A dream in danger-Anjum Niaz

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Asif Ali Zardari borrowed Martin Luther King’s catchy line “I have a dream” for his maiden address to parliament after it unanimously elected him president. King’s ‘dream’ has come true with an African-American headed for the White House. Zardari’s dream “to free this great country (Pakistan) from the shackles of poverty, hunger, terrorism and disunity,” may never come true.


Granted 60 days is not enough to clear the debris Musharraf and his Mini-Me Shaukat Aziz left behind. But can we honestly say that Zardari and his Mini-Me Gilani have devoted their waking hours to putting things right since Zardari made famous his promissory ‘dream’ on September 20? Okay, he’s no Hercules; it’s naive to burden him with this Herculean task. Still, the presidential actions speak louder than his words. His selection criterion for cabinet appointments is appalling. Out of 170 million Pakistanis, he has selected grungy guys to help him run his government. With a past that is tainted and tell-tale money accounts/mansions strewn all over the world, the president should have done everything in his power to win our confidence and respect. Instead, he has done everything to destroy it.


Let’s begin with his prime minister. Musharraf threw him in prison for allegedly stuffing government offices with his own people who didn’t merit the posts. Gilani was charged for violating government rules and therefore awarded 10-year imprisonment and a fine of Rs5 million. Additionally he was accused of misusing official vehicles and telephone as speaker of the National Assembly. After being in jail for 4 ? years, he was released on bail and his sentence suspended. Case not closed. His attorney has ‘prayed’ to Islamabad High Court to dismiss the two cases filed by NAB (National Accountability Bureau). Guess what? The prime minister is back in the news for allegedly committing the same follies. Holding his son’s marriage at the presidency with Zardari playing the host and charging the bill to the taxpayers is disingenuous.

The wedding snaps swarming the Internet make for good viewing and entertainment. Also in the newspapers is the story of Gilani pushing for a grade 21 for his press secretary Zahid Bashir. Question: can a man from the private sector who used to run an advertising agency merit becoming an additional secretary? Question: is there not a conflict of interest when the press secretary bullies the Press Information Department into paying Rs7,795,713 for advertisements on Independence and Defence days to ABC advertisers? Question: why should Eid cards saying “Mr Abdul Qadir Gilani, MPA son of the PM” be mailed out all over Pakistan with a stamp “Dispatcher, Prime Minister’s Sectt (internal) Islamabad?” Did the press secretary, a friend of A Q Gilani, also get ABC ad agency to print the cards at your and my expense?

This is just the tip of the drivel circulating. Many more damning stories are ready for purgatory. Before they implode, would it not be proper for the prime minister to stop providing grist to the gossip mills?

Next is the un-vetted appointment of Hazar Khan Bajarani as our education minister. Obviously, the man has come under a lot of flak from various quarters for his dubious role in heading a tribal jirga which handed over little girls in marriage. Shame! The minister is mum on the issue. If he is innocent of the alleged crime, why has he not spoken up? Instead, his poor ministry has had to put up a mealy-mouth defence of him. Why get the education ministry to do his dirty work; why can’t the minister himself stand up and tell us all to shut up because he is innocent? By the way, what “valuable services” has the minister rendered to the nation according to the same statement put out for the press? We wait with bated breath for the Ministry of Education to enlighten us on Bajarani’s heroics.

Un-vet 2 is minister Israrullah Zehri. He too is silent. The last time he opened up his mouth was in the Senate when he vociferously defended honour killings that had come to light. The government has mysteriously gone quiet over the alleged live burial of women accused of violating tribal law. Will the report ever filter out to us? Probably not. Will the report based on the findings of MNA Nafisa Shah on the alleged mauling to death of 17-year-old Taslim Solangi ever pass our eyes? Probably not. A woman in an email to me wonders why the minister for information is silent. “I have been reading continuously in the papers recently that Ms Sherry Rehman is courageously forging ahead with her initiative of purposing a bill on legislation against harassment of women in the workplace. A commendable effort, for which she should be lauded. How come then there is deafening silence from her … zipped lips…about the recent appointments by Zardari/Gilani hukoomat of two ministers who have actively promoted abominations against women and minors like Vani and honour killings in the name of tradition? Does she have nothing to say on that? Those acts go beyond harassment….forget about women entering the workforce, what about the minor girls who may not even make it to adolescence if men like Zehri and Bajarani get their way. Why is Ms Rehman suddenly stricken mute when it comes to explaining her president/PM’s controversial appointments? Are they not sending out mixed messages to the hapless awaam?”

The honourable thing for these two ‘honourable’ ministers is to resign and for Sherry Rehman to make the announcement.

Our VIPs are marriage junkies. They stoop so low that they fall in our eyes. Musharraf’s water and power minister Liaquat Jatoi audaciously abused the cricket stadium in Hyderabad to hold his son’s marriage ceremony. Net result: the stadium was ruined and millions frittered to fix it. Shame on Musharraf and his Sindh chief minister Arbab Rahim to let Jatoi off the hook. Khurshid Shah, a senior minister and Zardari pal has gone and done the same thing, but he insists that his act of hooking a ‘kunda’ on to the KESC electric pole is legal. Oh yeah!

Just when KESC is screaming blue murder about illegal ‘kundas’ that are depriving it of billions of rupees in revenue, it’s oxymoronic of them to allow Shah Sahib to hook his personal ‘kunda’ wherever he pleases so that the whole neighbourhood gets blown away by blinding lights and declare “Wow, what a man, what a marriage, what wealth!” Remember Oxford undergrad Bilawal Bhutto Zardari air-dashed to Islamabad to bequeath the PM ship to Gilani. The next day PM’s son (another one) got married in grand style at Karachi accompanied by boomers, firecrackers and sound blasters. The residents in DHA where the wedding was held woke up in the middle of the night shaking and shivering with fear of a terrorist attack in their midst.

Our czars treat us as though we were brain dead. They live and rule as their hearts desire; their pockets require. With the flooding of political wattage, commission and kickback tales have returned like the Return of Dracula. Count Dracula killed to drink the victim’s blood. For the sake of sanity, this government needs to step on the pedal and get moving in the right direction instead of taking short cuts that benefit individuals and not the nation. For the sake of our survival, this government needs to cleanse itself of scofflaws who are on a roller coaster ride to riches.

President Asif Ali Zardari can yet prevent the crippling of his dream to “free this great country from the shackles of poverty, hunger, terrorism and disunity” by taking himself; his job; and his dream seriously. For that, he must first choose a dream team and junk the rest.

The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting

Email: aniaz@fas.harvard.edu


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