AS the saying goes, ignorant are those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing — a true reflection of what is going on in the country.
We talk about saving, protecting and reforming the country; we put monetary estimates of $5bn to save us from bankruptcy and many more calculations of megawatts of energy and tax-to-GDP ratios to put us back on track, but are we again making the mistake of dealing with the symptoms and not the root cause of the disease?
Are we just looking at blocking the leakage without finding and repairing the hole that caused it? Or are we indulging in window dressing without working on the structure and foundation of the building which can collapse at the slightest tremor?
Perhaps this is the very reason that we as a country have always been on a socio-economic cliff ever since we were born. Fighting fires is an exercise which creates burnouts and incapacitates, creating chronic dependency on circumstances, other people’s help, luck and so on. How long can we survive this state of dependency is anybody’s guess.
In a country where the price of leadership is calculated in numeric terms, be it buying votes or seats in parliament or on the board of directors of major organisations, it is but natural that corruption becomes the modus operandi. It is ironic that Pakistani leaders are demanding proof of charges levelled by India following the Mumbai attacks when their own chief justice, despite allegations of abuse of authority in the case of his daughter’s exam grades, has been supported by the government.
References to injustice thus are not just a matter of media uproar but have deeper implications for building a disrespectful image of a country where people in position are above the law. The Mumbai attacks have resulted in resignations by officials in India, an attack on the Marriott hotel in Pakistan has not. Neither do the daily bombings in the northern areas prompt our interior, law or other ministries to accept responsibility. The price of injustice has eroded the values of merit, fairness and equality which are key to building secure and peaceful societies.
The tactless handling of the Mumbai conflict is a bitter reflection of the poor ability of our leaders to handle rhetoric. With India pointing fingers and framing punches and heaping accusations on Pakistan, Pakistan’s apologetic and slow-motion responses have given confidence to others to take advantage of the lame handling of the situation.
With absolutely no strategy to respond to the Indian attacks via media and the international channels, we have successfully portrayed the image of an apologetic country that is there to be blamed for all that is wrong anywhere in the world. So far the sequence goes as follows: India levels accusations, Pakistan gives a mumbling denial; India uses America to turn the accusations into a threat; Pakistani leaders give loud media statements against the threat yet do exactly what others want it to.
The reason for this strategy paralysis is twofold: one is lack of clarity and the other the absence of courage. A clear-cut response strategy needs talent and communication ability in our information and planning wings which appear to be sadly lacking as the ineffective and meaningless vocabulary emanating from here shows. The other problem is lack of courage to take on America. It is not the Indian propaganda which makes our leaders shiver, but the strength of American support to New Delhi. This lack of courage stems from the fact that many in the corridors of power have agendas which need America’s political blessings. In return, they are willing to compromise on national interest. The price of holding on to their positions is traded with the value of freedom and self-respect of the country.
Apathy and avoidance are lethal combinations to spread despair and hopelessness. Apparently oblivious of the grave situation at home, the president is often seen out of the country rather than developing a strategic response to the multiple crises the country faces. In this context one can mention the violation of Pakistani airspace by Indian war planes that were explained away as a ‘technical’ mistake by the government. And it took much public uproar for a protest to be lodged with the Indian High Commission.
This apathy was further reinforced by the half-heartedness with which the government complied with UN instructions to take action against certain suspect organisations in Pakistan, thus giving room to Indian allegations. Even allies like China were not with us, such is the disregard for national priorities.
When a nation does not stand for something, it can fall for anything. Unfortunately the lack of character and values displayed in our decision-making brass has made Pakistan the favourite target of all. Be it America or Britain, India or Afghanistan, they are all taking advantage of leaders among whom many lack character.
The silver lining in these clouds of doom is that they have exposed their true colours. As a nation there is an increasing consensus that we need leaders who restore the self-respect and identity of our country. Thus it just maybe the end of despair and the beginning of hope that we will choose leaders whose values and character are based on substance and not mere style; whose actions speak louder than words; and who have the vision and passion to restore the dignity and sanctity of the country.
The writer is a consultant and CEO of FranklinCovey.