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

When one gets bogged down with a novel and it’s not going anywhere, you start turning over the pages to see how much is left. That’s my feeling now looking at the situation here, in Pakistan. I just want this story to end; get a new book, a new theme and move on. You reflect partly on the history of the origins and partly on recent history. How recent is your individual choice. Past history has been decimated; what exists is a creation of the ministry of disinformation to suit the ruler of the day, duly and ‘loyally’ documented by the education departments and thrust upon ignorant minds. Recent history is different. It’s the one glaring at you, making one bow one’s head in shame. And here lies the pun; shame, as is pitilessly evident, is a sentiment totally absent from our lives.

Someone, somewhere decided at the very inception, Pakistan was going to be a soap opera. Tragically, they succeeded. It has run our lives since Partition and there are no signs of letting up. The umpteenth episode is currently streaming. And the next one is almost ready to be aired before the present one has even been digested. Hungry traumatized TV addicts (for want of anything better), perhaps better known as countrymen, waiting desperately for their fix! So the Nation goes from Panama to e-Budgets and London hospitals. You can’t say it’s not exciting, but beyond entertainment there is very little.

I stopped writing a weekly column a couple of years ago because it was destroying my weekends. Making me very angry preparing the article for a Monday delivery. The main characters, along with the bit players, I venture to say a thousand in all plus their retinue, are consuming time, energy and the resources, human and financial, without let or hindrance or frankly giving a damn for the country. Seventeen years ago, when I started writing I believed, as any novice does, my articles would make a difference. Yes, in reflection, I readily acknowledge I was more than naïve. I wrote then with emotion and zeal. Today, when I do infrequently write, it’s purely an objective (I try hard) analysis of facts. Facts that I, along with all in this nation, know to be true but are allegedly helpless to do anything about. Allegedly? Yes, because it is a personal choice. I quote Arundhati Roy, "There's really no such thing as the 'voiceless'. There are only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard". So where do you want to be counted? Or do you still prefer to hide behind 'voiceless' and 'helpless'.

The theme for the current season of our ‘soapy’ is destabilisation. As it has been most of our lives! We Pakistanis being our own biggest enemy and pathetically blaming others for it. ‘Protestors’ have not accepted election results although the term of government is more than half over. Total focus and concentration has been to dislodge government; to not allow it to function in the normal course. Can one even dare to consider the cost to the country or does ‘protesting’ this version of ‘democracy’ outweigh operations benefitting the nation and people. If there is justifiable protest that can shake a government, the democratic process allows for a movement, but an unending dharna stroked, not interspersed, by dance and defamatory entertainment is just one more episode. It can perhaps stall not dislodge government.

Why the noise about the Panama off-shore companies? Most who are trumpeting this have at one time or another had or has one. The ones that don't is because the spoils have been routed by those that do, it’s not because they don't want to. Soap opera aside, it’s fairly simple. Has Pakistani law been violated? If so, quote the relevant law and section and follow due process as prescribed under the law. And let everyone, I repeat, everyone, be subject to that law. This is government’s responsibility. I am certain that law does not provide for setting up of a commission and establishment of TORs. I am equally certain that law provides for the FBR to issue notices of concealment (as that in all probability has lead to formation of the off-shore companies) to every individual named in those lists. Why then has due process not been started? If the State is flouting the law then the Supreme Court should suo-moto direct the FBR to comply with the law.

This theatrical posture of shouting, “but so-and-so has done it too”, or saying that Mr X is the pioneer of the off-shore companies practice, are purely knee-jerk reactions (I won’t even say creations because they are incapable to ‘create’) of puny minds. Hell bent on being seen and heard to be more loyal than even the King. And unfortunately there is an epidemic of this sort in the PM’s cabinet and party; in all parties for that matter. In fact you can only survive in this melee if you are this sort. Freethinking is permitted only to the extent that it finds acceptance by the leader. If not you find yourself in the political wilderness. It’s the classical case of the lemming leader leading his lemmings over the edge of the precipice. Someone asked the other day about the ‘others’ in the cabinet, “Where will they go?” Pat came the reply, “They will crawl back into the holes they came from!” Touché!

But we all know, at least I hope we do, that Commissions for investigations are dead before they start. If, perchance, a decision is reached, they are toothless in so far as enforcement is concerned. But that is still giving them more than due credit. Historically, all these are basically formed to enable an under the table consensus that will protect the exposed from both sides and lead towards an amicable amnesty. Which in turn will be abused as all known amnesties have. In any case, the next election in two years will be contested without this issue being of consequence.

Interesting question, who wants Nawaz Sharif out? Imran? Some talk-show hosts? We all know they number a handful and then their peers. Claims to anchor shows founded in the roles they are designed to play. Mostly illiterate; as required by the role. Then they have another handful of faithful ‘analysts’ whom they circulate, mouthing constant pearls of nothing and spreading hysteria. And sadly, some would-be junky absorbs their garbage and consumes the entire next day voicing his dumb comments, provoking his poor colleagues.

