Fragrance of fear

Pakistan may not be ready for accountability it deserves but it is ready for accountability it can afford

Fahd Husain July 21, 2019

What do we make of this country called home?

It’s a mess. No it’s not. It’s a wreck. No it’s not. It’s a land of confusion. No it’s not.

And yet look around you and see opposites unite like cosmic contradictions. Look around you and wonder how these celestial blunders could paint heavenly pictures across the starry sky. Look around you and marvel at the black holes of change exuding dark matter of positivity across a galaxy that seems to be collapsing into itself.

What is wrong with us? Or is it that the fault lies not in ourselves but in our system. Ah! The famed system is always the villain, sometimes unsuitable to our genius, other times ill-suited to our temperament and some other time mismatched with our culture and heritage. It is this infuriating, unforgiving, unrelenting system and our collective obsession with it that drags us down to the depths of our dismay only to pull us back to the summit of our hopes.

But not really.

Try explaining this to Shahid Khaqan Abbasi — the universally respected former prime minister — as he sits in his NAB lockup trying to explain to his captors the difference between LPG and LNG. Try explaining this to Miftah Ismail — the widely admired former finance minister — as he hangs on to his freedom on the delicate thread of a week-long bail while explaining to the universe the sheer ridiculousness of the charges against him.

Both will grin back. They know the system and its cosmic contradictions. They were the system for a while. They realise the elasticity of its structure and the rigidity of its compulsions. They also know the system ultimately gets what it wants — or who it wants. Every time. Every single time.

And yet, today and here, the system is groaning under the pulls and pushes of its competing desires. It is hacking away at its limbs in the hope of growing newer, stronger ones. See that blood sprouting like a crimson fountain from wounds inflicted with hope? This, tomorrow and here, will nourish the flowering of change from within this amputated body. We can bleed out our troubles, you see.

Some injuries are sustained for a good cause. You say you can’t speak like you used to speak and can’t write like you used to write, and I say you should spend less time speaking and writing and more time connecting the dots that are constituting your future. These dots are here, there and everywhere if only you could have the courage to see them and pencil a pattern through them.

No? Nothing? Come and look through this frame prepared specially for you. Yes peer hard. Now do you see? Right there in this corner is Hafiz Saeed being arrested. Yes sir, the Untouchable himself. Aghast? Wait, there’s more. Look there on the right side is Pakistan being applauded for playing a constructive role in Afghanistan. Remember all those years of being branded villain number one? Remember the insults of ‘do more, do more’? Remember the indignities being heaped through words like ‘Afghanistan is not the real problem, Pakistan is’? Well guess who is eating those words and choking on them?

The dots are here, there and everywhere waiting to be connected.

This system has to change. Pakistan has to change. Must change. Will change. We can manage peace in Afghanistan and wage peace with India. We can repair our relations in our neighbourhood and iron out the wrinkles of extremism at home. These are big asks. No, they are huge asks against impossible odds. And yet we now know all this needs to be done. The titanic of Pakistan must be moved away from the iceberg. Everything must be aligned to this one cause regardless of the cost. The larger good trumps all.

So what if some people are in jail on fantastical charges? So what if different variations of reality must blend into one powerful sanctified narrative? So what if all branches of the state must evolve out of the archaic concept of checks and balances and instead walk forward in beautiful unison?

The dots are here, there and everywhere waiting to be connected.

Look through this frame and see a brave new Pakistan gleaming on the horizon. It is a Pakistan sanitised from all doubts of annoying plurality, decontaminated from all germs of infuriating debates, disinfected from all rigours of due processes that protect the rights of even criminals. Imagine the travesty of this thought. Now let it extinguish itself like a stale cigar.

Over there, in the far corner of the frame, you can see silhouetted against their own fear, our tax evaders in all their glorious distress. Squeeze them till there is not a paisa of unpaid tax left in them. And those obstinate traders? They will cough up their due just you wait and see. All will be equal before law. Well, almost all.

But what is law if not a vehicle for social order and national progress? People make laws, laws do not make people. So let’s keep things in perspective and not get hung up over words written on statutes which in any case need to be overhauled to reflect the priorities of a fresh public mandate. Irony should be a cognizable offense.

Oh how the mighty have fallen! Isn’t there something supremely satisfying about watching arrogant people cowering before the might of the law? The jaws of justice are closing in around those who lived beyond its jurisdiction. Not any more, no sir.

This here is the new normal in the land of confusion; a normal that defies the power of privilege and the strength of status. Isn’t this what we all wanted? Some big people in jail are better than no big people in jail. Pakistan may not be ready for the accountability it deserves but it sure as heck is ready for the accountability it can afford.

The dots are here, there and everywhere. We are chugging ahead at a pretty pace towards a destination that gleams inside the frame built lovingly for us to see through. Yes many spaces are shrinking and many privileges are disappearing but there is always a price to pay for achieving your destiny.

So what do you make of this country called home? It’s a mess. No it’s not. It’s a wreck. No it’s not. It’s a land of confusion. No it’s not.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2019.

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