There is a fear lurking in the shadows. It is a fear that preys on optimism and feeds on dread. It is here, there, somewhere and everywhere. Are you sensing it?
Pakistan is gradually sliding back into the old normal. The signs are everywhere. The stench of the government’s arrogance is slowly and tortuously blending with noxious odour of its masterly inactivity. We now appear to be wading back into the rot.
Is there no escaping the vicious tentacles of the status quo? As this shattering reality slowly dawns upon the dreamy-eyed among us, fear begins to well up. What if this is it? What if the tide has weakened? What if hope is fading?
What if Nawaz Sharif has won and Imran Khan has lost?
The visual evidence is surprisingly potent. The dharnas are all but fizzling out; Tahirul Qadri has hopped, skipped and jumped to Canada; the army is sitting out this political battle; the political parties are satiated because they get to keep their fingers in the national pie; and even the media is now slowly losing interest. Yes indeed, the November 30 march on Islamabad will make waves, and perhaps ratchet up the pressure on Sharif and his merry men, but it will not change the inevitable: Nawaz Sharif stays prime minister.
This is the best thing that could have happened. This is the worst thing that could have happened.
Confused? This evident contradiction best highlights the unbearable dilemma that we face: how to proceed with gradual evolution and yet smash this rotting status quo with revolutionary zeal. The logic goes like this: if you force out Sharif like Khan wants to, you’re playing into the hands of the anti-democratic forces and undermining democracy. But if you let Sharif and his brand of politics stay, you’re strengthening the status quo. So you scratch your head, and ask yourself: should I wait for the Sharifs to ultimately reform themselves, change their thinking, alter their worldview and transform themselves into path-breaking statesmen? Or should I roll up my sleeves, fire up my passion, and vow to bring down the Sharifs for the good of this nation?
The problem is we have locked ourselves into deeply polarised political positions and pegged ourselves to specific personalities and their agendas; and by hunkering down in political trenches, we may be losing sight of the national landscape that lies in ruins.
Step back for a moment and review the landscape. Has Sharif won? No. Has Khan lost? No. Does it matter at this point? Not really.
Allow me to unpeg you from personalities. Loyalty to a cause is always nobler than loyalty to a person. Sharif has made blunders. So has Khan. The system almost ground to a halt. Then petty politicking took over. Now Khan is struggling to extricate himself from the corner he himself pushed himself into. The government can lend him a hand. But it won’t. Yes it won’t because it thinks petty, sounds petty and acts petty. There will be tactical moves and counter-moves, but the strategic reality is that Sharif will stay in government and Khan in the opposition.
Which is fine. For now. While the tumultuous events since August may not have altered the political composition in Islamabad, they have dramatically transformed the way we perceive politics. For some, the most important fact is that Sharif hangs on to power that they believe he acquired through the ballot box. For others, the perseverance of Khan against heavy odds is the defining aspect of the dharnas. But these are person-oriented gains.
The real revolution within this evolution is the rediscovery of the Pakistani spirit. Yes, a spirit that propels hearts and minds into a glorious future where justice and merit stalk this land instead of fear and loathing. It is this spirit, this determination to make Pakistan a better place for all of us and our children, that is making us think beyond day-to-day political manoueverings. It is this new-found idealism wrapped in a can-do attitude that is enabling us to delve deeper into how we can trigger a revolution within the slowly unfolding process of evolution.
Let’s talk evolution. It means continuity of the present way of governance. It means giving time for the system to mature; allowing for Parliament to reform electoral laws that will ensure completely free and fair elections. Evolution means trusting the present and future governments to — at some point — realise that investing in human beings is the first and last priority of every ruler. It means allowing another five decades to pass before all Pakistani children can go to school, because education will not become the top priority of any ruler any time soon. Evolution means placing the future of your children in the laps of rulers who rise to power through a restrictive system and have no incentive to change it. Evolution means hoping and praying that the second, third, fourth and fifth generations of the present lot will suddenly grow a heart and decide to reform whatever is left of the moth-eaten system. Evolution means expecting global progress and advancement to take a time-out so the Bhuttos, Sharifs and their like can play catch up.
Wanna chance it? Why don’t you roll up a snowball, toss it into hell, and see what chance it has.
If evolution has to work, it needs a strong dosage of revolution. No, not the violent, overthrowing kind of revolution, but the type that speeds up things and filters the filth out of the system. Goal — as Napoleon Hill wrote — is a dream with a deadline. We need a deadlined evolution. Yes, the rulers and their minions will need to be put inside a public opinion pressure cooker with the release valve sealed. They will need to be pushed and shoved into reforming fast.
One thing is clear: this stinking status quo cannot — must not — endure. And those who cannot smash it, must be pushed aside to make way for those who can, and will, put the R in evolution.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 16th, 2014.