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January 6, 2017

Not an uplifting spectacle


January 6, 2017

Islamabad diary

Think for a moment of the Egyptian judge who hanged himself because he was facing corruption charges. May his soul rest in peace…at least he had a sense of honour. Or he felt sorry or couldn’t take the pressure. Had he taken lessons in Pakistani survival he might still have been alive.

Here a judge and his wife beat up a ten-year old maid black and blue and then when the case hits the ceiling the judge has the gall to get the girl’s father to say it’s all a misunderstanding and he has no quarrel with the judge. My Lord the Chief Justice having taken notice of this shameful incident, may the judge concerned meet his just deserts.

But why talk of lowly judges only? The country’s prime minister and his entire family are mired in scandal, questions raised about hidden offshore accounts and London properties, never mentioned in their tax or election papers, and although the family has changed lawyers three times there is still no explanation forthcoming about how the properties and accounts came to be financed in the first place. Where did the money come from?

At best the family and its brilliant lawyers, some of the country’s best, have come up with lame explanations that if offered in a private setting would excite prolonged laughter. Whatever happens at the end of these hearings, and whatever their lordships’ conclusions, is there a single soul in the wide spaces of the Islamic Republic who believes the Sharifs’ protestations of innocence? Forget about everyone else, I can bet anything that even Daniyal Aziz and Talal Chaudhry, the PML-N’s loudest loudspeakers, would be laughing in private at all they have to drum up in defence of their bosses.

Muhammad Zubair, the other musketeer, is no fool. Does he believe the things he has to spew out, keeping a straight face, at his endless TV appearances, all in the hope that one day he will be rewarded for his perseverance and get the office that he thinks his brilliance deserves?

And the Sharifs, hand it to them, they are made of tough fibre. One can only guess at their internal turmoil – after all, it’s hardly a delightful affair to have your name bandied about in every TV studio and newspaper in the land, your financial exploits and verbal inconsistencies, to put it no stronger than that, endlessly discussed. However tough you are it would have some effect in the end.

I am not saying that the Sharifs should become like the ancient Romans and facing the charges they do should fall on their swords. That is not the Pakistani style at all. And who has time for Roman history here? But the Panama affair has developed a life of its own. It’s not going away and whatever the end of these particular hearings this is one stain, even if others are washed, that is going to stick to their shirts.

How can you talk of governance and handling the nation’s affairs when you are in the throes of such a scandal? Given that your concentration is not that fixed to begin with, how can you concentrate on the things that come before you when your mind is away on money trails, and asking help from Qatari princes to bail you out from the mess you are in, and your mind dwelling on the inadequacies of your lawyers and whom next to choose to represent you in the Supreme Court – even a mind Napoleonic in its dimensions would have a tough time concentrating in these circumstances.

If this were Britain there would be a revolt by now in the ruling party, whether Tory or Labour. The knives would have been out for such a leader, considering him or her a drag on the entire party. In the US too there would be hell to pay. We’ve seen what’s happened in South Korea, the president facing impeachment proceedings on charges that most Pakistanis wouldn’t even understand. We are used to hard stuff here – daylight robbery, outright lies that would make the angels blush, things like that, flagrant and obvious. Influence-peddling, the thing involved in South Korea, would make most Pakistanis laugh because who considers that a crime here?

How can you be an effective leader when you face questions about your moral standing, when your honesty is openly questioned?

In the army the biggest sins are, or used to be, lying and cheating. A commanding officer known to be dishonest may wear all the medals on his chest he likes but he won’t command the respect of his men. So it is with national leadership. Everyone in Turkey knew Mustafa Kemal drank, and that he sat up late drinking. His fondness for female company was well known. He was a good dancer and he danced without trying to hide the fact.

He could dissemble when it came to politics. About his personal proclivities he was open. But if it was known that he had ripped off his country and had money hidden in foreign bank accounts, and owned expensive flats in London or Paris, would he have commanded his nation’s respect?

This country’s problems are not small. There are things that work here and so many things that don’t. Look at exports…declining; debt…mounting; revenue shrinking and expenditure out of control. And we are using the CPEC as a verbal device, invoking its name everywhere, as if this magic wand will fix everything.

No one fixed China for the Chinese. They did it themselves. The Americans gave South Korea a defence umbrella but Gen Park Chung-hee, a dictator and father of the president now facing impeachment proceedings, put the country on the path of development. Marx said, and not without cause, that religion was the opiate of the masses. The CPEC seems to have become our opiate. What kind of a mentally-dependent nation have we become? Can’t we think for ourselves?

To lift us out of this mental cesspool we need sound leadership, bold and visionary. A leadership wracked by scandal is not going to deliver us this magic. Mediocrity is no big failing. At least it is safe and predictable, leading to no alarming surprises. But mediocrity allied to money-making on a vast scale, and dipped in scandal, turns suspicion to certainty that a vast ripping off is taking place, and major decisions are being taken not in the public interest but to serve vested interests.

Expect, however, no internal party upheavals here. If Zardari with his version of the Arabian Nights could survive – and he’s even taken to acting like an elder statesman, the heavens preserve us – what reason to think that the Sharifs won’t survive their travails, serious and complicated as these may be? It is not the malady which hurts so much as the thought that in the standard pharmacopeia there’s no cure for it.


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