There is a new government in Pakistan now, so let it do away with these vestiges of colonial splendour. Only then will declarations such as ‘this is a people’s government’ have any credibility
OK, there are no Beefeaters guarding the White House as there are outside Queen Bessie’s residence in London, nor does the President ride to the Capitol in a carriage straight out of Walt Disney’s Cinderella for his annual State of the Union speech. He does not move around his capital with sirens blaring and uniformed outriders in dark goggles roaring down the street ahead of him as more of them make up the rear creating a racket loud enough to raise the dead from their resting places. Nor have I ever seen a bemedalled Marine in full regalia standing ramrod straight behind the President when he is addressing, say, Daughters of the American Revolution or Wives Against Drunken Husbands.
I have been to the White House more than once, once even to see what Shaukat Shortcut Aziz was up to. (He expressed a desire to meet the President’s dog Barney.) Last time I was there to attend a press conference by the President in the East Room where all of us had been asked to take our seats in advance of Bush’s appearance. A lectern had been placed for the president and minutes before he arrived, an aide placed a slim file on the lectern and disappeared from view. President Bush soon appeared walking briskly, as he does, cracking a joke or two, as is his wont, and then began taking questions. He stood there all alone. There was nobody behind him nor anyone hanging around on the sides. The conference done, the President turned on his heels and walked right back without being followed by anyone, except one or two who kept their distance.
Now we cut to Islamabad – or Lahore or Karachi or Peshawar. Enter the President to speak to a group – journalists on an off day. He stands behind a lectern – far more fussy than the one at the White House, and even the one at Buckingham Palace – smiles, greets those present and begins to speak. But he is not alone. There like a colossus stands behind him a stony-faced, immobile, moustachioed man in uniform, highlighted by a white or red tunic, complete with epaulettes and medals earned in campaigns never fought. There he stands, staring into the camera and distracting attention from the distinguished gentleman who stands in front of him. Every time the President is on the telly speaking to this or that group, I hardly can listen to him as my eyes are riveted at the uniformed Capt Immobile or Major Stoneface parked behind him.
What I said about the President also holds true of the Prime Minister, Governors and Chief Ministers, none of whom can any longer move an inch in any direction – except perhaps to go to the loo though one can’t be sure since what takes them there is not on camera – without being followed by the uniformed one. The sight has become farcical and it is reminiscent of some old music hall routine showing a potentate strutting up and down a stage with a bemedalled, bejewelled and uniformed factotum in tow.
There is a People’s Party government in power now (or so it thinks), as such it may be a good idea for the toiling masses’ party to do the plebeian thing and send its uniformed minders back to where they came from. Such a move would also meet the requirements of poetic justice, since the practice of having uniformed sidekicks dance attendance on the man who is prime minister began with the party’s first stint in power.
Since ZAB’s two predecessors were military men, both Ayub and Yahya made do with an army officer who served as military secretary with limited functions. Ayub’s MS was Maj Gen M Rafi and Yahya’s Maj Gen M Ishaq, whom ZAB kept till he was replaced by Maj Gen Imtiaz Ali. ZAB was a man who loved razzmatazz and the ceremonial trappings of office. He also perhaps believed that a large ceremonial staff will send the message of civilian supremacy to those who every few years jump over the wall to capture radio and TV stations and make the same speech, the one beginning, “Meray aziz humwatno”.
Before long, there was a deputy military secretary and the three ADCs, representing the three services, put the number of uniformed factotums to five. ZAB also wanted a special coat of arms or insignia or emblem for the prime minister’s office. Letters were sent to a number of countries for their respective suggestions. I do not know what replies others sent but the reply from Paris said that it was against the French republican tradition that the prime minister, an elected representative of the people, should have any ceremonial staff or special emblem.
With the prime minister being attended by five serving officers in uniform, provincial governors and chief ministers were not going to be left behind and soon they had also packed their offices with these ceremonial and utterly unnecessary accoutrements. There have been many governments since ZAB, many chief ministers, many governors but no one has had the humility to do away with this foppery, this showmanship, this world of embroidered ones.
And it is not only the ceremonial staff that needs to be got rid of by the prime minister and the chief ministers, but also the magnificent mansions in which they have chosen to reside as if they were the Lot Sahib Bahadurs of the colonised land of kala log. Just look at the Governor’s House in Lahore where just one single individual lives with hundreds in attendance waiting for the moment when he would to snap his fingers to summon them. The land on which this grand mansion stands must be the costliest piece of real estate in the Subcontinent. How can such profligacy be defended or justified?
Economist Nadeem ul Haq has long advocated what we should do with the land on which the Governor’s House and its vast grounds stand. No one has taken notice of that. There is a new government in Pakistan now, so let it do away with these vestiges of colonial splendour. Only then will declarations such as ‘This is a people’s government’ have any credibility.
My own feeling is that we are destined to suffer more of the same.
Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
Courtesy: Daily Times, 20/4/2008