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The challenge of change

Late Abul Kalam Azad, the Indian education minister, was a genius and an encyclopaedia of knowledge of both eastern and western civilisations and cultures, political figures, history, literature, etc. His translations of the Holy Quran and Ghubar-e-Khatir are classics. The latter is second only to Khutoot-e-Ghalib (Ghalib’s letters), in which he masterfully turned prose into poetry.
Ghubar-e-Khatir is a collection of letters written to his dear friend, Nawab Sadar Yar Jang Maulana Habibur Rahman Khan Sherwani, Nawab of Bhikampur, district Aligarh, while incarcerated in Ahmadabad jail in the early forties for agitating against the British. The British had put all the leaders together, thus allowing them to eat, talk and stroll together. There was no library, no telephone and only one newspaper.
In order to pass the time, Azad wrote letters to Nawab Sherwani and kept them. These were published after his release and instantly became a best-seller. Nawab Sherwani was a very learned person and his huge library was famous for its collection of excellent old manuscripts. He was the vice-chancellor of Osmania University and later head of Islamic Studies at Aligarh and also a friend of the famous religious scholar, Shibli Nomani.
In one of these letters, Azad wrote about the benefit of change. Change is always welcome, even if it is from good to bad, as it ensures continuity. Regular changes in government and rulers auger well for a country. A bad government and ruler can be replaced by a better one. Absence of change – like a dictatorial regime – usually results in stagnation of a free atmosphere. Even though Zardari’s rule was much worse than that of Musharraf’s, it is hoped that continuous change will auger well for better conditions.
Within a few days Mr Mohammed Nawaz Sharif will be the new prime minister. In a speech at Lahore’s Alhamra Hall on May 20, Nawaz Sharif shocked the public by saying that he could not give a definite date of when loadshedding would end. This was shocking more so since many still freshly remembered the promises made by the Sharif brothers in which they had not only promised that loadshedding would be reduced within months but that this problem would be fixed in two years, maximum.
It would have been far more diplomatic to say that loadshedding and peace in the country would top his list of priorities and that the problem of loadshedding would be tackled on war footing. The public would then have viewed the new setup with optimism. Following this speech, a number of friends phoned me saying that if no date could be set by the new government, then there was no need to replace Zardari.
Both Imran Khan and Mian Nawaz Sharif face great challenges: the treasury is empty; there is huge foreign debt servicing; massive loadshedding; unemployment; high inflation; violence and terrorism; target killings, etc. Mian Sahib will have to forget cosmetic projects such as bullet trains, the Islamabad-Tashkent motorway, the Lahore-Karachi highway, etc and concentrate on the more important issues.
If he doesn’t, after six months mild criticism will begin, and within a year things could get nasty, and Nawaz Sharif will be reminded of all the tall promises he and his party made during their election campaign.
If people start getting regular supplies of electricity and gas, they will be willing to forget many of the other problems they face for the time being. By loudly bemoaning the fact that the treasury is empty, Mian Sahib is sending a highly pessimistic message to the already downtrodden masses. They need hope, not despair – optimism, not pessimism. The whole world knows our economy is in tatters. Mian Sahib knew how bad the situation was in the country, then why was he so eager to become the prime minister for the third time?
He now needs to be pragmatic and decisive and ensure that he selects competent people to help him. He should remember the saying of Chinese philosopher Loa Tzu: “People are difficult to govern because they have too much knowledge.”
Higher up the political ladder, President Zardari is talking of national and international conspiracies against the PPP. As a matter of fact, everyone who failed to achieve their desired number of votes/seats is creating a hue and cry. The PPP governed in the centre and in two of the provinces with its allies. Zardari had all the power in his hands. So he has no reason to complain. All the shortcomings are of his own doing. Who would plot against him? The Americans? He must be joking.
The reason for the PPP’s defeat in the elections was due to its incompetence, corruption, and maladministration. Billions were wasted under the garb of the BISP, development funds, rental power, etc, all leading to the ultimate demise of the PPP. The corruption cases against high-ups are well known. Moreover, no election can be won while enclosing oneself in the safety of a palace. It would have been better had Bilawal, Faryal Talpur etc mingled with the people in the same way as the Sharif brothers and Imran Khan did as they made whirlwind tours of the country.
It is a good omen for the country that the PTI has emerged as the second popular party. People are fed up with family-led politics and want an alternative. Altaf Hussain received a rude shock during the elections when he realised his stranglehold over Karachi had loosened, with many people voting for the PTI.
The Election Commission has done a commendable job, but there is still room for improvement. Deploying one army jawan and one policeman inside each polling station would have done wonders. They, together with the representatives of various parties, could have ensured fair voting, sealing of the boxes and their safe dispatch. The army chief has commended the courage of the voters who were not intimidated by disruptive forces.
A humble request to Mian Nawaz Sharif; our history is rich with numerous examples of golden rule – Hazrat Umar (RA), Umar bin Abdul Aziz, Haroon Rashid, Alauddin Khilji, etc. Their way of governance should be studied and followed. These leaders also had enormous problems to deal with but they endeavoured to do well and provided good governance to the people. My prayers are with Mian Sahib and Imran Khan for the success of the daunting responsibilities that await them. May Allah bless them both with His guidance.
Correction: In last week’s column the name of President Clinton was erroneously mentioned as being involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis. It should, instead, have been President Kennedy.
Email: dr.a.quadeer.khan@gmail.com

Dr. A. Q. Khan, "The challenge of change," The News. 2013-05-26.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Election commission , Terrorism , Violence , Unemployment; Nawaz Sharif , Imran Khan , President Zardari , Islamabad , Karachi , Lahore , PPP , PTI