‘Incredible’ Pakistan

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By I.A. Rehman

A FOREIGN observer who claims to know us well said Pakistan had strange rulers. ‘A’ did not know what ‘B’ was saying and ‘B’ did not know what ‘A’ was saying. A local wag came out with a correction: neither ‘A’ nor ‘B’ himself knew what he was saying. Period.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the government was innocent in the matter of the end of the restrictions on Dr A.Q. Khan. It was a court that had ruled in his favour. He did, however, add that the nuclear network was finished. The people were left to wonder that if the ‘father of the bomb’ had been restrained only until the elimination of the nuclear network, why was it necessary to wait for a court order? What was the ‘nuclear network’ anyway?

Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar was categorical in his assertion that Dr Khan’s release was the result of an agreement concluded between the government and the court in a judge’s chamber. He was not concerned who was harmed more by the disclosure — the government or the court. Nor did he clarify whether the agreement preceded the end of the nuclear network or whether it followed the happy event.

Dr A.Q. Khan seemed keen to give credit where it was due. According to him, the PPP-led government had at last discovered that he had been a favourite of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He also publicly acknowledged the greetings of interior adviser Rehman Malik. Despite some kind of a directive to cabinet members that they refrain from being extravagant with words, those in positions of authority have yet to discover the value of silence.

It is assumed in several quarters that a many-tongued authority has great tactical advantage over its adversaries. The latter are unable to correctly read its mind and cannot come to a decision on what it is likely to do next. This theory is still to be confirmed. But what has already been established is the inability of holders of elective offices in Pakistan to find an activity other than talking to fill their time.

Ministerial portfolios have shrunk to one-third or one-fourth of what they once were. There was a time when ministers had so much to do that they hardly had any time to lead cavalcades to their villages to attend weddings of distant cousins. They certainly had no time to inform the media about what other ministries were or were not doing.

But now ministers have so little to do in their offices that they keep travelling from one rest house to another. They are surrounded by the media at the start of their journey and again at the destination. How can they avoid talking when microphones are virtually thrust into their mouths? Trouble is that the fast-expanding media troops are trained to report only what those in power say. Even when somebody does not wish to make a statement, TV anchors won’t let him remain quiet.

Anyone who knows his cell number will force him to say something about the latest man-bites-dog event. One has to say something in response to a question because ministers are not supposed to be ignorant about anything.

Talking to newspaper reporters used to be less hazardous. One could deny whatever was attributed to him and the PROs could persuade news editors to leave out the juiciest utterances. Nothing of that kind is possible now. How can you deny or delete something from your speech when your words are carried to audiences across the globe, in your own voice, before your PA has time to pull at the hem of your jacket?

Relax. You will learn to enjoy the variety of music coming out of the menagerie.

Incidentally, the first ones who rushed to congratulate Dr A. Q. Khan the other day included some knights in shining armour who have gained in stature by denouncing the corrupt among their fellow-travellers, especially those who owe a new lease of life in politics to the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). Incredible Pakistan!

After its trail-blazing experiments in controlled democracy, basic democracy, presidential rule through parliamentary system and constitutional democracy without a constitution, Pakistan is offering the world a new lesson in the craft of democratic management — how the losers can grab it all.

Everybody thought following last year’s elections that the bubble known as PML-Q had burst beyond repair — in the short run at any rate. They were wrong. In Punjab at least, and that for all practical purposes is counted as the ‘real Pakistan’, the Q League is in the driving seat. The losers in the general election are being wooed by both the parties that were believed to have won the general election.

Bookmakers are having a field day in Lahore. Long odds are being offered on horses that are going to bolt from this political stable or that, or are going to be pulled up by their jockeys in the feature event, and also on the possibility of a dark horse galloping first past the stands.

Those who are believed to be planning a regime change in Punjab cannot succeed without the support of the entire Q bloc, and the incumbents are confident of their ability to ride out the storm so long as the Q bloc minus the Chaudhries is with them. We seem to be back in the early days of Pakistan when an unknown Punjab legislator from the Shujabad tehsil of Multan wrote his name in history books by being in both the Muslim League factions that were vying for the chief minister’s post.

Regardless of what the Q bloc’s latest dreams come to, its nobles are already relishing immunity from inquiries into what they did for themselves and to the people for five long years and how they did it. The parties that won the polls are at each other’s throat while the losers are free to enjoy their pile. It seems that this could happen only in Pakistan.

Finally, there may be nothing incredible in the re-emergence of Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada as a minister in yet another government. After all, whosoever is the temporary lord of the manor the establishment does need professional plumbers, fixers of fuses, choir leaders and drum-beaters. That is proof of stability.

What may appear to be strange is that a party winning a general election under the slogan of democracy, rule of law and people’s power should within a year need professional hewers of laws and drawers of constitutional elixir from dry wells. But then these are the joys of living in Incredible Pakistan!

Source: Daily Dawn, 12-feb-09

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