Mian Sahib’s Embittered Honeymoon
By Mohammad Ashraf Chaudhry
“Failure to prepare is preparing to fail”. - John Wooden, a coach of UCLA Bruins
The elections of 2013 had been a good omen for Pakistan in general, and for Mian Nawaz Sharif in specific. Maulana Rumi has captured such a moment of joy and expected relief with amazing wisdom. “When clouds weep, the orchards smile”. The sufferings and tears of the people of Pakistan, akin to the weeping of clouds, portended in the elections a dawn of hope, stability and change. Whether the people of Pakistan also begin to smile is yet to be seen, but the orchard of Mian Sahib is definitely in a state of ecstasy and jubilation.
Hardly had the last words of the oath of the office been spoken and repeated on the 5th day of June that the lengthening shadows of an eclipse began to cover and dampen this jubilation. First came the strike call from MQM in Karachi, then came the terrorist attacks on Peshawar and Mardan, killing one PTI member of the Parliament along with 27 people attending the funeral and 57 severally wounded. One per cent increase in the GST further triggered in a whole chain of strikes against the national budget presented in haste by Mr Ishaq Dar, the new finance minister.
As if this were not enough, then on the heels of disasters, came the destruction of the residency of the Founder of Pakistan at Ziarat in Baluchistan, further to be immediately followed by a well-planned siege of Bolan Medical University complex, and the blowing up of its bus, resulting in the killing of at least 19 people, including four para-military soldiers, two doctors, three nurses, and one Deputy Commissioner. PM Nawaz Sharif and President Zardari both condemned the attacks as, “cowardly and inhuman”, and promised “No effort will be spared to save Pakistan from such acts of terror”. The people of Pakistan are thankful to the president and the PM for such benign and soothing words.
When you are in hell inhabited by dragons, then perhaps even the company of a pack of hungry lions appears blissful. Any next big misfortune and tragedy in Pakistan mitigates the impact of the previous one. That is how life is being lived in Pakistan. Every person in Pakistan has his/her story hidden in his/her cries and wails. I urge the readers to watch an Indian art movie, “YATHHARTH- THE BITTER TRUTH”. The story is about a low caste-Chandaal, Budhai, who cremates the dead. He has a daughter, Bijuria who is motherless. Most of the days both the father and his little daughter stay utterly hungry. They get “good and sufficient”food along with some new clothes only when someone dies in the village.
As is the way of human nature, Bijuria gets habituated and conditioned to the idea that joys of life - food and clothes - are somehow associated with someone’s death. So whenever somebody dies, she begins to dance. Finally she grows up into a beautiful young girl. The real misfortune of a poor and helpless person is to be the father of a good-looking, youthful daughter. This is enough for the people of the town to get worried on behalf of the poor man. Budhai’s real troubles also start when Bijuria crosses the threshold of childhood and steps into the domain of youth. How to protect her while being poor and helpless when the whole village appears to be on Viagra was in itself a big challenge besides fighting poverty. The problem gets further compounded due to Bijuria’s auto reflexes of beginning to dance on seeing someone’s dead body being carried to the pyre lit by her father. The movie is heart-wrenching because it depicts graphically the current condition of Pakistan and its people.
The government of Pakistan is like the Budhai of the story - weak, poor, and apparently helpless, unwilling to change - a kind of low-caste chandaal in the comity of the world countries. Any loan, aid or donation makes it dance just as the sight of a dead body made Bijuria dance because for her it meant the end of poverty and hunger. The biggest news in Pakistan is when the IMF or the World Bank or a rich country approves some more loans to the country, or gives it a temporary reprieve. Pakistan became a nuclear power in May 1998 like Bijuria became a lustful damsel.
Now the whole world began eyeing Pakistan, aspiring and conspiring to bed with it first. The end of the movie is even more suggestive. Bijuria‘s father, Budhai succeeds in saving the chastity of his daughter by marrying her to a truck driver (a shaky and unstable solution) who often remains absent. One day, the yearning and love-sick Bijuria, ever in waiting for her husband, sees the villagers carrying a dead body as usual to the pyre. She instantly begins to dance. But this time, the dead one was none else, but her own beloved husband. This time she dances on the death of the very person who had brought to her a few moments of security and joy.
Pakistan like Bijuria appears to be dancing - inch by inch - on its own death. It is a nuclear power; it has the best disciplined army; it has a huge fund of youth pulsating with energy and passion, and ready to impact the world; it has the most resilient people on earth who keep on moving, and who never give in or give up; it has water that floods its almost thirsty people and land every year; it has land that is rich; it has people who even find virtue in sufferings; and yet it is poor, weak, disorganized and divided; it is thirsty and dark and is falling apart. Why?
