Poles apart

Amina Jilani May 14, 2010

Faisal Wotsisname and his felicitous failure has been written into the ground, highly unhelpful to Pakistan’s cause, inspiring international headlines such as ‘Terrorists’ supermarket’ and ‘Islamic nowhere men.’ Was he in one mould and merely pathetically inept (luckily), as is the government of Pakistan (not at all luckily)? Or was he in another mould and intent upon doing damage, as do our USsped drones? Or was he simply a nitwit with no intent other than seeking his 15 minutes of fame in this world overstuffed by fame-seekers?

Whatever, we are unlikely to know soon. However, over the last 10 days whilst the Times Square story has raged, those who have been following the ballot box fiasco in Britain have been given hefty clues as to what really constitutes the national interest. The three political parties, none of which managed the desired majority, had no option but to attempt to make deals with the aim of providing a stable government that could run its term. It took time and it was not until the end of the fifth day that all was resolved, and two parties agreed to form a coalition — yes, actually in the national interest.

What were the sticking points on which the agreement was hard to reach? Surprisingly for the politicos of Pakistan, that is if they were following the negotiations which is highly unlikely as they are too wrapped up in their own grotty lives to worry about anything that is happening elsewhere, one matter was the education of the nation’s children. Education ranks nowhere, not in the political conscience (which is invisible) or in this nation’s budget. It is one portfolio that in Pakistan is never sought – it has to be more or less forced upon some member of the ruling clique to whom a ministry has to be dished out either as payment for past favours or insurance against future nastiness. Not so in the parliamentary system which we claim to follow where policies are laid out in the interest of future generations and thus the country itself.

The main point of disagreement was electoral reforms, badly needed in the outmoded first-past-the-post system. Compromises were made, decisions were taken, as they were on the issue of the reduction of the number of constituencies and the equalising of the sizes of constituencies all of which will have to be implemented — in the national interest and the interest of fair play. Taxation came into play, and again compromises were made, not in the interest of a handful of politicians but in that of the public at large — again bringing in fair play.

The failing economy was no hurdle as again compromises were made as to how best combat the recession, cut spending, and drag the country out of the doldrums. It was an issue only in the sense of how best to go about it. On issues which affect the people at large, such as social services, law and order and the nitty-gritties of everyday life there was little wrangling, all parties being close on the necessity of doing what must be done, perhaps merely differing on the method. All of this is diametrically opposite to what constitutes the national interest as far as governments of Pakistan are concerned. There were no ordinances promulgated with the specific intent of letting a fistful of crooks off the hook, there were no constitutional amendments suggested to facilitate the entry into parliament of criminals and convicts. Cabinets will not be made up of scores of ignorant incompetents whose knowledge of the work of the ministries they head is non-existent, some of whom have wangled their way into the unwieldy and economically unviable bunch of nonentities through a form of blackmail. But who cares?

Published in the Express Tribune, May 15th, 2010.