Pakistan’s cricket team redeemed itself this weekend beautifully, defeating England at the Oval, and providing a nation in grief with a ray of happiness. Mohammad Amir is a superstar all-rounder in the making, racking up bowling figures reminiscent of the great Wasim Akram and coming through with a gutsy batting performance to see a home victory. With 5-52 Amir became the youngest cricketer to take the prized five-wicket haul in a Test match on English soil. Salman Butt is also coming into his own as captain, with a responsible second innings and an articulate speech at the presentation ceremony, a refreshing change from the usual rehearsed stock-phrase ineloquence of captains past.
Meanwhile here at home, the government tried to redeem its “poor image” by adding another acronym to the list of bureaucratic bodies which do nothing and cost a lot. The new National Oversight Disaster Management Council (NODMC), is aimed at providing much needed transparency and credibility to the government’s relief drive. But is likely to end up as “Not Another Dreary Meetings Committee”, with a few society fat cats battling for their political patrons rather than engaging in any robust or constructive oversight. The prime minister had little choice but to form the council, as a response to the wiles of the PML-N chief, who, in his customary fashion, is trying to squeeze political mileage out of the government’s handling of the floods and the UN’s indictment of its lack of international credibility. The UN statement has made one thing crystal clear to the Zardari-Gilani government that democratic credentials may confer legitimacy but not credibility — that has to be earned.
If ever there was an opportunity to earn that credibility, this national crisis is it. The government and the opposition, made up of many sinners, could all redeem themselves. President Zardari is estimated to be worth $1.5 billion and is the proud owner of numerous luxury properties, including a Surrey “mahal” and a French chateau. How about selling just one of those palatial estates and donating the money to the wretched masses who have voted the PPP into power? The Sharif clan is estimated to be worth $1.4 billion. Surely they could spare a petty $100 million for the “ghareeb awam” they claim to “serve”? In recent speeches, both Zardari and Sharif claimed they would give their last drop of blood for Pakistan — or words to that effect. Well we don’t need your blood — give us your (our) money instead! Add in just five per cent of the declared assets of the multi-millionaires sitting in the assemblies and we could easily match the $459 million UN appeal. That would restore some credibility to our leaders and politicians, both at home and abroad as well as providing some solace to the Pakistani people.
After a slow start, ordinary Pakistanis, burdened by taxes, inflation and corruption, have nevertheless taken up the mantle of providing relief to their tragic brethren, alongside the army, which is stretched to the maximum. Over 60,000 soldiers make up the backbone of the relief operation, running camps and clearing roads and infrastructure damage. The flow of relief goods to most of the flood-hit areas is now quite adequate, with a few exceptions where pockets of people are completely stranded, entirely dependent on helicopter drops. I had the opportunity to travel with a group of people to witness some of the work being done in Jamshoro, under the aegis of the Sindh Rangers. There were also many private groups there, with trucks full of aid. Clearly, these efforts are making a qualitative difference. On a national level, celebrities and others are to be seen in full throttle for relief fund appeals. Money is flowing in by the crores into accounts set up by various national personalities and media groups.
So, in this holy month of redemption, Pakistanis are displaying the zeal and generosity that is the hallmark of our nation. Redemption is within our reach, but the road will be long, arduous and painful. Our rediscovered national spirit cannot be just for Ramazan — it must be for a lifetime.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2010.