POSTCARD USA: To the poorhouse in a BMW —Khalid Hasan

We are not living through the last days of the crumbling Mughal Empire when state honours were doled out because the state had nothing else to give. And why are our people always seeking favours that they do not always deserve?

The great American wit and folk hero Will Rogers once said of his country back in the twenties that America was a nation going to the poorhouse in a limousine. It may or may not have been true of the United States, but it certainly is of Pakistan today.

For a country which may be only days away from default on its international debt repayments, whose foreign exchange reserves are barely enough to pay for its imports for six to seven weeks, where inflation has been running at a spiralling rate — now close to 30 percent and rising — we are acting as if there were no tomorrow. Such a country, like a person or a company that is about to end up on the street, is not taken seriously by anyone.

The graver our economic condition gets, the more statements our economic managers make. Every statement in some way either contradicts the one made earlier or says something entirely different. While we all wish Mr S Tareen a long life, he should not tempt fate by declaring every now and then that such and such will occur “on my dead body”. I should also caution him that Weight Watchers Inc has an eye out for him and unless he wants to live on carrot juice for the next six months, he should give that outfit a wide berth.

A friend who has just returned from Pakistan is still amazed at the lack of any clear recognition that we were up that certain creek without an oar. The overall national mood is one of denial, he says. The good things of life, including fast cars, foreign visits at public expense and all that big money can buy, remain the principal attractions. Those who were promising the nation as many rescue plans as the alphabet has letters, have finally landed in the lap of that much-maligned agency which, as was to be expected, is laying down conditions that will leave little wiggle room.

How did we come to this sorry pass? It is “the earlier government’s doing”, we are told. But no one has either the time or the inclination to listen to what is universally known as the oldest excuse in the world.

The Friends of Pakistan, that strange group assembled under one roof by the Americans and perfidious Albion, has so far made no more than cooing noises. With the Saudis showing diffidence, one can only wonder how far the half promises made to Pakistan will go. No one has a red cent to spare given the worldwide economic crunch. And the world does not owe us a living, hard though we find that to accept.

How can realism dawn in a country where everyone is convinced that the presidential election in the United States is being held to decide what to do about Pakistan? The world is a wide, wide place and there are others on this planet who too need assistance but they don’t demand it as a matter of right like we do. The world has run out of sympathy, especially for those who become victims of their own unthinking policies and actions.

In any case, while we slide towards the economic abyss, there is no let up in our desire for high living. Are we the last of the world’s big spenders? Why, for instance, did the prime minister spend five days in Turkey? What for? What good did it do to Pakistan and in what way did it ease our situation? Did it cause the price of flour to become affordable or did it reduce the duration of power breakdowns? Did it bring in the money we need if we are not to default and become an international economic pariah, the basket-case of South Asia?

Consider the register of appointments to high, lucrative offices that grows thicker by the week. The prime minister now has an adviser on textiles. Why did he need an adviser on textiles? Aren’t the ministries of the government set up to deal with just such subjects not good enough? Has the national association of textile manufacturers ceased to exist or is it that suddenly its collective brain has been wiped clean of all wisdom and it no longer is able to advise the government how best it can help the industry, which is Pakistan’s export mainstay? Will the new adviser be successful in persuading the United States to ease the restrictions it has placed on the import of our textiles?

Several governments have failed to have that brought about, so maybe this gentleman is the secret weapon we have been hiding all this time, and he will soon have the US Department of Commerce taking orders from a section officer in his office. We wait in hope.

And then there are the roving ambassadors whose number, at the going rate, is certain to exceed that of the regular kind the rest of the world makes do with. The latest addition is a roving ambassador to be appointed in Washington. The gentleman chosen is an affable and hospitable businessman but how is he going to be able to be of any use or utility when there already is an ambassador here?

We are not living through the last days of the crumbling Mughal Empire when state honours were doled out because the state had nothing else to give. And why are our people always seeking favours that they do not always deserve? Even if the new, incoming government makes someone an offer, why can’t some at least decline gracefully?

Roving ambassadors are utterly and totally unnecessary. For instance, the one being appointed here in Washington will have nowhere to roam except from his Maryland home to the District of Columbia. Until recently, if the government had a special message that it wanted personally delivered to another government, it would pick out one of the serving diplomats as special envoy, who would proceed to the destination indicated, deliver his message as instructed and return home to resume his former position.

One of Pakistan’s ablest diplomats, Riaz H Khokhar, I know for a fact, has undertaken some of these delicate assignments without fanfare and with the discretion that the task demands. Can someone kindly explain to me what the six or eight or God knows how many roving ambassadors so far appointed have accomplished?
I rest my case.
Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is

Source: Daily Times, 2nd November, 2008


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