What will become of Pakistan after Musharraf?

Kamal Siddiqi

Once again our analysts, doubters and commentators have gone into overdrive. What will happen now and what will become of us? The corrupt politicians are bent on removing the only person who was strong and stood up to challenges faced by Pakistan. What will become of Pakistan? It’s all downhill from now. Look, our foreign reserves are dwindling. Real estate prices are crashing. There is no future. Let us leave the country while we can.

Some predict that crime will rise. Other insist that the Taliban will take control. Asif Zardari wants to be president, they say, adding that he will then sell off the country. As it is, many argue, as a country we do not need democracy since most Pakistanis are illiterate and don’t have any voting sense. One person informs that a friend of his told him that the PPP has once again started making deals and corruption “is at its peak.” We don’t need facts and figures. Mere assumptions will do.

There are many who beseech you to look at the PPP supporters. How cheap they are with their flags on their cars and how they break traffic laws in a bid to flaunt their power. Look at the cars they drive and how no policeman can stop them despite the fancy number plates and their tinted glasses, they content. It’s all over for Pakistan, they conclude. The country can’t sustain this anymore.

Our middle class and the muddled chattering classes are in full glory. In drawing rooms from Karachi to Islamabad and beyond, the people are “revolting” in the best way they can—by talking and bad-mouthing, all they see as evil and corrupt—the politicians, the media, the lawyers, anybody but themselves. Of course, they believe in Pakistan. But they don’t believe in democracy (we are not ready for it), in politicians (all are corrupt), in the movement to restore the sacked lawyers (what difference will it make?), and in the work of the media (they should be restricted as they are out of control; Musharraf was right to ban them)

At the same time, we are also not ready to make a serious attempt to understand what is happening in Balochistan, in FATA and in parts of the NWFP. Conveniently we blame this on RAW and whatever passes off as the Afghan intelligence agency. Of course, there are the Jewish, American and Hindu conspiracies. Anything but us. We forget the thousands of missing persons—another “achievement” of the Musharraf regime.

Not to be outdone is the overseas Pakistanis brigade. In the words of one famous Parsi columnist, these are people “whose bodies have left Pakistan but their souls remain here.” He says that they should take their souls too as it would be best for all. One should not generalise. Take, for example, the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America, who are doing very good work in funding projects that are making a difference. The only blot on the APPNA’s record seems to be the good medical doctor who now heads our cricket establishment.

To every cloud there is a silver lining. One such silver lining was Brigadier (retired) Saleem Moin. Sadly, this good man quit this week as the chairman of the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA). There was no need for him to go. His work has few parallels in the history of public-sector organisations in Pakistan. But the prime minister’s close relative had to be accommodated, so when Moin put in his resignation it was accepted with undue haste.

To his credit, Moin singlehandedly turned around the national identity card system, helped make the lives of overseas Pakistanis easier with the NICOP and POC cards, got us one of the world’s most advanced computerised passports and also worked at other initiatives to help the unemployed get work and the public some much needed facilities like the NADRA kiosks. But that is only half the story.

Through another innovative programme that is not talked of, Moin was able to attract hundreds of young men and women from different parts of Pakistan under a merit-based scheme and train them before offering these persons to the corporate sector for employment. In this way, he was able to equip them with skills to make them employable for the private sector. To give credit where it is due, his wife, Rasheeda, did an excellent job, putting in a lot of hard work and at no cost to NADRA, of training them in such basic concepts as hygiene, dress and conduct.

The encouraging lesson in this is that such people are not rare in Pakistan. There are hundreds of people

who are doing admirable work in helping the poor and those who cannot afford to meet the challenges that life has placed before them. For those who doubt the future of Pakistan, one need not go far. The nearest katchi abadi would do. No one there is worried about the future of Pakistan. They are more worried about basic issues like water and power, health and education, law and order and, of course, employment. They are not part of the chattering brigade, who have their stomachs full and their mouths open.

It is at these low-income localities you see many comparatively more affluent backgrounds come and work and give back to the community. One should salute them. They are not those who only talk and complain—they act too. This cannot be said of our civil and military bureaucrats, our politicians, religious leaders and born-again-Muslim organisations.

Pakistan, like any other Third World country, is full of ironies and distortions. In a country where the prime minister has a 50-car entourage, hundreds have to stuff themselves into creaking buses that should not be on the road in the first place. In a country where the president and prime minister have aeroplanes to themselves, there is a railway system that is falling apart due to lack of funds and short-sightedness of the people who headed it.

In Sindh, for example, the education minister is trying to get the minimum pass mark for recruitment of teachers to 33 percent from 50 percent, but the World Bank, which is funding this sector, is not playing ball. Ironically, hundreds of young men and women recruited under a transparent process by the previous government and who secured 60 percent and over are being denied jobs under this scheme.

Some of our leaders are corrupt, others are simply clueless. Take for example the chief minister of Sindh. He insists there is no Talibanisation in Sindh. In this he is backed by his home minister, Zulfiqar Mirza, who says he is “not like any other home minister.” Mirza says he “does not sell thanas and is not afraid of anybody.” Why, then, do we have such a corrupt and inefficient police system? Also, why was one of the most admired policemen in the service, Dr Shoaib Suddle, unceremoniously kicked out of the province once electoral alliances had been settled? But, more important, why are religious organisations allowed to take the law into their own hands and challenge the state with amazing regularity?

In a press conference this week, the Jamaat-e-Islami in Karachi stated that the Taliban were “not against Pakistan.” One has to understand better what is happening in the tribal areas and parts of the NWFP, where militants aligned to the TTP have declared independence and challenged the writ of the state.

For his part, Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah is unable to even understand what is happening in his own province. Here, one must give credit to Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif who has his eyes on the ball. He knows what is happening in his province and how to improve basic facilities to people. On a visit to Karachi, Shahbaz Sharif took time out to visit the SMB Fatima School, where hundreds of girls of lower-income backgrounds have seen their lives transformed, thanks to an initiative by the Book Group and the Zindagi Trust of Shahzad Roy fame.

Shahbaz Sharif saw for himself how Sami Mustafa, who is the visionary behind the Book Group and the move to improve matters at SMB Fatima School, has managed to attract funds from Pakistanis at home and abroad to rebuild parts of the school that had fallen into disrepair but also improve the whole school experience. Today the SMB School’s building; particularly its library and computer labs are second to none in the city. Why can’t one take inspiration from these modern-day heroes and the people who volunteer time and effort to work towards these goals? Why do we keep trashing the only country we have? It’s time for some national soul searching.
The writer is editor reporting, The News
Email: kamal.siddiqi@thenews.com.pk

Source: The News, 11/8/2008

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