by Imran Husain

The writer is a businessman, political and economic analyst, former first class cricketer and an international judge at German shepherd dogs shows

Pakistan came alive last month. The‘Zinda Dilanay (bravehearts) of Lahore, as we know them as did our parents before us, roared vibrantly until hoarse. Cricket reigned supreme. Away from the morbid squalour of negative politics, pseudo democracy, raving fundamentalists and marauding terrorists. Each roar was pure oxygen for the energy-starved mind and soul. It’s this God given gift we must treasure and never surrender. This is Pakistan’s amazing legacy. Our internally beleaguered nation should grasp this fervour and iconise it as our belief in the real Pakistan.

International cricket has finally returned to our shores. Two equally matched teams fought a strongly contested rubber. Pakistan won the two T20s literally on the last ball. The One Day matches saw 700 runs scored. The crowds were fantastic, relishing every moment. The atmosphere was electric. Gratitude pours forth for Zimbabwe. It was a glimpse into what Pakistan is and not what we are made out to be. I wish this could be everyday. Alas, under current circumstances, that is wishful thinking. We are in trouble and we need to fight it.

Dwell for a moment on “frenemy”. Friends who are enemies, or enemies that are friends or pretend to be friends; whatever the mix, the choice is unlimited. This is our devastating quandary. Over your left shoulder or right, in the shadows, in the bright sunlight, at the office tables or in social gatherings, this equation abounds. Another front we need to battle; another front where confusion rules and the quicksand waits to gobble.

Pakistan is afflicted by a deep cultural malaise. Secured by ever-growing generations of illiteracy, the masses have resorted to civil disobedience and crime as the primary culture. There is anger and frustration owing to the exaggerated sense of entitlement arrived at by the lies that have been spun for decades. Lack of basic education has unfortunately absolved the minds of the ability to manage expectations. There are hardly any real quality schools and illiterate parents at home. The ability to speak is all that is really operational. Uneducated minds are not rational. Manners, discipline, respect of man or institutions are fast becoming a myth. Social anarchy prevails. And the madrasahs or seminaries are left to invade whatever innocence remains.

No one can say that we have not had our chances. Every leader that has come in the last three decades has betrayed theirs; forsaken them for self-preservation. Power fell, literally, into Zardari’s lap. History was there for the making, as I believe Benazir or Z.A. Bhutto would have wished. He had the chance to turn it around, rise above himself and follow the right path. He has made history, no denying, but of another kind. Nawaz, God saved from the hangman’s noose.  He has thrown his golden opportunity, an unheard of third term, and gone back to the same kitchen infested by rats, cockroaches and poisonous vipers. Yes there is development in the Punjab as Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has focus. But this apart, there is inertia – no visible strategy. Musharraf needs to be penalised not for what he did but for what he didn’t do. From a high point he fell to zero, trapped by the same disease that inevitably afflicts rulers. His frenemies led him up the fantasy path and he was blinded by the light. Unable to see until even after the curtain fell. The greatest opportunity lost.  Altaf has ruled Karachi. But look at the decline, from the high of empowering the middle classes and introducing fair price bazaars to ruthless wholesale mafia operations. Join me in asking where will this end? And what of our children? The current players have been at the crease for more than 50% of Pakistan’s life and stability continues to elude. Sadly, this innings is not yet at an end.

Benevolence and democracy is the general political slogan with some natural variations. But what democracy? The fact that elections are held and people allegedly allowed the exercise of their vote is not democracy per se. It is an optical illusion designed to appease the donors. In reality it is creating an elite core that can misgovern, rob and plunder at will, cries of protest be damned. I see Pakistan as an ice cream cone. At the top you delight, down the spine when it melts and the tip breaks there is dripping, and only if the eater takes long it messily drips on to the ground. This is how I see rights distributed. A thousand people suck the delight, their lackeys pick up some drippings, the crumbs, if any, on the floor are for the people. So much for democracy; so much for “for, by and of the people”.

The social contract with the people stands shattered. They are wooed and dragged into a massive human mass at some sit-in or protest rally and promised the world for their suffering. All of it is deception. Growth is bleated from 4 to 4.5%. The poor common man doesn’t see that 0.5% in any manner. Their lives don’t change with statistics. How can your ‘friend’ say this without a qualm of conscience? From “go to your mosques, your churches…”we now are seeking help form security forces to protect “minorities’ places of worship”. They were not termed minorities then. They were Pakistanis. And so they are. We Pakistanis need to protect each other from ourselves. Intolerance is a social and cultural affliction; we need to deal with it ourselves. Educate ourselves to resolve disputes if any. Not summon security forces. They are meant to deal with criminals and disruptionists.

In the Middle East we are, or were till recently, model citizens by and large. Ok, cutting corners is a national trait. The fear of instant reprisal keeps us on the straight and narrow. In Western society it is different. We are bucking a liberal, democratic system that allows us unbridled freedom. The police are not high-handed; it is the fear of attacks by groups that keeps us on our toes. But within our own we are different and this is why we flock in community. There is very limited desire to promote homogeneity. Respect for social graces, for decorum is ingrained through the respect doctrine, which must rule our lives from birth. This is sadly a rarity. And is reflected on how we are perceived. Its fragile intercourse at best.

There are hundreds of op-ed pieces in the newspapers all screaming about the need to unite as a people, the need for governments to perform and to not allow the negatives to overcome and drown us. Hundreds of valid solutions and suggestions are proposed. Do you for an instant think that all that we contribute is even given a once over by those who can bring change? You know the answer. They are too ensconced in their privileges and trappings to consume the slightest energy. I can understand those guys, but explain please what of those frenemies who sit at table with you and sprout forth moral virtues on all subjects ending with “what a great job you are doing. Likhtey raho (keep writing)” and when the going gets tough choose to disappear into the shadows. This is what defines us. The lack of moral courage. Frenemies feed on it. Overcome this and they will be forced to make the choice – stay friend or enemy, they can’t have both in perpetuity.

