The Hall of Shame
By Imtiaz Gul
Weekly Pulse, Islamabad March 12, 2009
“What a drama going on in Pakistan; no one bothers about Pakistan. Here when people of different countries ask us about what is going on in Pakistan, we feel ashamed and frustrated.”
These words of frustration from a doctor friend now settled in Toronto, Canada, came as no surprise. Some Pakistani diplomats posted currently in other countries had done so a couple of days ago. “Our hall of Shame is fast expanding,” wrote one of those friends, tasked to project Pakistan’s “progressive and politically vibrant image. For them, developments back home i.e. Sharif brothers’ disqualification and the imposition of the Governor’s Rule obviously weren’t helpful at all.
Tasked to project Pakistan’s “soft, liberal, progressive image” first by the military autocrat General Pervez Musharraf and now by the dysfunctional civilian government surrounded by unscrupulous hunters of fortunes, Pakistanis abroad, including our diplomats, are increasingly groping for gloss and spins to put on irrational and undemocratic decisions and actions by those lording over the country right now -- the ruling elite that rode on the wave of sympathy and the anti-Musharraf sentiment on February 18.
The litany of betrayals by President Asif Ali Zardari – whether the Bhurban Declaration, the Islamabad Accord or the Imposition of the Emergency on more than half of Pakistan where over 90 million of Pakistan’s 160 million people live – and the coterie of his advisors clearly demonstrate that with the presence of such self-serving and immature politicians drunk with power the country does not need foreign enemies. On the contrary, their autocratic actions and mere lip service to the causes that Benazir Bhutto stood for amount to a mockery of the people of Pakistan on the one hand, and to the weakening of the state on the other.
That is why when the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband spoke of the “mortal threat from internal enemies,” it barely surprised any one here. “It’s now vital that all politicians come together to unite against the mortal threat that Pakistan faces which is a threat from its internal enemies, not its traditional external enemies,” Miliband said in an interview with BBC Radio-4 on March 07, 2009.
He added that “you’ve got the combination of a political crisis precipitated by the recent Supreme Court judgment, so democratic politicians are not coming together to fight terrorism.” “The degree of political disunity that exists at the moment” was contributing to the problem (of fighting terrorism and its fallout), Miliband said. Ironic indeed that while outsiders exhibit unusual concern and sympathy for the security and economic challenges that Pakistan is embroiled in, our own lordship remains oblivious to the gravity of the situation which has injected frustration and uncertainty in hearts and minds. People at large – pressed by inflation, scared by the state of insecurity, disenchanted with short-sighted peace deals with militants, the mounting power crisis and dwindling real incomes – wonder whether those in power at all comprehend the governance and security crisis Pakistan faces right now.
Apparently, there is little realization of this crisis at the top tier of the government. They are all out to settle scores with rivals, it seems. Some want to fix their political rivals, others want to take army generals to task. “These Punjabi generals have put us to a great grind,” one of two most important rulers reportedly told a leader of the Balochistan Liberation Army in a phone conversation that originated in Dubai. “It is now time for us to take our revenge, let us join hands,” the caller urged the rebel leader, according to an intelligence report on the mindset of some of the rulers.
The conversation was full of contempt for the army, the report said. Now, regardless of the veracity of the claim made in the intelligence report, it is not difficult to measure the sincerity and commitment to the country of powerful people like the President and the prime minister, the Punjab Governor and Maulana Fazlurrehman – the man for all seasons.
Would a sane person really take the invective and the self-serving rhetoric that Zardari and his men have adopted for the Sharif brothers seriously? Much before the Sharifs embarked on the confrontationist path, Zardari and his cohorts deluded themselves with the thought of getting away with their actions and statements on issues such as reneging on their commitments since the government formation in March last year, the disqualification of Sharifs, the totally uncalled for Governor’s rule and the intransigence on the issue of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. The media offensive that Sherry Rehman, the information minister, has led to counter the Sharifs’ political mobilization campaign ahead of lawyers’ march, sounds shallow, self-righteous and also devoid of considerations for the battering that has been piled on the Sharif brothers.
Zardari and company appear totally oblivious to bruises their deceptive moves have inflicted on Sharifs’ egos.
Total disregard for commitments they made with their erstwhile political allies have landed the country in a situation wherein old rivalries and misgivings have resurfaced. This only aggravates the multiple crises that Pakistan faces today. And, unfortunately, the country does not need external enemies to complicate matters for us. Surprisingly, people around him might shower praise on the President for having “outmaneuvered” the Sharifs on many occasions, but the reality is otherwise; you cannot defeat brazen fraud. If you do not honour your commitment by stating one or the other reason, it is open cheating.
The President, who owes his presence in the Palace to the gruesome and unfortunate assassination of Benazir Bhutto, might eventually be the victim of his immature Machiavellian politics, which revolves more around personal enrichment and absolute power than a concern for his country and its hapless teeming millions.
An accident catapulted him from prison to presidency, but the fall from presidency, if it happens, will not be an accident. It certainly will result from the accumulative political ill-will, immaturity and inability to handle the immense power that rests with him at the moment. An opportunity squandered? Let us wait and see.
(The author heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.