By the 29th roza we turn tumultuous. We act like desperadoes. We search for the new moon because all want to celebrate Eid. Most can’t wait for another day. Eyes are fixed on the horizon and ears on the television. ‘Please God, let the moon be sighted,’ pray one and most – openly and secretly. Such fervent desires breed hypocrisy. On the one hand you’re meant to fast; on the other, your heart yearns for the end. If this is an exaggeration, let anyone stand up and speak against what I claim or hold his/her peace forever. But don’t make a mockery of Eid. If Saudi Arabia can decide; if other Muslim countries can concur on a date in advance, why can’t Pakistanis? Why politicize the most important religious festival? When senior NWFP minister Bashir Bilor hastily announced that the moon had been sighted and Pukhtoonkhwa was going ahead and celebrating Eid the next day, the power centres in Islamabad who call the shots were completely thrown off guard. They had no option but to tamely go along. Can Zardari order (if he’s still around until next Eidul Fitr) not to have a repeat?
Why Zardari? You may ask. Well, is he not the most powerful man in Pakistan today? Isn’t he the sole mover and shaker? Remember, we got what we wanted: a democratic leader!
Anyway, Eid was a whimper. The steamy sun in Islamabad had everyone sweating. Instead of the weather turning cool as we head into winter, it’s turning hot as if we were going into summer. Strange. The globe warming up is hardly news. Al Gore predicted it when he made his award winning movie ‘An inconvenient truth.’ Climate change and political kindergarteners are turning our world nutty. Who could have dreamt last year at this time 2008 Asif Ali Zardari would want to hug another kindergartener by the name of Sarah Palin. General Musharraf, who famously told us that his COAS uniform was his ‘second skin,’ so we should ‘shut up and stop demanding that he take off his clothes’ didn’t know either. Talking about clothes, did you notice the Prez and the PM looking cool as ‘cool cats’ dressed in all white? Oh, so pure, pristine pure. The president wore a raw silk white waistcoat over white shalwar kamiz, while the prime minister wore a white achkan. There they sat like two angels in white smiling at each other. Wonder what was so great that brought on a stream of smiles? Was it the ‘happy’ state of the union? Or were they doing high- fives now that they had 170 million Pakistanis under their belt?
President Zardari needs to rein in his grin. It’s making him more unpopular than he is already. ‘When the whole of Pakistan is sad, scared and cheerless, why must he look as if he has just hit a billion-dollar jackpot?’ is the chorus everywhere one goes. The president is the topic of discussion from drawing rooms to the deserts of Thar; from blogs in cyberspace to texts on cell phones. The angst of chattering classes is palpable everywhere. A photo of Zardari and Gilani the other day appearing on the back page of this newspaper further alienates the reader from the rulers. Dressed in metallic purple-blue suit with gelled hair, Zardari belies the part of a president while Gilani, wearing a dark suit with a flashy tie and hanky set hardly looks prime ministerial. And by the way, why do these gents bother to dress to the hilt when all that they do is to walk over to each other’s secured palaces, plonk themselves on brocaded sofas and smile seamlessly? Call it utopia or cloud-cuckoo-land.
Pakistan cannot afford such leaders with such expensive feudal tastes. We cannot wait for them to grow up and morph into genuine leaders who are in love with the people and not in love with themselves, their families and their friends. We cannot give any more time to the government. Zardari and Nawaz Sharif cannot take off to distant lands on the slightest pretext. The ministers cannot stuff undeserving jiyalas in every organization they please. Rahman Malik cannot keep quiet and hide the truth by not naming the country which provided the high-grade explosives found only with its army. But it’s easier said than done. Let’s start with Malik. He is in a pickle because he tells me that he knows who the foreign perpetrators of the Marriott bombing are but cannot point fingers at them. All he can do is to sack a few low-level police officers. The ministers and our madam speaker must not use their political muscle to get jobs for their favourites. Recent phone calls from the office of Honourable Fehmida Mirza to some of the sensitive agencies controlling our nukes is no secret. The PPP leaders must not penetrate into Lt-Gen (r) Khalid Kidwai’s crosshairs and harass him for positions exclusively reserved for non-civilians. We don’t want the DG Strategic Plans Division (SPD) throwing up his hands and his towel if he is unable to repulse the jiyala job attack.
Red flags must go up. And the SPD declared a ‘no-go’ area for the bounty hunters. The nation’s nuke security cannot be compromised.
Now back to our two billionaire leaders and the need for them to fly to Dubai and London. If you have an iota of common sense, tell me, how does one manage a $ billion-and-a-half portfolio in money markets abroad? Naturally Zardari and Nawaz Sharif have to make a dash now and then to instruct their attorneys, accountants, financial advisors and property managers administering their vast wealth. Their physical presence is demanded; their signatures affixed whenever they place bets or acquire additional wealth. Unlike Pakistan, where even forged signatures are accepted as real, the financial centres of the world want the man investing millions present before them in flesh and blood.
Get my drift? Now don’t go wondering the next time you hear our billionaire leaders heading west. You should have the sense to know that they have gone to conduct their personal business on the pretext of conducting yours and mine business at our expense.
The sixty that went with Asif Ali Zardari to New York recently must have cost you and me a packet. But who cares? Everyone here is on the take. Imagine if all this money can be saved and invested in the future of Pakistan, maybe, one day, we too can be counted in the comity of nations as a civilized country. If you want to see the real Pakistan and what makes it tick, come with me to the Japanese Park in Islamabad. It’s called ‘Japanese’ because Japan gave us the money to build it and beautify it. Credit for maintaining it goes to the Capital Development Authority (CDA), but one worries should Zardari appoint his friend (we all know his name, his wife is a firebrand MNA) as the new CDA chairman. The park may well be turned into a real estate developer’s dream and converted into a luxury hotel or a high rise. It’s a gold mine.
Yesterday I went to the Japanese Park for a reality check. It was full with middle and lower strata Pakistanis who eke out a daily living through toil and wages. These young mothers and fathers had brought their kids to treat them to a post-Eid celebration. There were lots of children jumping on the trampoline, sliding on the rubbery Donald Ducks, bungee jumping on flexi-ropes and in general having a ball. The families, all dressed up in their best, sat picnicking and feeling good that they could now eat in public. This is the critical mass which Zardari and company need to pay attention to if they are sincere about taking Pakistan somewhere. The hundreds of boys and girls are waiting to be educated, trained, groomed, skilled and energized to becoming the engines of development and progress.
These peripheral, incidental, marginal and inconsequential millions are our future and not our designer-clad leaders. These youngsters deserve the notice of intellectuals, civil society and the chattering classes to bail them out.
Are we all up to it?
The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting.