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Nothing that a miracle can’t cure

Ask yourselves which of our problems we have solved since Independence. Do millions not continue to live in prehistoric squalor? Don’t hunger and disease still haunt the poor? Have not the really hard issues like illiteracy, corruption, social and political backwardness, unequal distribution of wealth and an inadequate industrial base become more serious and ingrained?

We haven’t even stopped targeting Hindus and Christians even though there are already so few left. Instead, we have added Shias to the list of those to be hounded on account of their faith.

What have been our concrete achievements since Independence? Yes, we have established some industries, built roads, hospitals, dams, schools and universities but all that would have been accomplished anyway, regardless of who was in charge. It’s difficult to believe that dirt roads would not have been asphalted, and hospitals, schools and new industries not emerged had the British stayed on or Pakistan not been created.

And if we subtract all the development projects that were plain mistakes – or decided on entirely for political reasons rather than practical results – and the money that was pocketed by dishonest contractors et al, don’t the results seem out of proportion to the fuss we make of our progress since Independence? In fact, our flashy and amateurish leaders have little to be proud of. If they succeeded in anything, it was to deceive the people and feather their own nests during the course of which they lost half the country.

When a state is unable to provide at least the promise – forget the achievement – of such things as rule of law; superior social welfare through redistribution of wealth via collecting a lot of taxes; employment and wages, etc, then people fall back for security and survival on the kinship network – all rules bent for insiders.

Because the kinship network is based on a dog-eat-dog system, the assumption is that the state, which is viewed as an extension of the kinship network, acts in the same way. Hence our suspicion of the motives behind much of what the state does – regrettably all too often justified by the self-serving behind the actions.

Try overhearing conversations in swanky restaurants or in the drawing rooms of the wealthy. When the talk concerns politicians they blandly accuse them of all sorts of crimes, nepotism, cowardice, treason, the plundering of public funds, etc. Why was a certain man appointed to a post? The last explanation accepted is that he may be competent to fill the post. The first is that he is somebody’s brother- or son-in-law or a member of the same tribe, party, sect or whatever. Nobody is ever considered virtuous, generous, pure or spiritual. Fakhru Bhai was the exception, but not for long.

Following the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, for instance, we tried hard to find a suitable answer to why the Americans were being so generous with their assistance considering how much they are hated. When no plausible answer came to mind we concluded that Washington must have its reasons and whatever they were they must have been serving its interests and hence there was no reason for us to feel grateful.

This constant suspicion of the honourable, the chivalrous, the noble; this certainty that all things are done for private reasons rather than public welfare and for the worst of all motives and will somehow end up badly, has probably been cultivated to get us through life without confronting nasty surprises. It’s a mental precaution we have developed in order to get through life unscathed.

It was said about another people, but could as easily apply to our elite, that “they did not learn to shun sin, to combat evil, to protect the weak, to control their base instincts, to respect the virtue of others, and prepare themselves for salvation in the afterlife. They learned mainly to protect themselves by deceit, treachery and cunning and enjoy the good things in life.”

Look at our rules of (fair) conduct. In a civilised society you ‘never kick a man when he is down’. But our countrymen ask, ‘when else should one kick a man more advantageously, safely and effectively than when he is down?’ – and then proceed to do so furiously. The departure of the Zardari regime next week will no doubt reveal plenty of instances of such behaviour. In fact, steel-tipped boots especially made for kicking are probably already being tried on for size.

Another concrete, practical rule when taking part in elections (or exams) is to cheat, which is why the forthcoming elections are likely to be ‘a free-for-all’, without rules or a referee, like most past elections. Of course, the law will be allegedly supreme and the apparatus of a quasi-modern state will be apparent.

It’s difficult to envisage fair elections when the main rivals are at daggers drawn and sense that victory or defeat could mean life or death, which loosely is what happened in 1977 when Bhutto, the ‘loser’ of the election, was marched off to prison and then the gallows. Moreover, not only is the pre-election political atmosphere souring by the hour but the judiciary and the executive are also grappling for a greater share of national attention with the ECP likely to join the fray in due course. And, if there is no agreement on the caretaker prime minister, a parliamentary committee will also join in the shindig even as the military looks on, increasingly impatient and disgusted at the political shenanigans going on.

Dollops of cash are being readied to purchase votes – ‘the elections are to be bought not fought’ – with the head of one party reportedly boasting his stash exceeds what his opponents can muster. Personnel conducting the polling, especially in closely-fought constituencies, have already been selected, deployed and purchased.

Newspapers are ablaze with (illegal) advertisements canvassing votes paid out of the public exchequer. In fact, the omens for a peaceful election are anything but good. Violence is around the corner, say some, with others going as far as to offer odds against the elections being held.

Sadly, no one should be surprised if all that were to happen because we are following two internal clocks; one puts us in 2013 enjoying many of the modern world’s technological innovations (including remote-controlled detonation via 3G mobile phones) and following many of its forms (like UK-style democracy); and the second where we were centuries ago in the dog-eat-dog world with personal power unshackled by law and tradition trumping institutionalised power – the Supreme Court notwithstanding.

Our laws and institutions function defectively because, while individually we may respect the truth, collectively we tend to embellish, embroider around or deny it – as suits circumstances and convenience. As I had said, “the fruits of independence… will continue to elude us till we reinvent ourselves”, (The News, Feb 26) – in other words, till we confront what is wrong and face the truth. But all that would make life unbearable.

So, let’s just concede that we will remain a brittle and divided nation with injustice and fear dominating our lives until…And though the sacrifices rendered for independence have not gained us what we had wished, nevertheless, I suppose we should not lose hope. After all, there is nothing wrong with us that a miracle cannot cure.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email: charles123it@hotmail.com

Zafar Hilaly, "Nothing that a miracle can’t cure," The News. 2013-03-13.