- Learning the lesson of the tragedy
There is nothing new in this famous Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Interesting times are worrisome times when things start changing fast leaving people little room to adjust fast enough. These interesting times are upon us all over the world and they are coming so fast that entire civilizations and ways of life are rebooting. What is interesting is the time it takes to pause so that people not only comprehend but adapt to change.
Covid-19 alone has changed our way of life. Socializing is different now even within families. Travel and the mode of travel has become very different. I know people and whole families who are driving from Karachi to Islamabad and finding the journey quite acceptable. The world’s airlines are going under and travelling on the few has become a great pain. A passenger has to have an annoying Covid test, which has to come out negative, buy two seats and travel with a mask on. After this hassle one has to quarantine for two weeks at one’s destination. Still many destinations are out of bounds as they are covid-ridden. Times were that people could hop onto a flight like one hops onto a train. Talking of trains, there are fewer too and the same sort of social distancing applies there. So too in hotels, resorts and office buildings. In short, it’s a new world and whether it is brave or not remains to be seen.
Poor Lebanon. Poor Beirut. The ammonium nitrate blast that took place there was akin to the mother of all bombs. 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded, the size of a small nuclear bomb, which recorded more than 3 on the Richter scale. It was like a mini-earthquake. It has killed 158 people so far and injured nearly 3,000 and the numbers are rising. Losses amount to $5 billion but this cold figure does not include the value of a human life, which cannot be calculated. Lebanon is a country trashed not just by the blast but by its economic degradation and its fractured polity. Lebanon has become a tragic example of what happens to a country that not only allows but also elects corrupt governments one after another that are perpetually on a rampage of looting and plundering. What’s worse, the people continue to tolerate this for want of a better and more native system that they cannot find. This should give us Pakistanis and others food for thought. Rived by 18 sects, ideologies and turf wars, Lebanon does not show any signs of becoming a nation or a united polity.
Lebanon is also a lesson in what happens to a country that is plagued by rampant corruption. Corruption begets many ills, for example, patronage and absence of merit which leads to incompetence on a major scale. Virtually every ill of our society can be traced back to corruption, and corruption can be traced back to our political system which searches for the worst amongst us instead of the best as God enjoins
Pakistanis should pause a while and ponder the situation of their country. We have also suffered from looting, plundering, pillaging politicians in and out of government since 1971. Our economy too has been brought to its knees. The corruption was on such a scale that if one thinks about how to resurrect the Pakistani economy one is left befuddled. How do you get rid of such a huge debt which gobbles up nearly half your budget? What do you do about rising prices which are caused by corrupt and inept food supply chains? Karachi is a drowned city with little electricity, not enough good hospitals, no drainage, no sewerage and I fear, no hope. The possibility of altering its status to a federally administered territory that it once was is not so bizarre it seems. At least it will take it out of the clutches of Bhutto’s People’s Party that put the whole country on the path to destruction, having successfully helped to break it apart. Furthermore, it needs to be taken out of the clutches of the 18th Amendment which devolved power and authority to inept provincial governemnts that do not have the wherewithal or capacity to wield this power. Bhutto’s nationalization spree was no less than larceny on a grand scale from which the country is yet to recover.
Of course Bhutto was succeeded by his progeny and his progeny’s in-laws and by the political son of Bhutto’s nemesis, Ziaul Haq, namely one Nawaz Sharif, his family and progeny and even one son-in-law. In all this, rapine and plunder, Imran Khan came like a breath of fresh air simply because he was of a different political ilk, but he has to live up to the expectations he raised sky-high with his extravagant promises.
Actually Pakistan’s salvation will never come until it gets rid of the political system that it is aping from the British colonizer. Pakistan may have got independence on 14 August 1947, but it has yet to win mental and intellectual independence. Look, I’m writing this article in the language of the colonizer and you are reading it in his language. The only saving grace is that actually English has become the international lingua franca and nearly all countries in the world are learning it. The latest education, knowledge and communications are in English and have to be translated into Russian or German or Chinese. Therefore, there is so much emphasis on having English that lends itself to knowledge acquisition. This is not to say that the vernaculars are irrelevant. One must know them and know them well to remain embedded in one’s times, history and culture even if they do not lend themselves to knowledge acquisition.
Lebanon is also a lesson in what happens to a country that is plagued by rampant corruption. Corruption begets many ills, for example, patronage and absence of merit which leads to incompetence on a major scale. Virtually every ill of our society can be traced back to corruption, and corruption can be traced back to our political system which searches for the worst amongst us instead of the best as God enjoins. “Choose from amongst yourselves and choose from amongst the best.” Our system throws up only the worst of choices. The blame also lies on the people who regularly elect poor governments with all their accompanying evils so change of system has become an imperative if we are to survive. Otherwise don’t forget how many states in history have existed on the land where you sit. We have been ruled by Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Arabs, for a while Sikhs, Pathans, Mongols, not to forget the British with their lasting influence, and lately by the Muslims of North-Western India. There were many more but this should suffice. Sitting in Islamabad, how can I forget the Raja of Margalla who ruled this land until the Macedonian Alexander shook the place after defeating Porus. Alexander’s influence and that of many others like the Arabs, the Persians, the Afghans and now increasingly the Chinese and of course, thanks to television, the Americans, lingers on. It is in such a cauldron that civilizations and cultures are constantly made and remade. So a little humility please while we dream about conquering the world and foisting our way of life on it.