To Our Spoiled Brats: This Is Your Last Chance
By Humayun Gauhar
Funny people we are, children who always break their toys and then howl for years. Eventually, fed up and hoping that the children have matured some guardians fix the toy and give it back to them.
They start breaking it again. Aghast, the guardians throw up their hands in despair. Our little horrors should know that if they break the toy this time, they may never get it back again. Now there is no going back. It's the last roll of the dice for these spoiled brats – but hopefully not for Pakistan.
"What's wrong with you people?" asked a foreign friend. "You've got everything you wanted. Musharraf out of uniform. A new army chief. Fair elections. A new prime minister. What more do you want? Now get on with it and stop bellyaching."
How could I tell her that we are people of the past, not the future. We revile the living and idolize the dead – necrophiliacs. We make heroes out of zeroes and zeroes out of heroes. We have long lost the ability to differentiate between right and wrong, good and evil. We focus on personalities instead of institutions, criticize predecessors instead of dazzle with performance. We have neither agenda nor strategy, only wish lists. Thus we cannot even begin to comprehend, leave alone address our multitudinous problems.
Speechifying doesn't do once you're in the hot seat, only results and delivery. Neither will falling back on old nostrums and ancient homilies which we have heard umpteen times. Instinctively knowing our shortcomings and failings, we get defensive the moment we hit the hot seat and start playing the excuse game, preparing for future failure by blaming the past even before we have started. It’s an old disease that afflicts people without a coherent worldview or belief system, without destination or direction, Ka'aba or Qibla.
So if those who have now acquired leadership positions again really want to make history by making this a genuinely new dawn, they should forget rhetoric. Let reality dawn.
To begin with, they have to sublimate their hang-ups and stop being hostage to pressure groups and self-interested lobbies that go in the guise of 'civil society'.
There is no civil society yet in Pakistan – not even a civilized society – just fashionable groupies who confuse the concerns of the miniscule well-fed with the concerns of the teeming hungry and wretched. Ask the hungry: "Do you want the sacked chief justice back or do you want a bowl of rice?" Do you think the hungry will reply: "Oh! I'd rather have the chief justice returned before I die of hunger!"
Grow up. Get real. Stop using the sacked judges as a stick to beat Musharraf with. The best way to get the sacked chief justice back is to let the reference that his Supreme Court never allowed to be heard to now be heard by an independent, if necessary international, tribunal. If he is cleared, great! Reinstate him. Everyone will be with the chief justice and his storm-trooping lawyers. If not, forget him and get on with it. If you want Musharraf out, take the constitutional route and impeach him. If you win, fine. Otherwise stop wasting time and get on with the real issues – hunger, poverty, food inflation, power and gas shortages, lack of healthcare, shelter, dignity of the individual and family, terrorism and insecurity – the parking fee at Karachi Airport is not the issue.
I wrote an article in The Nation of July 4, 2004, when we also had a new prime minister. I rarely quote myself, but I feel an extract from it, with relevant modifications, is still pertinent – in fact, it will be pertinent forever.
"Having got there the new prime minister will find himself in a totally different ballgame. He will have to learn to fashion foreign policy in the fiery firmament of an unstable world at war, with terrorism rampant, not least in his own land. He will have to deal with the peace process as it gets more intricate. He will have to cope with tribal-feudal retrogression and clerical obscurantism. He will have to build institutions and genuinely democratic traditions. He will have to heal the wounds of a country divided against itself, with people and provinces in deep sulk, emotionally bereft of nationhood. He will have to rekindle an increasingly cynical people's faith in Pakistan. Gut wrenching slogans, hollow promises and hypocritical rhetoric won't do any longer. Neither will endless pontificating. Only results. And the only result that matters is an economic success that touches the people fast. There is no other way to re-establish their stake in Pakistan. None. Countries are man-made arrangements in which a group of people, often diverse, agree to live in to better their lot. When that happens, their citizens have an emotional stake in them. When it doesn't, the stake evaporates and people start searching for new arrangements. That is the real reason why so many countries that were made in the last century disappeared without a trace when they couldn't deliver, the Soviet Union being the most stark example, a military superpower with 32,000 nuclear warheads that couldn't even save itself. It failed to even become an ordinary economic power, leave alone an economic superpower. People cannot eat warheads.
"The new prime minister will have to get rid of the imbalances between regions and close the gap between rich and poor. He will have to deal with gender bias and an exploding population … and so much more that the mind boggles. He will have his work cut out for him. His earlier assignments will look like pieces of cake compared to the cauldron and its lethal brew that he will now have to deal with. The shadow of the natural prime minister – his party leader and co-leader – will always loom. So will the dead weight of an unviable system. As prime minister he will officially be leader of the people, but to be a successful prime minister he will have to become a people's leader. How does he do that?
"I'll tell you how, Mr. Prime Minister. Cold economic growth is vital, most certainly, for without it the people cannot grow. But you must cast yourself in emotion too. You must feel what the people feel, think what they think, laugh as they laugh, weep as they weep. Read 'Pity the Nation' again. Read Iqbal. Read the Qur’an. Try and understand the mind of God and what his intent is for humanity, for as prime minister you will be God's instrument to implement his Will. You must understand in the marrow of your bones the torture of a father on the point of suicide because he cannot feed his children. You must know the agony of a mother forced to send her daughters into prostitution so that the family can be fed. You must feel the helplessness of parents who see their child die because a simple medicine or doctor were not available or could not be afforded. Know how part of a mother dies too when her baby is killed by contaminated water, official murder by callous people who know no such feelings. Share the cynicism of a father who sees his child consigned to a life of petty labor because he cannot educate him. Feel the frustration of a contract laborer thrown out on the streets without recourse or recompense. Feel the backache of a farmer who plants rice bent over in knee-deep water all day long, his hands, feet and legs rotting. Feel the searing heat of a sugarcane field which our farmers harvest so that we can have sugar.
"Never forget that you are prime minister of every single Pakistani and responsible for their well-being, including and especially those that oppose you, those who are in thrall of an individual or family and join their cults that masquerade as political parties and those from the elite that babble against you in their drawing rooms. By opposing you they too serve the cause of democracy, for without opposition there can be no democracy.
"Then kneel down and kiss the Earth and ask God from the depth of your being to show you the Way. And the Earth will speak to you. 'Implement Haqooq ul Ibad', it will say. 'Give my people their God-given rights. Give them justice. Give them opportunities to develop their minds to the fullest. Give them the right to gain knowledge. Give them food, shelter and clothing, education and healthcare. Give them a truly egalitarian society. Give them justice. Give them security, dignity and self-esteem'.
If you honor your Covenant with God you will succeed as surely as night follows day and truly become the people's leader. God be with you, Mr. Prime Minister. He will be if you are with His people."
Let me end by telling them something I've said many times before, because it too bears repetition: "To rule long is to rule successfully; to rule successfully is to rule well; to rule well is to give the people what they want."
Find out what the people really want, starting from the poorest, especially the most wretched and deprived level. That should be your starting point. Do that and a grateful people will never throw you out. Nor could anyone else.
(Mr. Gauhar is a Pakistani commentator. This column was published by Lahore’s The Nation daily newspaper