Blind leading the blind-By Anees Jillani

I WAS called a prophet of doom by someone I met a couple of years ago at a dinner while discussing the economic scenario of Pakistan.

This guy, with a sheet of cloth wrapped around one of his shoulders was based in the US and was apparently an ardent admirer of Musharraf. I would love to meet him now; and others who sang Musharraf’s praises during the past eight years.

The world is going through an unprecedented financial crisis which may even get worse before it turns around. Pakistan’s economy is obviously no exception. However, the unbearable load-shedding, sloppy governance, and unstoppable corruption have absolutely nothing to do with this global phenomenon. Our rulers should be given the credit for our mess, from which there is no way out in sight.

Pakistan is an important country in the world, not so much because of its geopolitical situation as our policymakers would like us to believe but because 160 million people live here. The world community shudders at the thought of this state failing and such a large number of people suffering and becoming disgruntled due to unemployment, underemployment or for a number of other reasons. We hate the Americans for opposing our nuclear programme but never bother to ponder about the possibility of the militants ever getting hold of a single bomb. The militants won’t blink an eye before using it.

The country needs drastic changes and a visionary approach. And this is not feasible with a simple change of faces. One of the major reasons that Pakistan is going through a deteriorating situation decade after decade is because the same class remains in power, and only the faces change. We swing between military and so-called democratic rule but people hardly feel the change. The reason is simple: the ruling class remains the same. It is the same set of rulers who care more about their business interests than about Pakistan’s economy. They are constantly thinking about the next deal which may get them a few hundred thousand in commission to finance their next holiday.

We somehow have come up with the idea that the be all and end all of democracy is free and fair elections. Someone needs to tell us that elections are a means to democracy. True democratic rule only comes when the rulers are answerable to and respectful of public opinion. We have never been able to appreciate why an elected official resigns at the first hint of financial or moral impropriety in a true democracy. This happens much before the charge is proven against the person. He simply is deferential to public opinion and resigns in the greater interests of his office and the nation. In our polity, the nation and the country come last.

Pakistan needs to start from scratch with a totally new class of rulers who are imbibed with the idea of clean governance and who hold the nation’s interests supreme. This should be a class that declares its assets upon coming to power and refrains from adding to its wealth. We had such rulers once in South Asia who led us to independence during the 1940s and thus we need not wait for aliens to land.

Almost every Pakistani has given up on the issue of corruption and we have taken it as a way of life. We fail to realise that corruption is tantamount to a parallel government as it amounts to another form of taxation. One needs to pay to get things done just like we have to pay taxes and duties to the government; the only difference is that a bribe is exacted not by the state but by a state functionary and the money is thus pocketed by him rather than going into the state coffers. Consequently, the state and the whole nation suffer as there is less money available for our welfare.

Corruption in our midst is worse than elsewhere as here it is coupled with incompetence and inefficiency. Our education system is in shambles and is producing millions of graduates without skills one can be proud of. It is a consequence of this neglect that scarcely anything is working; problems are encountered in everything from the power sector to managing banks to construction of overhead bridges to telephone connections. People are in a laid-back mode, questioning why they should be expected to work, let alone efficiently, when nobody else is.

The problem is the lack of a good example set by those at the top. What are others expected to do when ministers and secretaries are not in their offices before 11 a.m. and seldom remain there after 3 p.m. The party starts early for them unless it is delayed by a few rounds of golf. Also gone are the days when high court judges used to be in the courtroom by 8 a.m. In such a bleak atmosphere, lower officials and staff are hardly inspired to work.

It is for this reason that Pakistan desperately needs a new set of rulers who are role models for the nation. The country needs honest and sincere leaders who work hard to improve the lot of the common man. Pakistan is an unfortunate country which is bestowed with almost all that a state needs to succeed. All it needs is sincere leadership.

It is time that people who feel the need for positive change unite to make a difference regardless of their political affiliations. Ideologies in the current political environment hardly matter as it is difficult to distinguish between the programmes, if any, of various political parties. The manifestos of almost all the parties read more like a memo or a report written by a bureaucrat than visionary statements for citizens. If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

Source: Daily Dawn, 1st November, 2008

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