With the quietude of Eid only broken by the Beethoven late quartets and the whisper of a turning page there was a nagging feeling that there was something missing. It took a while to pin down but what was absent was the rumble of the national engine still ticking over somewhere deep in the bowels of the state. It was not just the silence of the holiday, it was that the comforting tiny vibration that indicated that somebody or something was awake and working in the engine-room — was absent.
The Captain was off in Saudi Arabia fettling relations with the relations, the Kaptaan was busy polishing his trophies and hunting for his wife’s degree in domestic management, and something large and noisy in London was threatening a hunger strike. In Downing Street, no less. Anybody on the bridge? Hand on the wheel? Seemingly not.
The Chief of the Army Staff was the exception. He seemed to be simultaneously in one of the Waziristans bucking up the lads, in any one of half a dozen capital cities in the defacto role of foreign minister, and when he had a spare moment was trying to save the people of Chitral from an ongoing disaster. A busy man and worth every rupee of his salary… which is more than can be said of those who ought to be plotting the course, setting the compass and hoping for a fair wind, pretty much all of whom were clustered under a Potteresque cloak of invisibility.
Now I do not begrudge anybody their holiday. Goodness knows I was glad of a few days respite myself, and I am sure that there are any number of deserving men and women who beaver away unnoticed and unthanked from one year’s end to the other for whom a few days with the feet up, snacks to hand and the ample bosom of the family — will do restorative wonders.
But somebody has to man the bridge, and in recent months there has grown the distinct impression that the crew are working hard at their Marie Celeste impressions. In nautical terms ships need what is called ‘steerage way’ — sufficient forwards motion, however small, to enable them to respond to the helm and sail a course. States are much the same, and Pakistan is close to losing it, to having insufficient speed to ensure safe passage.
My suspicions as to deficits in the motive power department were confirmed by a chance viewing of a panel discussion on a channel that broadcasts in English that has an audience measured in the dozens, and on this particular evening myself and quite possibly the ugliest dog in the world, Bella, a pug-poodle cross that has been cracking mirrors since her puppyhood.
Bella and I watched glumly, munching our nimco the while, as three retired something-or-others laid out in forensic detail precisely what it was that ailed the state. They had nothing new to say and the anchor, a man of impeccable journalistic credentials, did his best to keep these three worthies head to wind and reduce their blather coefficient to something of broadcast quality.
It all came down to the National Action Plan. The NAP and the failure thereof. Failure to activate the National Counter-Terrorism Authority? Tick. Failure to register madrassas? Tick. Failure to ban already banned organisations that have been banned more often than I have had hot dinners? Tick. Failure to interdict the flow of money from a range of sources into organisations that were not using it to establish street-corner chai stalls? Tick.
It was all there, plain as a pikestaff and not one of those sitting before the camera could do a blind thing about any of it. It was a bit like the captain of the Titanic getting a telegram from A Very Large Piece Of Ice saying ‘About to rip guts out your ship. Have a nice day.’
Dogs have very good hearing, and despite a considerable shortfall in the overall prettiness quotient Bella has a fine pair of ears… always assuming one can find them of course. ‘You hear anything Bella?’ says I. ‘Woof.’ ‘How about engines?’ ‘Woof.’ ‘Time to hit the lifeboats?’ ‘Woofitty-woof.’ Thought so.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2015.
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