Terrorism and extremism are the enemies of this state and no national party worth the name should or can bring a nation to disaster by surrendering to this threat.
The people you meet and talk with in and out of Pakistan are scared. Government’s apathy in taking action and hiding behind rhetoric has lost it much support already. The PTI’s peril at being landed with an untenable situation contrary to its belief is also causing eyebrows to be raised. Terrorism is about the only factor that has real significance. There is no progress ever possible without clarity on law, order, discipline and extremism. If all that is wanted is the insignificance of words coated in milk and honey, hands folded beside you on the rostrum, supporting your pearls of wisdom you may be getting it prime minister. But perhaps what is your gain may, woefully, be Pakistan’s loss.
The writer can be contacted at: [email protected]