People rioting on the streets of Pakistan burning bills and ransacking WAPDA and KESC offices are now just as common as the unscheduled breakdowns which take up an increasingly large share of what passes for daily life here. It was Lee Kuan who famously suggested ’24 hour uninterrupted power supply’ when asked what would take Pakistan to become Singapore but obviously because Mr Kuan spoke a great deal of sense (and practised it too), no one thought it fit to even begin to start that journey on that long road. Today, we have dark cities, a perpetually black countryside and thousands of industries, large and small, gasping for life. Not quite the great leap promised by so many of this country’s tainted leaders.
There is such a huge chasm that divides the ‘servants’ of the people from the people that crossing it is now amongst the realms of fancy or more unkindly, the thinking of lunatics. Why a wonderful and prosperous government that ruled the roost for close to a decade could not think of adding to the national grid is not a great mystery. It is all part of that great system of living in your self-created and self-perpetuating dream world, shored up by obliging sycophants, self-serving courtiers and unscrupulous bureaucrats who all think nothing of lying to get ahead and milk the system as they go. In the old fairy tale it was only the Emperor who had no clothes – here, all the top dogs neither have clothes nor have they bothered to get some stitched because the lies they generate from morning to nightfall, quite contrary to the truth keeps them all happily moving forward. With so many naked leaders running amuck why should it be a surprise that we have gone to places where even dogs would avoid being seen? But that thought perplexes only a few of those who breathe the polluted air down below. Up there, where Evian water flows and style reigns supreme, no such thoughts dent the air or indeed the collective conscience of our many luminaries.
True this government did not create the power mess. They inherited it. But even as they have done that and picked up one broken pot after another, there is absolutely no sight of holding anyone ‘accountable’ – I apologise for using Pakistan’s most widely abused word. That it has been tossed about on the national firmament from time to time, been the subject of thunderous speeches and greeted with much desk-thumping – and where these were not in evidence, chest-thumping, is known to all. Those who have shouted the loudest for this have been the very ones who have ensured such a terrible calamity never ever darkens our lives. So crooks – sorry, honourable and decent, Pakistani leaders have simply carried on doing what they do best. Line their plush nests, build their empires, lie through their teeth – or imported dentures and put their hands stoutly over their hearts because their hearts bleed for their people. Lead by personal example? Banish the thought.
There have been a few timid suggestions in newspapers to ‘quiz’ former president Musharraf who amazingly feels no shame in living on in Army House, and his sleazy finance minister, Condi Rice’s favourite playboy, Shaukat Aziz. Quiz? Over security and financial mess? Are these people out of their minds? Who will dare quiz these great men? The person who did everything possible, legal, illegal, in the country’s interest, not his own, who was prepared to sleep with anyone to perpetuate his hold over Pakistan, who continued to scheme till the very night of the elections, received a guard of honour as he reluctantly relinquished power. Today, between rounds of golf, visits to his upcoming farmhouse and other sundry investments, bridge, old Indian songs and the company of good friends, he is still advising us how we should run this large and very leaky ship. Yes now and then, his PR apparatus rigs up a well-controlled, well-modulated ‘meet the young Pakistanis’ where carefully selected, scrutinised and sanitised youngsters from choice educational institutions are dutifully assembled and granted an audience with the ex-president, who wastes no time in placing his hand over his heart, intone the two magic words, ‘Pakistan First’ and launch into a long soliloquy about his beloved country. Everyone is impressed and overawed. What a man! What a patriot! What a Pakistani! No one thinks what a sham because no one can quite recall what a spade looks like and no one is really serious about making people own up to their follies.
It’s this kind of hypocrisy that flavours the broth that is Pakistan’s answer to BBC Food. While these genteel PR exercises unravel at a leisurely pace in that great Army House, elsewhere people burn tyres, beg for Atta, line up for food that is dearer by the day, look at escalating prices of everything and wonder again and again what have we done to make the gods so angry? Even Ayaz Amir although in regular touch with the gods is unable to make sense of why they are raining blows on us, who have virtually nothing to do with the sad state of our (mis) fortunes. As for the power crisis, who really knows what’s going on? The figures – whichever ones Islamabad wishes to share with us, are more than likely to be fudged. The ‘consumption’ figures – the word not to be equated with consumption as in TB although the signs are chillingly similar, are most probably a piece of high creativity because no one has said these are anticipated numbers. The freedom with which electrical appliances are selling makes one wonder where on earth will this country find the juice to run them? But that’s tomorrow and largely irrelevant since today has us by the short and the curlies.
Such is the stoicism of the ordinary people that whenever power outage occurs at the promised hour, there is a sigh of relief! This is a phenomenon that is only enjoyed by those dwelling in large cities. As things move further and further away from these cities, a whole new macabre drama continues to unfold daily. Some areas have not had power for months. At others, outages last as much as 14 hours a day. If people here are living in the Stone Age, can anyone say this is a surprise? Governments lead by example. This one is not. Buildings, offices and residencies occupied by the zillions of VIPs experience absolutely nothing remotely like what 99% of the people face daily. VIPs don’t have to move to gypsy camps to be one with their people, but the luxury lifestyles have to be abandoned and we all know this is not going to happen.
A friend from Multan reports that during the recent festivities surrounding the marriage in the PM’s family, Multan was lit up like a 4th of July firework display. And from Karachi, where people have lost lives over power disputes and uprisings, the KESC – as shameful a body as any, has seen nothing morally wrong in rewarding its top dogs with salaries that would make the Lehman Brothers sit up. The CEO is hoisting home Rs5 million a month running a power company that has no power. The 40 odd ‘juniors’ reporting to His Highness are pocketing over one million rupees a month each. Others, reportedly whistling away with Rs2.5 million. When people like them see ordinary folk burning power bills and shouting slogans against power shortages and price hikes, they are truly puzzled why the natives are restless.
Pakistan is not at the crossroads. It is lying in a ditch. But if our government is losing sleep over this, we should be forgiven our ignorance.
The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The News, 26/10/2008