One answer is supplied to the believers by the Qur’an. In Sura Al-Isra: 17:16, Allah says, “When We decide to destroy a population, We (first) send a definite order to those, (among them) who are given good things of this life (wealth, position, power, talent and opportunities), and yet transgress; so that the word is proved true among them; then We destroy them utterly.”
So the rule of the filthy rich who are disconnected to the poor is basically a sign that the destruction is not very far.
This happens when leaders become clueless and heedless. They avoid facing the bitter truth, and the ground realities. Correction never takes place until the need for it is not felt and realized. In order to save the people from the dreadful dragons, the leaders are now conniving to woo the hungry lions - the hard-core terrorists. Mr. Kashif Noon is absolutely right in his article, “Peace for our Time”, when he says, “Taliban collect taxes and dispense justice. They control the cross border trade and conflict economy. They are a state not within the state but a state outside the state and for that matter an ideological state. Are we talking to a sovereign state at war with the state of Pakistan?”
President Theodore Roosevelt’s, (26 th president) favorite saying was the African proverb, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.” He did not carry any big stick; he just followed it in principle and governed the United States of America most effectively. Such was the impact of his presence and personality that even his successor, President Taft, felt constrained to look over his shoulders to be sure that Teddy Roosevelt was not overseeing him. Did he rule through fear? Certainly not. He just ruled honestly and effectively. When he spoke, everyone listened. He used the impact of his personality against the powerful rich, the “Robber-Barons”, the monopolists and trust-holders who till then thought they were the holy cows.
Politicians like always maintain close links with the super rich. President Teddy Roosevelt punctured their ego balloon by giving the common people a “Square Deal” by implementing the Anti-Trust law. The law was not new. It was already there, only no one dared to implement it. This robust president did that. He further protected Americans’ health by urging the Congress to pass the Meat Inspection Act; the Pure Food and Drug Act. He established five national parks, and protected more than 150 million acres of national forests, and even arranged to build the famous Panama Canal.
The people of Pakistan yearned for a ruler like that. They dreamt for a change in the government whose impact could be felt and seen. Overwhelmingly they voted for Mian Nawaz Sharif, in the hope that the husbandry of the country would register a new impact on all. The bitter truth is that the change either remained elusive or it came only in names and faces. As cited in the first paragraph, the terrorists as well as the filthy rich did not feel any need to get worried. In mild terms, the new government gave the impression of a jerky and shaky start. Mian Nawaz Sharif as captain chose to govern the most difficult country with a set of old players. Except for Sheikh Rashid, Humayun Akhtar and Ejaz ul Haq, everybody is there as they were in 1996. Mian Sahib basically started from where he had left in 1999. The players are the same, but the ground realities are not. Pakistan also is no more the same country.
The unfortunate part is that all the members of his team are pretty predictable - they are loyal and loquacious. Karachi keeps burning like before with a dozen dead bodies hauled up on a daily basis, and the new interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar has been heard saying, “We condemn these killings, but it is a provincial matter”. This mantra of the 18 th Amendment, and the devolution of powers to the provinces, has been a patent excuse of the previous government. It’s the same with the new government.
Pakistan needs on urgent basis a financial wizard like Chaudhri Muhammad Ali, who through Liaquat Ali Khan tailored the combined budget in united India, presented in early 1947, popularly known as the “Poor man’s budget”. In this Chaudhri Sahib did what even Gandhi had not been able to do in 30 years. He gave relief to the poor people by withdrawing tax on salt - an item consumed by all - and targeted the newly war-rich Hindus who had immensely benefited from the Second World War, and who heavily funded the Congress. While the common people in majority hailed the budget, the minority-rich raised hue and cry. Chaudhri Sahib repeated the same during his two-time tenure as Finance Minister. The reason is obvious. He was inherently linked to the poor people. His elders had firsthand knowledge of honesty and poverty.
Pakistan needs an economist like Ngozi Okoujo-Iweala, the two-term Nigerian finance minister - a Harvard graduate, a Magna cum Laude with an A.B, a PhD from MIT in Regional Economic Development, a wizard who retrieved Nigeria mired in debt, by striking a deal with the Paris Club - a group of bilateral creditors, to agree to pay a portion of Nigeria’s external debt - $ 12 billion in return for a $ 18 billion debt write-off. Nigeria earlier every year paid one billion dollars on debt servicing. Pakistan could not even strike such a deal in 1998 when it went nuclear.
