The flavour of the month is austerity, the tightening of belts and making do without the pudding. The bad guys are the ones who are stalking the corridors of power in Islamabad in their dark suits and briefcases. They are from the IMF and the World Bank and want the Pakistan government, which has established some kind of record in borrowing from the state bank, to further hike the price of petrol, electricity and gas so that the consumer, who is already reeling under the price increases, can start to pay back the billions of dollars the country owes its creditors. Never mind the galloping inflation that will follow. Never mind the fact that the poor will become poorer. In this appallingly dysfunctional system, the well-being and security of the people has always been an irrelevance. Nevertheless, the obsessive quality of the brief has given the MQM leadership an apoplectic fit and its spokesmen have made it quite clear that the reaction will be quite severe. Every man with half a brain knows how the country got into this unholy mess, but nobody seems to want to do anything about setting things right. There appears to be a noble camaraderie in hopelessness.
What makes the whole business so tragic is that Pakistan has a government that has no interest in governing; a prime minister who doesn’t understand economics; a supreme court whose judgements are not carried out and are instead adroitly diverted towards a wasteland; and an electorate which, to the oligarchy in power, is now increasingly becoming an inconvenience. With this kind of hopeless scenario is there really any point in continuing to exhume the canons of faith of the founder of the nation on the anniversary of his death, and in having his monosyllabic quotes in public places such as that three-pronged edifice in Karachi’s Clifton referred to as the Three Swords, with the words ‘Unity, Faith and Discipline’ chiselled into the marble?
Mr Jinnah, a secular leader, who initially put together those three words, had for reasons best known to him, stuck the word ‘faith’ in front of the other two. It is quite obvious that by ‘faith’ Mr Jinnah meant an uncompromising belief in one’s own religion and nationhood. Nobody in 1948 could have possibly foreseen the emergence of such a militant raggedy bag of competing orthodoxies in this country and the wave of intolerance they subsequently generated.
However, the chiseller of the marble structure probably decided in a moment of enlightenment that ‘unity’ was perhaps the most important of the three words and so he stuck it in front. It didn’t make the slightest difference, because nobody really reads inscriptions on monuments and road signs. And this includes the people who put them up in the first place. However, the chap who made the switch certainly had a point. While there is not much discipline, there is unity of sorts, though it expresses itself somewhat intermittently and not always in a positive way. Like when the price of sugar skyrockets and the public wants to lynch the hoarders; or when Pakistan is playing India on the cricket field and the public calls for the disembowelling of the selectors, captain and players. Harold Nicholson once referred to this sort of thing as Perfidious Albion, my country, right or wrong — especially when they are wrong.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2010.