Sunday June 04, 2023

Hope in times of crisis

September 02, 2022

It is a given that crises bring nations together. Not here. Not now. In fact, we appear to be more divided than ever before, and the reasons may not be difficult to fathom which are inextricably rooted in how we have brought Pakistan to this verge. But then it must also be conceded that there was never an effort made in the past to choose between right and wrong. It is only now that such a distinction has not only been created, but people have also become acutely aware of it and are actively involved in the phenomenon.

The history of this country is full of potholes which were assiduously dug to ensure that it does not move along smoothly. For most of its independent days, it remained an experimentation ground alternating between dictatorships and craftily managed ‘democratic’ interludes. There was no consistency to its policies and the new government would begin by undoing all that the previous incumbents may have initiated. An inescapable constituent of all governments was corruption at a mammoth scale. Dictators may not have been directly involved in this malaise, but their henchmen at positions of power made full and profitable (mis)use of their stints to accumulate pelf. This came at the cost of the impoverished communities of the country whose state only worsened with an increasing number of them falling below the poverty line.

During the cunningly articulated ‘democratic’ interludes, this gruesome malady assumed a different dimension altogether where the rulers themselves would lead a cabal of criminals to remorselessly pillage the state exchequer and fill their personal coffers. These rulers were the very same people dictators had nurtured during their days in direct control of the country, be they from the Bhutto/Zardari, or Sharif, or Altaf Hussain clans, or from among the lesser players. Along with their corrupt indulgences, they often conspired to consolidate their hold on power using despotic measures, some of which they may have learnt from their masters, while some they created themselves to cover their compromised tracks. That is how the stack of files of their crimes and corruption kept piling up, giving their masters the hold to manoeuvre them along paths chosen for each.

But the urge to break free of the masters’ hold and gain absolute, unchallengeable control of the fate of the country would keep raising its head. This would be periodically manifested in efforts to manage the judiciary to get decisions of their liking, even assault the apex court to subdue it, or render the state institutions dysfunctional by staffing them with people of dubious character and ability, or breed scandals of the nature of DawnLeaks and Memogate to embarrass and weaken the military, or just play petty politics with them to trail along. The establishment would keep alternating between the available outfits. The reason why they were able to do so was the common ailment of suffering from corruption among the political leaders which rendered them extremely vulnerable. Once dethroned, they would take off for safer sojourns and wait for their turn to arrive back and restart their spree of loot. Obviously, this was not a very elevating mechanism to manage the fate of a country; instead of providing a path for moving forward, it would facilitate the option to continue going in circles to always come back to where it had all started from. In the process, the distinction between right and wrong was effectively erased and the ground swell was tailored to suit perpetuation of crime and corruption.

Over 70 years, the country was effectively reduced to becoming a theatre of the absurd with players inducted from time to time to make use of the platform to further hone their guileful art of wicked and vile pursuits. And they did so with consummate skills reducing the state to perpetually holding a begging bowl for its survival. With the passage of time, the going kept getting tougher and the problems kept piling up. The state’s capacity to cope with challenges was weakened as is manifested in comparing the scale of destruction caused by floods in 2010 with 2022.

The depleting potential of the state is reflected in the lack of ability of its institutions to enhance their expertise and devise effective methods to cope with disasters. It is like all of them were moth-eaten, collapsing whenever they would be confronted with a challenge as is evidenced by more than one-third of the country being submerged under water in the aftermath of the recent floods and the indescribable suffering it has caused to the impoverished communities throughout the affected areas. As expected, we have the begging bowl stretched again. This dismal and demeaning state has caused deep consternation among people, propelling them to think of ways to restore their self-esteem and salvage their freedom to take decisions independent of intervention.

The inability of divergent interest groups coming together was also owed to pursuing a policy of divide and rule – an inheritance from the colonial days when the foreign masters used this as a key tactic to maintain their stranglehold upon their captives. The local masters, most notably the bureaucracy, continued using this to keep their own people hostage of their sinister game plan. This has been the most disastrous leftover from the colonial heritage giving one a feeling that maybe those times are not yet over.

This style of governance needed correction. The power of the people had to be harnessed with a dose of motivation to rewrite the script of their fate and chisel their destination. Even more importantly, they had to elect people of better stock who would breed transparency and remain steadfast in securing their rights and welfare. If they kept going the old way, it would only bring further disaster.

The streak of freedom that Imran Khan has instilled has aroused people from the deep slumber that they have been languishing in and realize the enormous power that they command to alter the direction the country could take in the future. It is obvious that this massive outpouring for change has caught roots and the effort to contain people within the rotten confines of olden times has been virtually banished. The powerful surge is headed towards crafting a new future where they would be able to sift right from wrong and where they would be the arbiters of their destiny. This generates hope in times of crisis.

At this critical juncture in our national history, Khan leads the charge with people following him passionately on the way to crafting a new Pakistan. The rest has become irrelevant.

The writer is a political and security strategist and the founder of the Regional Peace Institute in Islamabad. He tweets @RaoofHasan