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July 25, 2017

Pity the nation


July 25, 2017

We should pity the nation that prides itself on being the sixth most populous on the planet but strangely ranks 40th in terms of its Gross Domestic Product, and gets high when told that it has jumped to the 25th position in terms of Purchasing Power Parity.

Please forgive us, dear departed souls of our founding fathers, for this abysmal performance of three generations of your successors. While you strived to raise a state structure from scratch, we rushed to grab evacuee property (more through unfair means). That was just the beginning of the loot sale that only intensified with each passing decade.

Evacuee property taken care of, we improvised a whole system of distributing spoils among the privileged, through permits and licences, by subsidising industries and exports to become a ‘model’ developing country. Intimidated by big brother India who suffered from extreme sibling jealousy, we made friends in other places, some really far off. Being the inheritors of spendthrifts, we asked for $10 billion from the US, the only nation with deep pockets at the time. Even they were taken aback by the magnitude of our request.

Little did the big power realise that soon they would be more than eager to enlist us as a vital link in their containment project for Soviet Russia, leading the pack of evil-doers. With ‘Red China’ emerging as another challenger, we were also asked to join the US containment plan in South-East Asia, thus earning the title of America’s most allied ally. We were content with spending economic assistance to live beyond our means, becoming badly addicted to dependence on the West, just the way they liked to firmly tie nations like ours in their stranglehold.

Pity the nation that imperilled its limited industrial gains by refusing entry to new players especially in East Pakistan, where people saw the ‘22 families’ as a symbol of West Pakistan’s domination of the more populous province. The army that had gained strength and confidence from the Pak-US alliance, arrogated to itself the way politics was to be run. One army chief succeeding another as the country’s supreme ruler meant that East Pakistanis had a chance in hell to run the precarious federation.

Good riddance, some arrogant fellows would say about the secession of Bangladesh. Only if it were less painful, said some others. Well, 36 years later, it is the more prosperous part of Pakistan. Its exports have gone far ahead, leaving us red in the face. Unbelievable but true, Pakistan’s exports are sliding down. How we accomplished that unenviable feat could have been the task of investigation but the political players are preoccupied with other more urgent challenges.

One particular memory from the days of Pakistan’s first popularly elected government keeps coming back. A Pakistani political scientist who had settled abroad briefly returned home and was invited to address young officers at the Civil Service Academy in Lahore. He gave them a wakeup call by asserting that from then onwards, the bureaucracy wouldn’t be calling the shots. That power stood transferred to the politicians. The gentleman, however, did not explain that the politicians would be holding the levers of power mostly to benefit themselves.

The armed forces have regularly turned their attention to correct the course of the insatiable accumulation of wealth in the name of politics, only to realise that this whole society runs on a system of patronisation and networks. The people have no time for nebulous concepts of justice and fair play. They just want to know if their elected representatives can help them in getting favours. Income support programmes have served as a clever ploy to lock millions of votes for a pittance while the political class fills its pockets.

Ordinary folks are bemused by the musical chairs being played in the capital. They too are listening to the music and waiting to see who grabs a chair when the tune stops. Those who wish to have the corrupt punished through a process of law have made a mockery of the process by carrying a media trial outside the court. Meanwhile, their wagon is already choking with disgruntled elements of the two main parties, not for having rendered services to the people but for offering hope of winning seats in the next round of elections.

On Friday, as the Supreme Court declared hearing closed in the mother of all cases and went into the process of writing their judgment, the three main political formations went into huddles, not to worry about the 200 million people of this country but just to figure out how to maximise their spoils in the likely redistribution of cards. The harbinger of Naya Pakistan is increasingly surrounded by the lot that has always worshipped the rising sun.

Pity the nation that turned the fabled economic corridor into a political football. Our enemies need not try too hard to wreck CPEC from outside because our own manipulators of regional and parochial interests can more successfully ruin it from inside. Pakistan, according to a German scholar, is a country often seen failing but which does not actually fail. Not that we have spared efforts to pull it down by promoting individual, family and clan interests. For themselves, everything. For the people, a few crumbs. Pity the nation.


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