Only a miracle can turn around a situation rooted in 63 years of drift and apathy. Pakistan was taken over by a clutch of lacklustre leaders soon after the British presided over the break-up of the sub-continent and gifted independence to us. We are still in their clutches. Nothing else explains the never-ending circus which passes for the running of national affairs in Islamabad, and its various decrepit institutions.
Only an unbalanced nation would cultivate mass poverty and an extended nuclear programme at one and the same time. To us belongs this distinction and we find no anomaly in it. If the god or goddess called national security had the highest and most shining temple anywhere it would have to be in the wastes of the Islamic Republic.
Ten nuclear devices, unpacked but ready for use, would be enough to guarantee us nuclear security. We have dozens more and are yet unsatisfied. Our national security mindset is about the same as North Korea’s.
If the army which we call our pride, its cantonments running in an unbroken string from Peshawar to the sea, is not enough to give us a sense of security not all the toys in the world ever will.
What kind of education is imparted in our military academies, including that biggest white elephant of all, the National Defence University, its rector chosen by the army chief from amongst the 25-35 lieutenant generals whose red tabs adorn the national skyline?
Strategy is a word which should be excised from the national dictionary. At its altar we have produced one disaster after another. Among the steps urgently needed to preserve what remains of national sanity, is an end to strategic studies for at least the next ten years. If our various Afghan jehads are the highest tribute we can pay to strategy we are best off without this encumbrance.
Pakistan needs not a truth and reconciliation commission – there is nothing to reconcile except our various brands of folly – but a cleansing commission. At its bar must be brought all the geniuses who contributed to our Afghan, Kashmir and Kargil miracles. Musharraf’s punishment should be a short stay on Kargil’s highest peak, on our side of the Line of Control, with army rations to survive on. And no Black Label, please. At least, we won’t have to suffer his interviews any more.
Newspapers are becoming a bore. When I picked up my six newspapers this morning there was nothing remotely worthwhile to read in them. The same endless goings-on in the Supreme Court. There is something known as the closing of accounts, a resort to the guillotine – even if I use this word in a metaphorical sense – to bring matters to a close. Obviously, its meaning has yet to dawn on our brightest and most pompous minds.
Talk-shows, the whole lot them, have become another bore. They are attuned to the manufacturing of crises, anchor-persons desperate to look for depth in the most banal of happenings. I think the ones attracting an audience are the ones where the anchors are somewhat more optically-gifted.
There are some persons born for talk-shows. They can always be seen looking very angry, gesticulating and endlessly talking. More power to their voices. The Pakistani revolution when it comes – although trust me, it never will – will have to think seriously about this endless stream of talk.
All the evidence suggests that the first spoon put in the nation’s mouth at the time of its founding was dedicated to its vocal chords. It has stayed this way down the years: a republic finding its highest expression in ceaseless babble, its favourite tense the future tense – we will do this, we will do that, we will bring about a revolution – never anything in the present tense.
A day after the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution (Nov 7, 1917) when the Congress of Soviet Deputies met, the guard on duty, bored to death by the endless proceedings, marched inside the chamber and said they were tired. That was the first and last time the Congress ever met. Watching the enduring soap-show which passes for national politics, I am tempted to think of similar remedies. Although I know they will never be attempted.
I am no cricketing fan and must not have watched a cricket match in years. But a headline has just caught my eyes: Shoaib Akhtar says he is fit enough to bowl for another four years. Can the nation not be spared any more of this horror story? All our national resources put together are helpless before this sporting hero. The nation as a whole is helpless before the might of the plastic shopping bag, which will clog our water channels and destroy us more effectively than the Taliban. How do we fix bigger problems, how do we restructure the Republic? Fat chance of the last happening.
Reforming the Republic is a hopeless undertaking. We are unfit for it and deserve every bit of the characters who pass as our national leadership class. Looking at Musharraf on television triggers the thought: was this the clown whose antics we had to put up with for close to nine years? Master of all he surveyed, making up for the austerity of his army years by splurging on the good life when he assumed high office. The only thing I envy him are his several mistresses, one or two of whom I have seen protesting too much.
Whatever the feminist movement, for which I have the greatest admiration, may like to think of itself, for women, except for those with an honoured placed in the hierarchy of virtue, power remains the ultimate aphrodisiac. Otherwise, it stretches the imagination to see anyone honestly seeking the aging commando’s company.
Looking at E M Forster, who was gay, Virginia Woolf said the middle age of such people was not to be contemplated without horror. The dictum also fits aging dictators with a taste for the good life. King Farouk of Egypt in Roman exile, gorging himself on endless packets of potato chips and bottles of coke, Musharraf in exile dreaming of a power comeback. These too are horror stories, inviting endless cogitations on the triumph and loss of power.
Churchill could not have survived without his newspaper and book earnings. He wrote all the time to pay for the upkeep of his Sussex estate which he had bought for 5,000 pounds in the early part of the last century. Although a certified aristocrat he inherited nothing from his parents (they conduct these things better in those climes). When he stepped down as prime minister, Attlee wrote newspaper articles to survive. Harold Wilson as a member of the House of Lords would regularly attend its sessions only for the daily allowance which this brought him.
Tell me not about Emperor Aurangzeb stitching caps and copying the Quran to earn his keep. If ever there was an apocryphal story it is this. Aurangzeb was too busy fighting a ceaseless stream of enemies to have much time for such deeds of piety. We Muslims never learnt the art of peaceful succession. At the death of every king there was a war of succession. Aurangzeb had his elder brother Dara Shikoh killed and if Manucci’s tale is to believed, sent Dara’s head in a covered silver dish to his father, Shahjehan, imprisoned in Agra Fort. And he is revered amongst us as one of our holiest warriors. (Why isn’t a missile named after him?)
Why has political stability eluded Pakistan? Does this have something to do with our historic origins? By 1739, barely 30 years after the death of Aurangzeb, the once mighty Mughal empire was weakened so much that the Persian invader, Nadir Shah, could pillage Delhi with ease (and pick the girls of his choice from the Red Fort’s extended harem). Ancient warfare had its rewarding aspects. Modern warfare, drones and all, is singularly colourless. And we are caught in a war whose happy ending no one can see.