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December 16, 2016

Dullness, stagnation and corrupt mediocrity


December 16, 2016

Islamabad diary

Mediocrity has its uses if it is honest and touched by a semblance of virtue. No society would function without a goodly supply of honest and virtuous plodders, those who go to bed with the cows and wake up with the roosters and whose lifetime of labour, often back-breaking, is sustained by the conviction that their reward shall be in heaven. We can be sure that wide spaces in the Elysian Fields, the fancy phrase for heaven, are set aside for such honest souls.

Feudalism is impossible without the tenant who goes through life with blinders on his eyes, seeing neither to the left nor to the right, just sticking to the path in front of him, like the horse pulling a cart or a tonga all day long. Capitalism wouldn’t work without the industrial worker who for honest wages and nothing more keeps the wheels of industry running.

Corporations wouldn’t function without nine-to-five workers. What would newspapers and TV channels be without office drivers and the boys who make tea, or the girls who do makeup? The queen bee rules the hive but the slave populations, the drones, make all the honey. Such is life and so it has been since the dawn of civilisation.

No greater lie has been invented than the ringing words ‘all men are born equal’ or the related lie ‘all men are born free’. If all men were born free who would do the cooking and the washing? Who would create the supporting environment for bishops, generals, prima donnas and the like?

So there is much to be said for honest mediocrity. Civilisation, ancient or present-day, runs on its foundations. But when mediocrity, of the kind we have in the Fortress of Islam, is distinguished by lies and the cutting of corners, the fancy phrase for corrupt practices, what do we do with that? Such mediocrity, drenched in lies and corruption, is of course good for its holders and beneficiaries but of what use is it to the nation which produces or sustains this army of corner-cutters?

This should not have been a nation condemned to such mediocrity. Those we call our founding fathers were men of ability – there were few women amongst them – and by and large they were not given to filching money from the public purse or using public office for private advantage. Business and politics were two separate fields which seldom came into contact with each other.

          The political or governing class was into politics. It was this class which took part in elections, it not being unknown for members of this class to sell something, say a piece of land, in order to cater for election expenses. And business and high finance was left to seths…the 22 families, the mercantile class, Chinioti sheikhs, Chakwali Saigals, who of course had the good sense to make the occasional political donation but they usually kept away from politics…until the Ayub era when the odd capitalist was tempted to stray into the political field, the basic democracy system where MNAs and MPAs were elected by a small electoral college rather than on the basis of adult franchise facilitating this innovation.

But that was the odd example…the line between business and politics was clearly demarcated. All this changed with the coming of Gen Zia and his desire to build a counterweight to the PPP, after Bhutto’s hanging the PPP turning into his all-consuming nightmare. In that hunt for congenial elements who could serve the interests of the regime were discovered elements that were fixtures in business but had, until then, no background in politics. This was the beginning of the Sharif political dynasty. But the first interest of this dynasty was always the building up of their business empire. Politics and power were means to that end. The rest is history.

So we come to the present. Pakistan faces many challenges but to meet these challenges adequately, and to turn the country’s fortunes around, it needs, as we all seem to acknowledge in our more lucid and less biased moments, a modicum if not more of honest and competent leadership – a leadership a little less concerned about its business interests and private advantage and somewhat more sensitive to national concerns. The PML-N and the PPP, the two big pillars of Pakistani democracy, have been swept by other considerations. No need to recount their exploits which are now part of the national folklore.

But a country can’t live on folklore alone. Pakistan needs an alternative…different choices. The old can only bring forth and deliver the old. Try out the PML-N again and it can only give us more of the same or slight variations on the themes it has been playing for the last 35 years…that’s how long this lot has sat atop the commanding heights of the country’s destiny. Pakistan needs a break from the past which it can’t get from elements that now truly are agents of the past.

True, the same agents not being content with the past also now want to capture Pakistan’s future…which is why their next generation is being groomed to take over from where the first generation leaves off. There is not much to be said for Pakistan’s destiny since its hope-laden birth. But if the generational transition the dominant parties now in all seriousness contemplate comes to pass that will take the prize. Nothing more cynical could happen to a destiny which already makes you wonder what irredeemable sins the Pakistani nation is being made to atone for.

There have been East Asian dictators, as in South Korea, who have worked wonders and turned their countries into industrial powerhouses. Our dictators, and we’ve had our share of them, have been experiments in despair. Democracy has worked well in other climates. The Pakistani variety of democracy seems to excel in producing not honest mediocrity, which would be a blessing, but mediocrity almost Einstein-ian in its ingenuity in cutting corners or playing dice with the country’s fortunes.

Who is a more enduring figure, the Quaid-e-Azam or Gen Zia? I would say Gen Zia. The Quaid’s legacy is undiscoverable. Look for it and you won’t find it. The general’s legacy lives on…in the form of the mediocrity he promoted. Pakistan’s challenge, its real challenge, is to move beyond this phenomenon.

The opportunity will come in the next elections. With Gen Raheel Sharif gone the Mustafa Kemal option, dreamt of by fantasists, no longer applies. But where’s the whirlwind that can make a storm of those elections? No wind blows, no storm beckons. It’s all calm and quiet whichever way you look.

Is this then a destiny that cannot be altered? Is there any outlook more dismal than this?

Email: [email protected]



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