To Sharif and Zardari —By Khaled Almaeena

Pakistan is a country where a lot of sacrifice has been made. It is important that a mockery not be made of the thousands of martyrs who gave their blood for a homeland for the Muslims of the Subcontinent

I am writing this sitting outside a coffee shop in Virginia, a little outside Washington. I hope that my thoughts will be taken in the spirit in which they are written — from someone who deeply loves Pakistan and sincerely cares about it.

Over the years, I have watched the situation in Pakistan, analysed it and have come to the conclusion that the problems of Pakistan can be solved by the people of Pakistan themselves provided they set aside emotions and self-interest. A country of about 150 million people facing so many dangers from within and without cannot afford to be hostage to the whims and caprices of anyone — even elected leaders.

Sitting thousands of miles away but emotionally present in Pakistan, I feel that the time has come for everyone to rise up and confront the danger, reject revenge, put aside personal ambitions, remove malice and enter into a new phase of reconciliation.

I read in the papers here of calls for the impeachment of President Pervez Musharraf. I read of statements saying he will not be granted safe passage. I read of charge sheets being prepared against him by hitherto unknown politicians. I also read about the president calling for reconciliation.

I tell you in all honesty that Pakistan does not have the luxury of time or money to embark on an impeachment move. Neither is it the time to focus on such divisive issues. Suddenly political pundits and inexperienced lawmakers are seen making statements. They talk about the interest of Pakistan. What interest, I ask them. It is good for the ego to get 15 minutes worth of fame by talking to a local television network or The Washington Post. However, it is more difficult to show generosity and tolerance by reaching out and closing ranks. History is full of such examples.

And I will start with our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who forgave all his enemies. It was he who told the Archangel Gabriel that he would forgive all those who threw stones at him in Taif. Let us honour ourselves by following him.

Let us take a great man of our time — Nelson Mandela. After 27 years in prison, he spoke of truth and reconciliation. Mandela sat with Pik Botha, who served as South Africa’s foreign minister in the last years of the apartheid era, immediately after his release and helped guide South Africa to its promising future. After the black majority came to power, Mandela’s followers did not go on a rampage. They did not burn or loot. Mandela commanded respect.

I asked him was there any rancour or hate in his heart for those who oppressed him and his people. He replied that South Africa was too important for him to feel anger. Imagine what would have happened if Mandela had taken the road of personal revenge.

Another example is that of Gerald Ford who took over a divided America after the Watergate scandal and issued a presidential pardon to Richard Nixon. This was done primarily to heal the nation. Ford had America’s interests at heart. Asked if he wanted to be a great president, Ford replied: “No, I would like to be a good president.”

Here in the US, the political clash between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton reached volcanic proportions. Bitter words were exchanged, and it was more of a political boxing match. But once the delegates decided who should be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, Obama and Clinton made up. And, in fact, he insisted her name be on the nominee ballot at the Democratic National Convention.

Such are the qualities of which statesmen are made, and I am sure that both Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari possess these qualities and have the interests of Pakistan at heart. This is a country where a lot of sacrifice has been made. It is important that a mockery not be made of the thousands of martyrs who gave their blood for a homeland for the Muslims of the Subcontinent.

I see many Pakistanis; many are my friends; others I meet in my travels, and I hear their cries as they worry about what is going on in their beloved land. Many have lost all hope. They see deterioration in institutions and in every walk of life. Yes, they say they are tired of the blame game. Please do not use terms like “military dictatorship” and “awami hukumat” (people’s government), they say. We are tired. We want to get on with our lives.

One Pakistani doctor told me yesterday that he was appalled by conditions back home. Another said he had not gone home in the last 22 years, and I asked him if there was an elected government during this period. “What are you talking about?” he replied with a wave of his hand. He concluded by saying: “No one has any commitment to any principle or willing to do anything for the larger good of the country.”

I told him he was wrong; there are those who live in Pakistan who do care. And I know that both Mr Sharif and Mr Zardari do as well. I pray to Allah that they will continue to do so. What are needed are leaders who do not leave a legacy of fire and blood — but of peace and prosperity.

Their challenges are numerous — terrorism, crime, illiteracy and economic slide. The rupee was 74 to the dollar on the eve of Pakistan’s Independence Day.

These are the challenges — not to be contained and confronted but to be totally eliminated. Let us all do a little bit of honest soul-searching and review our own past and rectify mistakes committed. We will turn out better if we learn from it.

Pakistanis cannot afford agitation. As Stephen Cohen, a South Asian scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington said, “So many things have been broken in this country. You wonder if they can fix them.” Yes, they can be fixed using Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s motto of unity, faith and discipline.

The people of Pakistan urge you to start now.

The writer is Editor in Chief, Arab News. This is the edited version of the article which first appeared in Arab News

Daily times, 18/8/08

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