Junket junkies- Masood Hasan

I have serious reservations about the ability of the prime minister’s minders when it’s time for the PM to embark on “yet another historic tour” of the US later this week. If the minders’ performance on the night the PM addressed the nation and took it “into confidence” yet again, is anything to go by, it is likely the PM will miss his flight to the US. At PTV, the new chairman, aka “according to me,” rose to his established heights of incompetence. Under his professional chairmanship, there was a three-hour delay in the nationwide broadcast. There were, of course, any amount of “experts” floating about, media managers were milling about like ants on a very sticky piece of honey and the comely information minister was at the station a full five hours before the broadcast, yet all it produced was national embarrassment. Subsequently, the whole thing descended into cheap and mirthless comedy.

The PM was married off to a teleprompter that had a mind of its own and a speed on the reckless side. Either the PM was slow getting off the mark or the teleprompter took off in another direction, but the net result was a nationwide show of considerable embarrassment. A breakdown was engineered as PTV archives flashed Himalayan peaks which you can now watch but cannot visit, a speech copy was hastily procured – apparently four typists were hard at work typing assigned sections, the commercial break was declared over and the PM took the nation into confidence twice in one night. Touching stuff, if you ask me. This wasn’t the first time PTV had telecast a speech, so where are the experts who specialise in this business? Instead of sacking the incompetent and ill-deserving chairman, four others got the sack, the smaller cogs playing the victims while the bigger cogs remain untouched, a hallowed tradition of public life in Pakistan.

As it turned out to be, the PM’s speech was just as inspiring as a log of wood on a rainy day. He had nothing to say, although he faltered, mumbled, stumbled and fell about as he negotiated the runaway text. The three “biggies” that have the nation in a death vice – economy, politics and militancy – were referred to casually. Instead it was hot air – a bad sign on a hot summer day and a humid night and the “good news soon” pill that no one is prepared to swallow. The PML-N has pulled out of the cabinet over the judges’ crisis, but all the PM can offer is “good news.” Come on, guys, have a heart. On the economy side – or what we still insist on calling our economy – there was nothing solid, just some well-worn clichés, the ones that comfortably remain in the future tense. “We will do this,” or “we will settle that,” or “we will solve this,” or “we will improve that.” As for the terminal cancer of militancy which has the patient in its deathly grasp, there was nothing on show to give even a glimmer of hope. The PM makes it a habit to daily inform us that the “writ of the state” will not be compromised and “the miscreants will be brought to justice,” but these are the same lines we have heard ad infinitum, ad nauseam. The fact is that there is no writ; there never was. The federal government, the NWFP administration (used in its most loose sense), the political administrators of the war-torn areas, the armed forces which are armed but seem to have no force – all this and the millions of free TV advice experts, all are busy pontificating and causing more confusion by the minute. But none can solve – no, begin to solve – the Everest of all problems.

Is there a solution? Is there a future? More and more people are disillusioned, unhappy and worried sick. Our predicament is the ONLY topic that people want to talk about. Just about every young man and woman I have run into, wants out. This is not a country worth living in – not for most of us. Everything is falling apart. We are, as a friend put it, not only exploding but imploding too. It’s like coming and going at the same time, as some of you might have experienced. Although the slimy Chaudhrys are snickering and rubbing their hands in glee over the ascending fuel and essential commodities’ prices, they should be ashamed because they refused to raise these prices for they had an election to win. The caretakers, another bunch of parasites, saw nothing morally wrong in refusing to raise oil prices because they were, after all, just an extension of the junta of the time. When their time was up, they disappeared and are now sprouting angel wings and murmuring morality ditties. That this half a government has had to bear the burden is understandable, but they have done nothing in the 100 days to soothe the nation’s frayed nerves or take absolute measures to curb wasteful spending and start putting this rickety train back on the rails. Half measures, their advisors must have the courage to tell them, are going to take us nowhere.

They say that prior to a cabinet meeting in Karachi, an aide asked Mr Jinnah if tea was to be served, to which, with a withering look, Mr Jinnah hissed, “Absolutely not. Those who want tea should drink it at home before coming. In any case, it is both a waste of time and money.” The PM’s promised austerity is all talk and no action. There are reports that not having learnt a lesson from the scathing criticism this government received on the famous Malaysia-Dubai detour, dozens of freeloaders are going to be lolling about in great luxury aboard the PM’s special flight to the US. Who are these people? Why is the PM doing this? He has made some noises about “austerity” and “simplicity” in the US when this undeserving lot arrives, but what are these contradictory messages? You ask for simplicity, and then you do this. What kind of responsible behaviour is this?

The foreign minister, in spite of requests by the Foreign Office to use a scheduled flight to India, nevertheless took a chartered flight. He has repeated the exercise when going west, it is reported. He is not entitled to a chartered flight even if he desires one, and even if he does not have the decency to save some money for this economically crippled country; but he still takes one. Is someone going to collar him? Banish the thought. Many leaders of the world, far greater people than the vegetables we have produced, used scheduled flights, limited delegations to the minimum and indulged in responsible and decent behaviour, conscious of their obligations. We have had looters and plunderers who have thought nothing of misusing their authority, who have lived off the taxpayer’s money like lords drunk with power and who don’t care two hoots what happens to this country or its people, who struggle on in desperate circumstances. It was the Commando El Supremo who advised people to eat chicken if lentils were beyond their reach. This is not indifference. This is contempt. Shaukat, who with his president caused a severe dent in the ozone layer, is curled up overseas in great luxury. He has been summoned to answer questions. Ha, ha, ha.

The PM should cut his US delegates by half, then cut it again by half and then again by half. He should take a PIA flight from Islamabad and travel in economy, mingle with the people and be one of them. He should publicly announce that he will pay his own way. And as for the media – there really is no need for them to go. Their owners/employers should pay for them if they are so desperate to cover this visit, which is largely going to comprise of eating gallons of humble pie and cowering before our lords and masters.

The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: masoodhasan66@gmail.com

Source: The News, 27/7/2008

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