The prime minister believes his dharna troubles are over. The prime minister smiles. And exhales. The prime minister then thinks perhaps, there’s a bit of a problem with governance. The prime minister looks around to see where. The prime minister then decides to crack the whip on his cabinet and lacerate a few silky smooth ministerial backs.
The answer to our governance woes?
In December 2001, the famed author Arundhati Roy wrote a blistering piece on the US invasion of Afghanistan. She asked: “The question is, can you destroy destruction? Dropping more bombs on Afghanistan will only shuffle the rubble, scramble some old graves, and disturb the dead.”
If the prime minister’s solution to all problems is reshuffling his cabinet, then he may just be shuffling the rubble and disturbing the dead.
Afghanistan may have been bombed to rubble, but Pakistan has been governed into ruins. Ruler after ruler ravaged and pillaged this land, gnawing and clawing at its flesh till there was nothing left but bare bones. This is why there is now a wave of revulsion against all those who exercise authority by wearing the rotting garland of mandate. Yes, revulsion at the sheer audacity by which the mandated ones elevate themselves beyond the reach of law; revulsion at the nauseating arrogance of power that seeps out of them like blood out of an infected wound; and revulsion — pure naked revulsion — at their mentality that treats citizens as children of a lesser god.
Mandate is not a four-letter word, but it sure sounds like one now. What is this mandate, a carte blanche to do what you please, when you please, how you please? Is this a mandate to worship the status quo; a mandate to inject greater inertia in governance; a mandate to protect, preserve and promote lethargy across all institutions of the government?
The PML-N has been whipped, lashed and clobbered by the Khan-Qadri combine till it is a shadow of itself. But it has survived. Like it should have. An elected government must be brought down constitutionally, not slaughtered on D Chowk like Dr Tahirul Qadri’s camel. No, that would spell disaster for whatever weak and doddering system we have. Slaughter is not the answer.
But neither is the total lack of governance that this government has exemplified since May last. We thought the last PPP government was incompetent; but these guys are bent on proving us wrong. If you are given the crown for the third time, you just do not muck it up. No, you improve, you learn, you innovate, you lead. You don’t just tell the world, ‘Sometimes I sits and I thinks. And sometimes I just sits.’
Improving governance first requires an understanding of what needs to be set right. You cannot build a new structure if the extent of your plan is to shuffle the rubble. Pakistan needs serious and intensive care. Pakistan needs deep internal reform. But most importantly, Pakistan needs someone who can visualise a future that goes beyond planes, trains and automobiles; someone who is deeply and intimately aware of the dynamics that propelled medieval societies into modern ones. Yes, let there be no doubt that true leadership is an exercise in loneliness because at the end of it all, one man has to make the call. One man.
This one man must then be able to lead first with a vision, and then with action. The rest follow.
A former president of the US, Theodore Roosevelt, said at a speech in Paris on April 23, 1910: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
So Mr Prime Minister, shuffle your cabinet — but first, shuffle your priorities.
Your priorities in turn, are a reflection of your vision. Yes, that vision thing. Prime Minister, dare to dream of a future where Pakistan is recognised for its human talent; not its concrete structures. Dare to dream of a future where every single Pakistani child is in school; where every single citizen is equal before law; where every single penny of taxpayers’ money is accounted for. Prime Minister, dare to dream of a Pakistan where the state does not hunt its own citizens; where governments do not spend on themselves; where what you know is so much more important than who you know. Can you dream this dream? Can you live this dream? Can you make this dream?
Every citizen tortured by the police is a harsh reminder of an absence of vision. Every child dying of malnutrition is a harsh reminder of an absence of vision. And every time a woman is persecuted, a minority member is crucified; every time a powerful person gets away with raping the law, and justice is denied to the deserving — every time this happens, it is a harsh reminder of a serious, acute and aching absence of vision.
Our problems are deep. Our wounds are deeper. They will not heal with band aids. Or aspirin. This society has been brought to decay by those who were mandated to make it prosper. They were midgets. They thought small, and dreamt smaller. Pakistan today is screaming for reform. A cabinet reshuffle is not reform. A shuffle of the rubble will still keep us in a state of ruin. The prime minister is relieved the pressure at D chowk is evaporating. But if he puts his ear to the ground, he will hear the red, hot lava of discontent growling menacingly under the surface. All it needs is one small crack.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2014.