Friday May 24, 2024

Egypt and Syria look more dynamic than this circus

Islamabad diary
This is not a dysfunctional government. If it were just that we would be lucky. B

By Ayaz Amir
June 13, 2014
Islamabad diary
This is not a dysfunctional government. If it were just that we would be lucky. Being dysfunctional implies room for improvement – the stalled engine being made to work. What we have is something beyond that: a government fast losing the ability of even going through the motions of functioning.
For all the leadership that there is, Pakistan is on auto-pilot, at the mercy of the elements. There’s no hand on the wheel. If we aren’t getting this, we have a problem on our hands.
Fires burning across the horizon, ministers waffling, and the prime minister invisible…in this situation what does the prime minister’s office do? It releases a pro forma letter sent to the Indian prime minister, thanking him for his hospitality, but giving the impression that this letter is some kind of a great initiative. And such is the wit and wisdom of our media that newspapers carry this back-page news under banner headlines.
The state of Pakistan is under assault from within. We know the story…we sowed the wind and are now reaping the whirlwind. The attack on Karachi airport should rightly make us sit up…make us realise the gravity of our circumstances. But in war things happen, catastrophes occur.
Other nations have faced much harder times than we are facing. Look at Afghanistan, a country destroyed by war, so much of its population displaced. Iraq destroyed and in the throes of a virtual civil war, the forces of radical Islam on the march, Mosul falling to them, desertions in the Iraqi army on the rise. Syria, another country torn apart by civil war, over a hundred and fifty thousand people dead, millions of Syrians displaced from their homes. But bad as situations may be, where leadership is absent things get much worse.
There are many things responsible for Afghanistan’s plight but none more serious than the lack of national leadership. The government there, despite the trillion dollars the United States has poured into the country in the name of development and the creation of the Afghan National Army, is no match for the Taliban. There is no worthwhile leadership in Iraq…which is why the country is virtually disintegrating. But in Syria, denounce Bashar al-Assad as much as we may, he is holding on, he and his family has not fled Damascus despite the severe fighting reaching the Syrian capital itself. Denounce him by all means but give him some marks for courage and resolve.
Whose idea of a hero is Field Marshal Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi of Egypt? He is as much a tin-pot version of the genre as our own contribution to it, Field Marshal Ayub Khan. Still, the fact remains that the Egyptian military decided on a course of action and are going through with it. We can agree or disagree with their decision to remove the elected president and crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood. But once having made up their minds they are going about it without ifs and buts…without the waiting-for-Godot sequence which has been our hallmark.
Indeed, we seem to be living in a strange twilight state: to begin with, not recognising the danger we face, closing our eyes and burying our heads in the sand; and then forever vacillating between sporadic action and sublime inaction. Drones were the one thing forcing the Taliban to keep their heads down in Fata. But drones we demonised on grounds of violated sovereignty, reducing the entire spectrum of the war to this one issue. The six months’ lull broken by a drone attack two days ago gave the Taliban a breather and allowed them to recharge their batteries. Our rhetoric about wounded sovereignty remained just that…rhetoric.
But the drone narrative is just one part of the puzzle. We aren’t clear in our minds about what to do. The Taliban are clear, which works to their advantage. No wonder they exercise the initiative while we are left struggling to respond to their moves. It’s not that they are more powerful than the state of Pakistan. But psychological factors tip the scales in their favour.
The government has a singular agenda: one or two road projects, the Pindi-Islamabad metro-bus, and endless MOUs with Chinese companies. That there may be a war going on in which innocent people are dying and soldiers and officers laying down their lives seems lost on this team.
Incompetence of this magnitude wouldn’t matter in normal times. Governments come and go, and the sun still rises and life goes on. But what will it take for us to realise that these are not normal times? What is happening in Iraq is a preview of what soon will be happening in Afghanistan. And the enemy within is getting more emboldened and his reach is extending. Our ability to respond to this challenge, on the other hand, is shrinking, for no reason more glaring than the withering of leadership.
This is not a meltdown of the state but it is a meltdown of leadership. And there’s nothing to fill the empty space.
Some facts are hard to swallow but we do ourselves no service by ignoring them. If Vladimir Putin had not been around, if Russia had still been led by a disaster like Yeltsin, the west would have got away with its Ukrainian adventure and Russia would have been further diminished. Putin’s leadership saved the day for his country. If Bashar al-Assad had not stood his ground his fate would have been similar to Muammar Qaddafi’s. Much of the Egyptian intelligentsia and much of the middle class thought that Morsi and the Brotherhood were leading Egypt to chaos. So the military’s intervention was backed by significant sections of the population.
Pakistan desperately needs leadership, or its plight becomes more precarious. Ideally, this should come from within the bosom of democracy. If somehow, through a transformation of whose nature we yet do not know, the elected leadership can bring itself to show vigour and a measure of elan there would be nothing like it. But we face a problem. India brings a sparkle to the PM’s eyes. Pakistan’s crisis of survival leaves him cold. Or he doesn’t seem to understand what is at stake. When some leadership is called for he becomes H G Wells’ Invisible Man.
This war has not been sprung on Nawaz Sharif. It has not been conjured up out of thin air just to torment him. It’s been around for a decade and it was there when he was being elected. He had time enough to think about it. But the ruling party has no plan. The ruling party in fact is irrelevant…the term is just a figure of speech. Ruling the country is not a party but a small family-centred clique and cabal. While good at many things such as business affairs, etc, this cabal is proving singularly inept where Pakistan’s larger problems are concerned.
So the old question, which Lenin put in a path-breaking pamphlet before the Russian Revolution: What is to be done? How do we master Pakistan’s leadership crisis? How do we cut through the fog and give a clear direction to the military and, at the same time, galvanise the nation and slowly attune it to the fact that this is going to be a long haul and that things are going to get much worse – with more spectacular attacks such as the one on Karachi airport – before they start getting better?
A war cabinet….yes, we need one desperately. But who will head it? The same metro-bus managers? The mind boggles. Who’ll sit in that cabinet? The same waffling ministers who can’t get their lines straight? The heart shudders.
We are in a mess and knoweth not our true condition.