Problems of a dysfunctional elite-By Shafqat Mahmood

Sitting thousands of miles away in rural Spain, the troubles at home should seem remote but they don’t. One factor is the reach of cable television that not only brings all the international channels wherever you are but surprisingly a few Pakistani as well. It is weird hearing the likes of Sheikh Rashid hold forth, in the backdrop of rolling hills laden with olive groves and lilting sounds of the Andalucían tongue.
The other reason is that anyone who can speak a bit of English asks about Benazir Bhutto’s murder and some have even heard of Musharraf. The more sophisticated, who follow the international news, even gingerly touch the subject of extremism and want to know about Osama Bin Laden and the war in Afghanistan. It is not what you are that matters but what you are perceived to be, and the only connection people can make with us is murders, terrorism and war.

We have come a long way from a being a benign entity that no one had heard of, to where Pakistan is a constant preoccupation of TV channels and international newspapers. Just in the last ten days, the AQ Khan story has resurfaced with hints of more nuclear proliferation stories to come and the International Herald Tribune has profiled friend Ahmed Rashid and his dire warnings of where the country is headed. Last Tuesday a front-page story in the same paper spoke about the paralysis in our federal government that has begun to affect the international effort against terrorism. One almost yearns for the days when one had to make an effort to tell where Pakistan was or explain that it was not a part of India etc etc.

That we have arrived at this sad place in the eyes of the world is now a given but how we get out is the crucial question. It would be tragic if despite our much vaunted nuclear status or perhaps because of it, we become a target of the western world. It is quite all right to thump our chest and make emotional speeches when confronted by the prospect of an American or a NATO attack but war is a serious business and has to be seen in cold, unemotional tones.

Ask those in Iraq and Afghanistan or even in Europe who went through the Second World War and in Spain, who suffered a bloody civil war that lasted for over four years. War is only pretty in movies with haunting music in the background. In real life, it is awful and already we are beginning to see its affect in the tribal areas. Hundreds of families have been forced to migrate and are living like refugees in border towns. Imagine the entire country engulfed in such a catastrophe. I would rather be called a coward then see my country destroyed and my people subjected to indignities that war inevitably brings.

What is stopping us from getting our house in order? One problem is our dysfunctional elite that cannot see beyond its nose. Everyone is in the game of personal power and is least pushed about what happens to the country. As a nation, we should be getting our political act together and institutionalising our democracy so that we are ready to face other more serious problems. And yet, what do we do? One set of the elite is desperate to use every method, every forum to put the other set down.

Whether you support Mian Nawaz Sharif or not is irrelevant. He is a national leader who has twice been prime minister of this country. According to latest public opinion polls conducted by American think tanks, he is the most popular leader in the country. And yet the Lahore High Court, allegedly acting on the behest of one set of elites, disqualifies him from contesting election. The Supreme Court has stopped this for the time being but it is a reflection of our dysfunction. We face serious and real dangers as a nation. This is the time to go beyond petty infighting and look at the broader picture, but are we doing that?

We need democracy and we need real leaders of this nation in the forefront. In other words, we have to create circumstances for political stability before we can move forward. This can only happen if democracy is strengthened and if institutions of the state such as the judiciary and the army, consciously work towards this goal. How can we come to grips with serious issues that confront us if we cannot even get around to solving the fundamental questions of a democratic polity?

It is for this reason that I hold Musharraf guilty of anti-national thinking. He should have left months ago and allowed us to get on with strengthening our democracy. His presence has cast a huge negative shadow that is not allowing this nation to move forward. It is because of him that the judicial question remains unsolved. Yes, Zardari is not moving on it but the constraint comes from his side. It is because of his behind-the-scene manoeuvres that Nawaz Sharif has been disqualified. This has negative political consequences for the nation. He is thus the most important factor that is stopping the situation from stabilising.

And if we don’t politically stabilise and soon, we will find ourselves in a bigger mess than we already are. The situation in the frontier and the tribal areas is deteriorating by the day. People who are negotiating for peace are being killed and state personnel are being targeted and blown up. If this is what talks and accords bring and if this is what peace looks like, than this nation cannot afford it. More importantly, the American/NATO forces are getting ready to make our life even more difficult.

We cannot afford any more dithering and dilly-dallying. We must recognise that we are confronted by a serious problem of religious militancy. Unless, we are ready to confront it ourselves, others will come and do it for us and that will not be very pretty. I am not saying that we should not talk where talk is necessary. There may be people, perhaps a majority, who would readily give up arms if their grievances were met, but there are others for whom talks are just a device to gain strength.

We should never fear to negotiate, as John Kennedy said, but we should never negotiate out of fear. We must be ready to fight if we have to, only then will the other side get the message. If all they see is political turmoil, institutional in-fighting and lack of leadership, they will never come to terms. It is this fundamental challenge of nationhood that we have to solve or we will only be a sad footnote in history.


 Source: The News, 27/6/2008

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