11 July 2020 06:36 AM


Humayun Gauhar | 7 DECEMBER, 2014

Finding the Clean End of the Shit

Icons of Art from Pakistan: Saeed Akhtar “I don’t know and I don’t care”

So much is happening in Pakistan that if it doesn’t raise everyone’s passions sky high they have got to be geniuses in detachment. What happens to Pakistan happens to them – no identity, no existence, no emotional home. Ask the Palestinians. So much is happening the world over that the passionate are in danger of being overdosed.

When someone who had seen Pakistan’s birth was asked what he thought would happen, he replied, “I am a bored old man, fed up to the gills. I don’t know and I don’t care. I have given up caring for I have seen this country going progressively down the drain. My heart is broken.”

Sad, because there are those amongst us who would rather go by the Dutch master artist Vincent Van Gogh’s way: “I would rather die of passion than of boredom.” There’s never a dull moment: witnessing history in the making at fast forward, states morphing, ideologies mating with other ideologies as happened in China or overturning entirely as in the USSR, ‘liberal democracy’ in decline in the West and in terminal decline in the Third World causing ideological vacuum until new social contracts are agreed and native and workable ideologies and constitutions emerge, the global centre of gravity shifting from a unipolar to a multipolar world – America, China and Russia dividing the world amongst themselves as happened between America and the USSR after Yalta. There is passion in the air by the container full, some inside them, some on top.

Here’s some food for thought, though what I am about to say is pure conjecture based on known facts. The visit of our Chief of the Army Staff General Raheel Shareef to the USA has all the portents of being a game changer, though we will not ever know it all. But with time we will know enough to come to a more accurate idea, unless events move faster than one imagines. The fact that General Shareef was better received than any Pakistani army chief before him, that his visit was extended so he could meet everyone that matters and perhaps spoke to the one who matters most, should tell us a lot. His meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, who forewent being with his family on Thanksgiving Day, indicates that America realizes that the Pakistani problem is serious and they don’t wish to see it falling apart, that by default the army is the de facto locus of foreign policy and not the foreign office that doesn’t even have a proper minister but is headed by two retired bureaucrats without the authority and policy making space of a minister because an unsure power-gathering prime minister clings to the portfolio himself for safety but is unable to do the job justice. So the army has been publicly accepted in politics by the sole superpower and recognized as the foreign policy maker, which doesn’t augur well for the sham democracy we have. I am told that President Obama also spoke to General Shareef on the phone when he was visiting Susan Rice the National Security Advisor in the White House. I don’t know for sure – yet.

Unlikely that it will end here, though I am not saying that Nawaz Sharif’s government will fall, not if he comes on track and achieves stability. Growing political instability, increasing public unrest due to non-delivery and the steep economic decline could also have come under discussion, which, if propriety be followed, is not the business of an army chief. But that is unrealistic thinking; reality demands that when water rises above the danger level niceties be dropped, appearances forsaken and “political correctness” forgotten to manage the deluge. The reality is that our governments ‘elected’ after a fashion have historically been unable to deliver due to lack of capacity, facetious political considerations, progress not being their prime concern unless it involves kickbacks for which they invest in bloated projects and not in human capital, so the waters are finally in danger of going above our heads. They have always paved the way for extra-constitutional interventions so it is about time that the nature of our constitution and the Westminster style of parliamentary system it spawns is reviewed and corrected to one that suits a federation and not a unitary state. Without that, the prevailing political system will always throw up poor, unrepresentative and corrupt governments that provide no governance at all.

One gets the feeling that America is done with Third World democracy based on western style elections, a weapon it launched after the Cold War in which elections deliver pliable obedient rulers with a sugarcoating of ‘democratic legitimacy’. They didn’t realize that such leaders would either be incapable and corrupt and thus incompetent or ideologically driven nationalists against US foreign policies as happened with Mohammad Morsi of Egypt. A US-backed army takeover there was not even called a coup and the elected Morsi was gone because of danger to the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty. It was, perhaps, a ‘correction’, what? Then there is Thailand.

