Wednesday June 12, 2024

An anatomy of paralysis

By Raoof Hasan
January 13, 2023

Pakistan’s politics has assumed the form of a circular movement which keeps coming back to the starting point after exhausting all possible forms of abuse and invective. There is nothing new either by way of substance of conversation or means to break the vicious logjam that the country is locked in. It appears this has become the favourite battling turf for the ruling elite, and this is where they feel they can continue indulging in their sordid shenanigans.

A few days ago, I spoke to a friend who, till recently, was bubbling with confidence and optimism at the prospects that Pakistan had managed to generate. I was taken aback not only by an absence of that spirit now, but the premonition of darkness that he said the country is engulfed in. Let me assure you that he is not an exception. He reflects the general perception that has developed in the last few months with Pakistan suffering a sequence of setbacks and abject humiliation, both in the domestic and international arenas.

Worse still, there does not appear to be an easy way out of the quagmire it appears to continue sinking into. The question that, at times, haunts is whether there is anyone really interested in helping the country out with some effective remedies?

Politics has been reduced to a competition for fabricating ever more convincing lies to cloud the reality. The economy is sinking with inflation having made it impossible for an average citizen to survive. The state assets are being leased out for paltry relief. Everything is being sold, most deplorably human conscience.

By many objective calculations, we have already suffered a technical default. The institutions have collapsed. Terror is raising its monstrous head. The justice system has plunged into deep slumber. The ECP is practising the art of how to keep postponing elections and how not to respond to genuine queries and questions. Crime and corruption have penetrated society deeply. The morality fabric lies in tatters. It is a perpetual and brutal battle for survival which constantly trespasses the boundary that separates the right from wrong. The two extremes have coalesced to become the prognosis for surviving a state of hunger and deprivation. But nobody seems to care. As T. S. Eliot wrote: “The dripping blood our only drink/ The bloody flesh our only food/ In spite of which we like to think/ That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood”.

Even more aptly, the situation is like what is portrayed in Mirza Ghalib: “The cities are being sold. The state is being bartered. Every asset is up for grabs. Who are these rulers who have turned the country into a retail outlet?”

There are others like me who see hope depleting with every passing day, but don’t want to surrender before the descending dark. In an environment of rampaging loot and plunder, the painful struggle to maintain a semblance of sanity and keep your optimism alive is an agonising struggle.

There are some who keep coming up with suggestions to move forward. Despite some credible proposals, they seem to be at a loss regarding where to begin from. Who takes the initiative and what would be its form and substance? Who throws in a spark to spread the glow and how do we help this catch on and transform the beliefs and attitudes of a whole nation? Most importantly, is there a way to reform those who have the reins of power in their hands and who are primarily responsible for the current state of penury and humiliation? If reform is not an option, what is the best way to induct a leadership that is equipped with the ability to pursue a rational thought process and an inclusive approach?

These and more disturbing questions come to mind which have no ready answers. But the country cannot be allowed to continue rotting. It should become functional. It should be lifted to health. It should break the chains of captivity that it is currently shackled in. It should be free to breathe afresh, casting a ray of genuine hope for its impoverished millions who have lived waiting for better days, only to be plunged deeper into despondency. They should be salvaged.

There are proposals for forging a grand compromise among the stakeholders. It may have some merit, but the country is tottering on the brink simply because of the doings of the very same corrupt elite which continues to have relevance in managing the affairs of the state. If one were to sit across the table for a dialogue with these forces, you can at best have a compromise that would be embedded with controversial policies they have been the authors of during their tenures in power, and they would not agree to reverse what has brought them boundless bounties. Will there be any merit in pursuing such a patently self-inflicting exercise?

Let me stress that such a compromise will be untenable because a compromise with corruption will breed more corruption, with crime more crime and with thuggery more thuggery. On the other hand, a struggle to cleanse both system and society of the ailments they have contracted over time can be daunting.

Despite counter views, I believe that, in the history of nations, there comes a time when, for the sake of the state and its people, it becomes essential to launch a struggle in earnest. For Pakistan, that time is now. It does not brook a compromise with those who have pushed it to the verge and who will not agree to cede their chances of squeezing the state coffers further. For them, governance is all about making money which is what they have done in the past as is amply demonstrated by the palatial empires they have raised in many countries of the world by impoverishing their own and for which they believe they are not answerable before any legal entity.

The tragedy is that, through a combination of Machiavellian stratagems, they have been able to secure the hold of the country again, thus strengthening the perception that justice remains, by far, the most purchasable commodity which these crooks and criminals always have on their side. One also wonders about the compulsions that some faced to become complicit in the rampaging crime world of this ruling elite whom they have again housed in the echelons of power.

Pakistan stares hauntingly at the prospect of being paralyzed, leaving it with a choice that is neither easy to make, nor forfeit. The brutal logjam must be broken quickly – through launching a genuine struggle by upholding core values of governance, not compromising them. It is that time of reckoning.

The writer is a political and security strategist, former special assistant to former PM Imran Khan, and currently a fellow at King’s College London. He tweets @RaoofHasan