Sami Shah put it rather nicely in his recent column in this newspaper “What sovereignty are we talking about?” (September 29) when he wrote that Pakistan lost its sovereignty ages ago. ‘We traded it for short-term gain with all the foresight of a native American tribe handing over huge tracts of land for a few beads and snacks.’ Sami Shah was, in effect voicing the opinion of a large number of citizens in this blighted republic who endorse the view that in the land of the pure, the leaders from the time of Ayub Khan have been terminally hampered by the thought that the country could survive on military aid, a few hand outs and a dose of patronizing fondness, halcyon sentiment and promises to paint a picture of the country in velvet.
And so, while the leaders of the current government continue to talk — with an eye-rolling credulity and a cute innocence, occasionally sugaring the grit, and claiming that it is not really their fault if the advancement of progress has been mugged by events — the country continues to drift on an uncharted ocean. The decision whether Pakistan should once and for all cut the umbilical cord with the super power, or just make a few incisions was, of course, discussed by the troika which includes a peerlessly servile prime minister and a terse and steely army chief. The ineffably wise and deceptively simple village elders in the north who display a grudging admiration for Iran who has exhibited a fierce independence, would like the country to go it alone. The rich and influential who live an exceptionally leisurely life and stand to lose a great deal would not like to rock the boat. They don’t have to worry because the Americans are being sensible and have toned down their rhetoric. The crisis on the international front seems to have passed. But what about the crisis on the national front, where the current government has established some sort of record for deficit financing and inflation which is crushing the common man?
In the United States and the United Kingdom, voters invariably tire of the government in power and cheerfully throw in their lot with the opposition at the next election. But even in those countries where the media is relatively free, important decisions that affect the people are not taken in an open and transparent manner, with a degree of public consultation along the way. Crucial matters are decided away from the public gaze in shadowy meetings of the rich and powerful beneath a cloak of secrecy. Things are no different in Pakistan. The difference, however, lies in the fact that while the Brits under Cameron have managed to do quite nicely, thank you, in Pakistan people desperately need a change of government. The tragedy is, voters don’t really have very much to choose from.
The PPP leadership has wasted a lot of time making alliances with other parties when their supreme was not traipsing around the world on goodwill missions. He has not really been able to come up with a single positive thought or programme that could benefit the country in any way. Even his secularism and fidelity were seriously in question when he couldn’t even attend the funeral of the Punjab governor who belonged to his party. Nawaz Sharif, who did leave behind him a short trail of achievements, did precious little for the women of this country and has the reputation of leaning a little too far towards the religious right. As for the religious parties, they refute everything that the founder of the nation stood for and want to turn the country into a theocracy.
The old guard has been tried and tested and has failed. What the nation desperately needs is a new leader, somebody with an unblemished political record, somebody who cares for the country and its people, who understands the need for implementing the rule of law and can stand up to the bullies wherever they are. The next election will be crucial. One can only hope the voters make the right choice.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2011.