Hence the success of talk shows, mostly irrelevant bashing, very important to the ‘soapy’. Imran's harangue is also one such part of this ‘soapy’ – the role of rabble-rouser. The objective is obviously to exploit illiteracy and engage the nation in the dregs rather than work, let them or government work. An utter waste of time! Simplistic? Perhaps, but very real!

The country reeks of pungent verbal diarrhea. That is all you read and see. The ‘Kingdom’ functions in routine per se. The clamour serves as background music. People have just gotten used to it. Look around you and whom do you trust and believe in? And there are no guarantees that another from among the current crop, if given a chance, will be different from the others before him. Megalomania and autocracy are inherent in the current leadership. Corruption is rampant with no will to end it. Some of the occurrences that we as a nation are permitting are inhuman. Read the papers; impossible to defend in a civilised environment. There appears no will to tackle this.We are forced to accept the fait accompli - as a part of our life today - certainly not our culture. Or is this who we have become?

There is no roadmap. This is undeniably true. There never has been, apart from a period in the Ayub era. Ad-hoc planning and execution, based on facts that are never debated, discussed or prioritised. It just suits the government of the day and therefore is done. Critical additions, amendments, projects wait in some undisclosed warehouse and the people suffer. Where is the essential dam or dams when water supply is a disaster? Work hasn’t even started, when will it ever end! We sit on a pile of trashed opportunities, even by military rulers.

Today, there is talk of Chinese investment of $46 billion. Are we adequately geared to manage this? CPEC will be built it is said. How do we intend to populate and benefit from this? Are we planning to explore the natural endowments of the regions it passes through and when will we know what these are? I fear land along the road is probably already being acquired (at least in minds) so that windfall profits are made even before the foundation stone is laid. More food for the writers of soap operas.

Whipping up frenzy over issues beyond our control is the order of the day. Yes it looks perfect for the layman, all this big talk of sovereign violations. The cast of the soapy froth wildly at the mouth at the grave occurrence. Irrelevant but supposedly startling disclosures and happenings thrill the audiences that applaud incoherently. A day later the storm has passed and its business as usual. Ok, Mullah Mansour is dead, body handed over, buried. So what was all the noise? Doing something about it? This entire hullabaloo about a designated Foreign Minister! Is there a really qualified, deserving gentleman or lady that has been left out who you want to occupy the post? Or you just want someone called Foreign Minister as opposed to advisor? As I see it, Mr X Khan or Ms Y Shah, as opposed to Sartaj Aziz, makes no difference at all. One will readily agree that there is a comedy of errors at the Foreign Office today. It is significantly more apparent because there is a pretense they, the kitchen cabinet are in control. Because I think we have an idea where the policy is run from. And there is a strong inflexibility at that establishment. And don’t tell me those shouting hoarse for this appointment are unaware.

I believe the time for enforcement of consequences is firmly upon Pakistan. The complete absence in all aspects and actions has unleashed every conceivable ill and abuse of the laws, rubbed indiscipline to the point it is changing our culture. From a basic abuse of traffic laws, legal judgments to rules of business and exercise of authority, there is flagrant disregard simply because no one is ever hauled up or made to pay for the damages. For every violation, there is a way out. The well heeled pay it off; others use political clout to get off. Only the really poor suffer. And it was not long ago when “you will suffer dire consequences” was enough to send that person’s spirit reeling. So where is it that we went wrong. 

The soap opera thrills its addicts by exaggerating the bravado of someone breaking laws and escaping without consequences. I think the country abounds with people to whom consequences don’t matter. If there were serious consequences, do you for a moment believe that corruption could have reached the scales it has? 

In a democracy, change comes at the ballot box. If we behave like sheep, herded to follow the leader blindly, change will not come. There is ample proof that during 27 years of democratic rule since 1969, the politicians on the ballot paper are here to help themselves; the nation only a resource to achieve their climax. They are the creation of forces that use inherent, avid lust and greed to devour the people and endowments of this nation.

We need new zeal, ideas, faces and names if we are to move away from this vicious whirlpool that has us going in circles. The little steps forward that we make are through the circumstances prevailing, not by a quantified thrust in any direction. Be these oil prices or exchange rates or the like. Yes, one must acknowledge that Lahore now does not belong in Pakistan; it has moved forward. Congratulations to the continued dedication of its leadership from Gen. Jilani, and especially to Shahbaz Sharif. The rest of the country and its problems are stuck in this whirlpool. But the dynasties have played their game. I believe they are done. 

It is preposterous to believe that Bilawal and Mariam are the best to lead respective parties, or that government is the inheritance of the chosen few. Perhaps, maybe for you (leader), but not necessarily for the nation. The thought process is wrong and those encouraging it are not, to use a mild phrase, friends of the Nation.

Am I saying a junta is the final option? No. I am saying people empowerment, the right of anyone to be on that ballot paper and stand a chance because he or she believes, and the responsibility for us to support that zeal, is. To bring the changes, accept the fallout and move forward must be the avowed goal. The current situation speaks not of collateral damage but of total destruction. There is political anarchy and it’s causing a meltdown. That certainly should not be the only option before the country. So whatever the means to achieve that result let them be deployed. Today we should be looking at only the end of not just the chapter but also the big, long, boring story. And at a new tomorrow!