Pakistan needs an economist like Geoffrey Sachs - a down to earth practical economist who rejects the IMF panacea to cure the sagging economies by making structural adjustments. He thinks this kind of approach is harmful to the poor people and poor countries. For him, water, schools and clinics, roads and electricity, soil nutrition, sanitation and diseases are more dangerous than debt. An economist should approach these problems clinically like a doctor does to a disease. He saved Bolivia and made Mali self-sufficient in food; he retrieved Poland from its woes, and in brief even helped Russia. Pakistan does not lag behind in the number of problems; only it never gets the right person for the right job.
Mian Nawaz Sharif needed a cabinet of ministers, each possessing an Olympian caliber. Mr Tariq Ali in his book, “The Duel”, writes that in a meeting headed by Mr Zardari, one member of the National Assembly said, “I will commit suicide if Sai Zardari is not elected as president.” Mian Sahib is a good natured person. In his previous two stints as prime minister, he was surrounded by loyalists and sycophants who almost made similar claims. According to Nazir Naji the trouble with Mian Sahib is that he does not know when to tell a person sitting in front of him that it is time for him to leave.
As Jim Collins mentions in his book, “How The Mighty Fall”, “ level 5 leaders are ambitious first and foremost to the cause, the organization, the work - not themselves - and they have the fierce resolve to do whatever it takes to make good on that ambition.” This is the first requisite. The second most important quality in a level 5 leader is” First Who. Then What. He makes sure that he has the right people on the bus, and the wrong people are off the bus, and he puts the right people in the key seats before they all figure out where to drive the bus. One may replace the bus with a country.
The Third most important quality of a level 5 leader is that he should have unwavering faith that he can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time has the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of the current reality, whatever it might be. His approach should be that of a hedgehog, and not of a fox, i.e. intensely focused and fixed at the aim.
Mian Sahib did not incorporate even a single technocrat of world fame in his team, Sartaj Aziz could be an exception. PPP’s Khurshid Shah, the opposition leader did not sound very funny when he said, “Dulhan ko pehli raat agar tohfa na dia jai, to pher usay tohfa kabhi nahi milta - if the bride does not get the proper gift on the very first night, then she never gets it”. Mian Sahib squandered away that chance of impacting the filthy rich, the hard-core terrorists, the corrupt officials, the law-breakers. He just like that bridegroom forgot to bring a gift to his bride.
The bad news is that hardly anybody has felt or noticed the change. Even the sparrows keep twittering the same way. Is it too soon to pass such a judgment? Perhaps not. Every day counts in Pakistan. The terrorists have successfully targeted the Quaid’s last resting place where he spent the last two months and ten days of his life. The attack is symbolic because it amounted to attacking the father of the Nation. It suggestively sent a signal that the state of Pakistan is not acceptable. Javed Chaudhry, an anchor, is right when he says, “Destruction of a building like the residency hardly matters because the nation has already destroyed and compromised on the principles of the Quaid, and the spirit of pluralism that characterized him”.
Anatol Lieven in his book, “Pakistan: A Hard Country” in the introduction writes, “Pakistan is divided, disorganized, economically backward, corrupt, violent, unjust, often savagely oppressive towards the poor and women, and home to extremely dangerous forms of extremism and terrorism- ‘and yet it moves’, and is in many ways surprisingly tough and resilient as a state and a society. It is also not quite as unequal as it looks from outside.”
Pakistan is full of “islands of successful modernity, and of excellent administration - not that many, but enough to help keep the country trundling along: a few impressive modern industries; some fine motorways; a university in Lahore, parts of which are the best of their kind in South Asia; a powerful, well-trained and well-disciplined army; and in every generation, a number of efficient, honest and devoted public servants”.
The budget presented in haste was neither bold, nor people-friendly. It lacked vision and creative thinking. It avoided annoying the business barons. It deflected a head-in-the-sand approach. The country needed urgent administrative and economic steps. It was an accountant’s budget, not of a creative financier’s. This hastily presented budget ended up further frustrating and annoying the poor. The country needs money. The budget triggered in a season of strikes and walk-outs. Extending the “kushkool”, the beggar’s bowl, to the world is not the solution. Bold measures taken at home would have sent a positive and healthy signal to the investors. Mian Sahib can learn a lot from the 21 st sub-Saharan African countries that are re-bouncing. Mega projects did not bring stability even to an able leader like Turkey’s prime minister. As says Jim Collins, a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will guarantee success. Popularity at the cost of the county’s well-being is a recipe for failure.