We are looking at a rightist government lacking the will to make real change and is exposed each time it is confronted. I would have thought kudos to Information Minister Pervez Rashid were in order. His basic observation was correct, perhaps with a few exceptions. He was dumped by the leader and the kitchen cabinet, compelled to apologise and seek help from the religious parties for non-enforcement of the death fatwa. A threat to murder is a culpable criminal offence. Those that threatened should be tried and jailed.But there is nothing one can do when the object of that threat lacks moral courage and does a complete about turn. All he has done is strengthen them.
The much-trumpeted NAP (National Action Plan) embodied dealing with this. Madrasah reforms were an integral and important part. Debate rages about whether it is stillborn. Perhaps not, but the wavering will on the political side is clearly apparent. Ok, implementation must be through a strategy. Perhaps not opening all fronts is well conceived, but with the army on the move, the Fear of God should be prime amongst the lawless. Instead, while the Mullahs debate and challenge the constitutional amendment, terror and criminal activities have run amok. In Karachi innocent citizens were brutally assaulted and murdered in cold blood in a bus. A kind of barbaric cruelty that needs more action than the law perhaps allows. Thefts of a 100 safe deposit boxes is bold and glaring criminal activity. What happened to “rapid response”? How does this continue while the civil armed forces are being tutored and aided by the armed forces?It’s all over the country and it needs to be dealt with. Now that Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar and the PM have come to terms one hopes this will happen unambiguously. Perhaps this is the “political decision” government was advised to take.

To be clear, it is evident that to be a successful politician you need to forget about ideals and will. The opportunities for pragmatism are endless. It catapults you on various fronts. Your image within power circles jumps a few notches and your bank account correspondingly grows at a speed the one-armed bandits in casinos can’t dream of matching. How do you think scams run amok? Be it Axact, who has obviously annoyed the genie by rubbing the wrong lamp, or be it the billions that have been ripped off through illegal call termination. Or the billions in cash found in a house belonging to a bigwig. All of this happens right under the noses of our great governments.
Our friends or frenemies have us on the verge, or on the brink, on an apparently permanent basis. Our friends will have us on the verge of disaster – on the brink of collapse. Our enemies will have us on the verge of recovery – on the brink of peace and security. Yes, this is the truth, the conflict that is difficult to understand. Hence frenemies. Fortunately for now both are defied by Nature’s odds. Don’t ask me who protects us; someone does, that we must know. Nusrat Fateh Ali tells us in his song, “Wohi  Khuda hai!”

The budget for 2015-16 was presented while I was out of town and I haven’t got to study it. We were promised a “focus on the welfare and prosperity of the common man”. Well, budgets these days are a mere formality. Every two months prices are increased and SROs issued that make the process meaningless. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar claims an addition of 200,000 taxpayers. That isn’t enough. Retail is still outside the real zone, attempts to increase revenue through imposing upon formal transactions is not the answer. The formal tax-paying sector is very uncomfortable. There is a strong feeling that they too should start to consider ways of moving towards the informal sector because the benefits are greater and they would avoid the harrowing harassment caused by tax authorities simply by being the ones on the radar screen.

Government’s desire not to expand the base and definitely not to go after the well known massive tax evaders is again a lack of will. It does not wish to upset apple carts of its supporters; it is a product of this very system. But the least it can do is protect and befriend those that follow the rules. The registered taxpayer believes that the taxman robs from the poor and gives to the rich. And it’s not just this government; every preceding one has done exactly the same. I am wagering that every successive one will too. The lure and scent is too great to shun.

Our electronic media has become a lynch mob. Bringing hatred into the homes without a sense of direction or working towards solutions. Images shown, witnessed by adolescents, are not even shown in the most developed democracies, and if at all they are, they are covered by a disclaimer guiding one as to suitability. Has anyone ever seen the scenes in a blood-splattered classroom in the US when those horrible events took place? The lack of implementation of the defamation law allows any remark to be made, substantiated or not without recourse. The harassment of this woman Ayaan is horrendous. She is paraded and pictured as if she is the Yeti, that abominable snowman of yore. There is a constant banner of “breaking news”. Whether it is or not. And there is the screaming and unintelligible nonsense from the mouths of those we elected and infamous analysts. 

I guess I am still an idealist, although God knows, I should have given up. I was actually stunned by the claim of senior Jurist Khalid Anwar before the highest court, “The present constitution is far, far superior than the earlier 1973 Constitution.” He goes on to give plaudits to courts and parliament. Very simply, I disagree. This present constitution embodies Zia’s 8th amendment. It gave birth to the extremism and it has prevailed through decades without being touched. This constitution is the creation of Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, as was the thwarted, ridiculous 15th amendment the brainchild of Khalid Anwar as Law Minister of Pakistan. And Raza Rabbani, present Senate Chairman and former trainee of the mastermind of the original 1973 Constitution Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, allowed the 8th amendment to continue, as chairman of the constitution reforms committee, with the sole change of removing article 58(2B) by which the president could dissolve parliament. How Zia’s constitution can be anything but far, far worse I need to be educated upon. Ok. Khalid Anwar made amends by saying there is no bar in the Objectives Resolution being removed. But I still worry –  frenemy?

Politicians are steeped in holding onto power for the rest of the current term and a glorious, empirical vision of five more after. Build, build and build, the drippings will find their way down to the core. As does Zardari wish to hold his bastion but with a view that is different. Is it a dream or their fantasy –  I’d like to believe this but as with them the nation too abounds with frenemies, so who knows.