Stability has evaded Afghanistan since the Soviet-backed communists massacred the royal Durrani family around which there was tribal consensus and the ‘Mesaak-e-Milli’ – their social contract – was torn up. Now again there is danger that Afghanistan, with power split between the Pashtun Ashraf Ghani and the Tajik Abdullah Abdullah, could end up in yet another civil war with the Afghan Taliban taking advantage of the fray. Afghanistan would then “go out of control”, which is why the US has extended its combat role there by a year. An unstable Pakistan could never help in preventing turmoil in Afghanistan and ISIS could also make huge inroads in both countries. The Pakistan Army has to fight internal terrorism while keeping India and its Baloch proxies at bay. For starters, the many Indian intelligence offices along the Afghan-Pakistan border that we mistakenly call ‘consulates’ must go if there is to be peace in Pakistan. Stability is the need of the hour.

Imran Khan’s pressure on the government continues relentlessly. His November 30 Islamabad rally was hugely successful despite the various devices government used to keep it small. Imran announced his Plan-C and said that he also has plans ‘D’ and ‘E’ in his bag. Plan-C involves shutting down Faisalabad, Karachi and Lahore onDecember 8, 12 and 16 respectively and then shutting down Pakistan for a day. After that Plan-D could well mean taking protest to another level, perhaps violent. No one that matters will tolerate violence and anarchy. Nawaz Sharif doesn’t perhaps get it that a ‘Plan-Z’ could well have been made in Washington, a plan that involves not just change of government but also change of system, based perhaps to an extent on Dr. Tahir ul Qadri’s plan for an alternative system. Thus Nawaz needs to end political turmoil and economic instability quickly if he wishes to survive. The government seems to have some inkling of what might be cooking what with its loquacious defence minister’s London speech critical of America. Hopefully America has also realized that it must support the people and not unpopular governments of questionable legality while ensuring its essential interests without damaging the essential interests of others if it is maintain its global authority by morphing it into global moral authority.

Sensing the danger the government is making noises about re-starting negotiations with Imran Khan before the Faisalabad shutdown. However, with Imran saying that he won’t retract his demand for the prime minister’s resignation and the latter’s refusal to countenance it saying that it is “non-negotiable”, these negotiations too are likely to prove bootless, despite other parties playing ‘honest’ broker because they are desperate to save the system that fortifies and increases their privileges and benefits. Neither can Nawaz Sharif afford an honest and impartial investigation into election rigging because he knows how much large-scale electoral fraud took place. Result: another stalemate.

So nervous are all parties about the longevity of our man-eating anti-democracy system that they are loath to allow the five-years overdue population census lest the actual urban-rural divide is thrown up and some of their power shifts from feudal to urban hands. This is exactly what happened during President Ayub Khan’s Sixties decade when large-scale industrialization shifted an ‘uncomfortable’ quantum of power to the cities. That is why that feudal in democrat’s clothing Zulfikar Ali Bhutto went on a nationalization spree to break the back of industry and services to shift power back to the feudal. There was a method in his ‘madness’. Socialism was the last thing on his mind though it was the first thing on his tongue to fool the people.

What makes things worse is that along with political turmoil there is grave economic turmoil too. So many different figures are being bandied about that one doesn’t know what is correct and what is not. The finance minister gives one GDP growth figure in his budget speech and another to the IMF. His lies and exaggeration have been shown up and his credibility has hit rock bottom with the multilateral agencies. Figures that we think might be correct could well be wrong. When Pakistan needs a perpetual annual GDP growth rate of at least 7 percent to breakeven, which means creating enough jobs to cater to new entrants to the job market every year, a 3 to 3.5 percent growth rate will not do. Our “youth bulge” is huge, over 50 percent of our population (who really knows given no census?) and if their aspirations are not met they will either take to crime or anger-driven political violence. Similarly, China and India also need GDP growth of at least 7 percept to breakeven, but if we all keep procreating like rabbits we will have to learn to run rather than crawl. Only China has managed to run consistently. India achieved a breakeven growth rate for a while but its investments were mostly in the services sector. Pakistan achieved it during the Musharraf-Shaukat era.

The prime minister says one thing while his finance minister says another. While the prime minister claims that Imran Khan’s protests have damaged the economy, his finance minister says they have not. Who to believe? Or should one even bother about believing this joker or that in this Lucky Irani Circus.

I started with Vincent Van Gogh’s quote. Let me end by quoting the definition of “political correctness” given by a student at Australia’s Bond University’s annual contest for “the most appropriate definition of a popular term”. The chosen term for this year was ‘Political Correctness’. The student wrote: “Political correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and promoted by mainstream media which holds forth the premise that it is entirely possible to pick up a piece of shit by the clean end.” He won.

There is no clean end to shit. When there is so much of it flying around, the only option is to load it on a dumpster and dump it in a garbage dump.

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