“Yes I know your line of cribbing, so spare me. You can’t stomach the fact that Khan will be our new leader. Deal with it. God knows you’ll have enough time, so better start now. And for once, can you please look at this bigger picture. Can you?” she said.
“Bigger picture? Bigger picture? Have you taken leave of your senses? You’re the one who’s turning into an apologist for a less-than-perfect election; you’re the one who’s refusing to accept that the loser did not lose fair and square; that he really didn’t have a chance to begin with. C’mon don’t give me this sanctimonious hogwash. You know I’m right,” he said.
“Oh yeah? Do I really now? What are you, a Martian? This is Pakistan, and to expect it to turn into some political heaven overnight can be your wish, but it sure as hell ain’t a reality. You’ve lived pretty comfortably with this reality all this years, so why this mock outrage now? Huh? Why this sudden bout of puritanism? Listen, there are no Mandelas here; no valiant figures fighting the good fight for you and me and our children and their children. Don’t make demigods of those who stand on feet of clay. Just don’t. This is the best we could do in these circumstances. I’m a realist and I see what’s going on around us. So do you. The difference is I adjust my expectations to the level of my realism. I suggest you get off that moral high horse and do the same,” she said.
“That’s not fair. Listen, I get that we don’t live in a perfect world, and I get that we have serious structural issues between the civilian and military sides when it comes to running this country. You know I know my history. You also know that I know that Ayesha Jalal has a point when she says the domination of the military is the price that we have to pay for our survival. We as a country were not expected to survive but we did. And that’s primarily due to the military. I know that. But at some point we need to grow up, right? At some point we need to learn to walk ourselves. What’s wrong with wanting this?” he said.
“Nothing wrong with it. But are you ready to walk? Don’t tell me these demigods you have suddenly grown so fond of haven’t had a chance to set themselves up for a walk. They’ve had plenty chances, plenty stints, plenty free runs. And what do we have? The basic fundamentals of governance torn to shreds, term after term after term. For God’s sake this is my country too. I pay for it. What do I get in return? At some point, someone has to say enough is enough. First deserve to walk. Then walk,” she said.
“That is so condescending,” he said.
“No it’s not. Condescending is when they treat education as a privilege and not a right. Condescending is when I pay taxes and they do not. Condescending is when I have to justify my hard-earned earnings but nobody dare ask how they earn their livelihood. Condescending is when the law penalises me for speeding but the law cannot touch them for anything. What kind of a system is this? We know how democracies work, we know how their systems work. Is it then so wrong to just demand the same standards for us? How long will my country be run like a fiefdom? How long will my children and their children have to live in a society that cannot hold people accountable by one standard?” she said.
“Fair enough. But how does this link to these elections? That’s my point. It’s the same people brought into power through the same system and you expect different results? Prepare to be severely disappointed. Messiahs look good in a cape, not in a sherwani,” he said.
“I’m not looking for a Messiah, just for someone who genuinely cares. Is that too much to ask for? I mean seriously, do we need a Mandela just to give us the basics of governance? Look at Khan, he means well. We all know that. Does he have a magic wand? No he doesn’t. Does he have a dream team? No he doesn’t. Does he even have the space to initiate sweeping reforms? No he doesn’t. But you know what he does have? A genuine urge to set things right. That’s something your demigods never had. So I don’t care how he came to power or who brought him to power, all I care is that he can do — in his own limited way — what others could not do. And I know that when he leaves, he will leave a better Pakistan behind, even if it’s just a little better than it was,” she said.
“So ends justify means? As long as Khan delivers whatever he delivers, that would justify how he climbed up the ladder of power? Do you realise how dangerous this argument is? I understand that we are all clutching at straws here, but have we learnt no lessons from history? Do we still not realise that quick fix, short cut solutions are no solutions? Systems matter, not individuals, however well-meaning they might be. Wrap your mind around this,” he said.
“And your demigods were making systems? Seriously? Parochial dynasts were too busy consolidating their dynasties to worry about building systems. They governed this country like tribal leaders, using the institutions of the state to wage primitive wars against their opponents. Look at the state of your institutions. Just look at them. Bruised and battered by the abuse at the hands of these dynasts who are now cloaking themselves in lofty rhetoric which is nothing more than a feeble attempt to salvage their personal interests,” she said.
“So vote them out. Vote them out through a free and fair election. Is that not what mature democracies do? Is that not how you express the will of the people? Simple,” he said.
“It’s not that simple, and you know it. Every time these demigods have been voted in, they have done little to reform the fundamentals of this system. Yes building highways and bridges and public transport is a good thing, but it is not the key reform we need. For that reform to happen, we need people like Imran with all his flaws. Let him smash through this status quo; let him strengthen institutions; let him make law equal for everyone; let him break down the walls of privilege, patronage and protection; let him clobber one out of the stadium,” she said.
“Haven’t I heard all this before?” he said.
“This time it’s different,” she said. “This time it’s different.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2018.