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Boys from our neighbourhood

There is no bigger fear than the fear of being led by your contemporaries. Perhaps this feeling is peculiar to your upbringing in Pakistan. Perhaps this is something personal.

In any case, the prospects of fellows from ‘our own generation’ holding the reins is far from a reassuring sight. We have had caretakers looking after us. Have had a whole series of these gentlemen, there being a tendency and urge in our country to press them into service more frequently than is the norm globally.

The first caretaker we had was Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi. He was supposed to be as much of a neutral as is desperately thought to be necessary today. Everyone, however, knew that his appointment was a reconfirmation that Ms Benazir Bhutto, whose downfall in August 1990 had brought about the interim setup to hold a snap poll, could harbour little hope of returning to power in the coming election.

Apart from this small issue of neutrality arising out of Mr Jatoi’s adversarial relationship with BB, the country was supposed to be in capable, and what was extremely important, experienced hands for the duration of our caretaker days back then.

The formula of entrusting the job to veterans was followed diligently over our rollercoaster ride in the following decades. There were whole rows of grand past masters who were invited in turns to steer the country through these sensitive phases.

The list includes such names as Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, Balakh Mazari and Malik Meraj Khalid, the latter taking up the assignment fully prepared for it after spending six decades in politics.

Then we had Moeen Qureshi, who was considered to be more neutral among equals by virtue of him having spent his fortune-finding days away from Pakistan. Muhammad Mian Soomro was the youngest of all our previous executive caretakers but then he had been such an integral part of the above-suspicion list the interim prime minister was to be chosen from! Far from being a greenhorn in the arena where eminent personalities asserted their credentials for greater empowerment, his accumulative credibility over discussions about these lists made him look experienced for wearing the caretaker’s hat beyond his years. These were all elders, our seniors in the field who we were trained by convention to not just trust but trust with our most vital affairs.

Security has been snatched away from us in recent times as the country has been compelled to go looking for a new set of able caretakers to once again see us through a critical stage in our development as a country that appears to value democracy. It is not easy to explain. Maybe not all of you belong to the group that is most apprehensive of their peers having as much potential as our seniors have been blessed with.

Maybe you are one of those who favour the new over the old and maintain that the fresh ideas taught us not to over-rely on over-essayed exercises that supposedly provided polish to our experienced interim leaders of the past. And in what could be a more convincing argument, you can say that ‘we’ have ourselves reached the age where we deserve the senior tag from the generations that have come after us.

The sense of responsibility this alleged coming of age spawns cannot be easily wished away. It seeps deep within, only to be rivalled in its intensity by a nagging contempt that familiarity of growing up together has imbibed it with. It is the kind of mutual disbelief that children raised in a neighbourhood have for each other. It does not go away easily.

From my own experience, I remember how as a young journalist I ran into and made friends with ‘budding’ fellow professionals who came, practically, from the same stretch of a street in a Lahore locality. They went on to do good work individually, except that to this day, they have severe ‘doubts’ about each others’ abilities and would rather put down the success of these secret competitors’ success to repeated strokes of luck.

The co-inhabitants’ own estimates of each other more often than not fall well short of granting them any place of prominence among the living. The feeling is quite overwhelming and the same kind of apprehensions are difficult to shrug off as those handpicked from ‘our own generation’ take up this most important assignment of pulling the country back on track in their role as caretakers.

Seriously? Are there no seniors, no father figures, no veterans, not even well-meaning Pakistani or Pakistan-origin technocrats around to shoulder this huge responsibility? Has it fallen on the boys of our neighbourhood?

It always requires the incumbents to perform ‘miraculous’ feats before the boys – and girls – from their own mohalla or locality and the same batch can bring themselves to recognize their true talent. For everyone’s sake, one can only hope that this is how it is going to turn out.

Asha’ar Rehman, "Boys from our neighbourhood," The News. 2023-08-19.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Democracy , Elections , Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi , Malik Meraj Khalid , Pakistan