Lesson learnt?

Published Jul 11, 1999 12:00am

"THE wise are instructed by reason; men of lesser understanding by observation; fools by mistakes; and beasts by nature." Thus wrote Marcus Fabius of Rome, otherwise known as Cicero, some 2000 years ago.

Under the present circumstances and in the 'larger national interest' we must presume that Nawaz Sharif (no democrat he) and his coterie fall into the first category. Having so said, we must examine their attitude, their concept of what the world owes this country, and their concern for the poor and deprived millions over whom they hold sway. Sadly, the closer a citizen is to the rulers and their ways and their thinking, the greater his fears.

In early May, I happened to be in Islamabad. The 'voice of the government', Mushahid Hussain, rang to cancel an appointment we had made as he had to 'rush' to a cabinet meeting urgently called by the prime minister to decide how the first anniversary of the testing of the nuclear bomb was to be fittingly celebrated. Likeable Mushahid revolves in his own orbit, taking along with him those he guides in his capacity as minister of propaganda and national mores. Some maintain that it is Nawaz Sharif who influences Mushahid and not the other way round - an equally calamitous scenario.

Mushahid asked what I thought of the idea of having a postage stamp printed showing the Chaghi hill, the first issue to be on May 28. You can't be serious, was my reaction. Then how do you think the day should be celebrated? he asked. Well, I said, to show the world how sober and caring he is, I suggest that the prime minister indulge in a photo-opportunity that would go down well internationally. Let him lead his men to the Faisal mosque to pray for God's forgiveness for having been forced to go nuclear for the defence of the country and the safety of its people. Let him further pray that circumstances never arise which will force him to use the bomb. No good, mooted Mushahid - that would be negative internal publicity for our government, what with the lack of education and the general unenlightenment that prevails.

Does the cabinet understand what sort of weapons of destruction we possess? I asked him. Do they know Einstein's reaction after seeing the newsreels of the bombing of Hiroshima? Had he known, lamented Einstein, what the bomb could do he would have chosen to be a simple shoemaker of Switzerland rather than play any part in its creation? Survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki lived the remainder of their lives wishing they had been killed outright in the bombing, the dying envied the dead - such was their suffering. Mushahid rightly pointed out that all this would fall on deaf ears.

One must give him the benefit of the doubt. What he does and says may not stem from his genuine beliefs and feelings. It may all merely be an exercise undertaken to massage the ego of his boss.

Now to his boss, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who, despite his heavy mandate, is an insecure man. He may not realize this and therefore cannot admit to it. But as a reasonable human being, he must know how he and his family and camp-followers have deprived this nation of the money they have milked from its banks and financial institutions.

In order to thrive and flourish in this democratic land, he does what he has to do. He amends laws, he amends the Constitution, he subjugates the judiciary. He and his men disregard the fact that they are unable to hold four provinces together, that they cannot control Sindh without resorting to discredited men such as Ghous Ali Shah. They forget that Jam Sadiq Ali, similarly sent in, was ultimately unable to deliver Sindh to his patrons and left a legacy that to this day undermines the province.

Nawaz Sharif believes that he will be better remembered for his motorways than for the misery and the thirst he has caused the people. His motorways, he believes, will last long after the thirst has been quenched. On an almost weekly basis, he and his administration raise the cost of utilities, find means to levy more taxes on the one million that pay taxes, letting off the hook those who can strike and protest and those who have grown fat and rich by not paying taxes. The burden on the taxpayers and on those who have nothing to tax grows heavier by the day.

Does our head of government know that the only new investment his government has been able to generate has come solely from hamburger makers, chicken-fryers, and the likes of them? Meanwhile, he and his fellow big spenders never fail to miss a chance to fly out and off on a spending spree, which they have just done using the grave and dire circumstances of the Kashmir-Kargil issue, their excuse being to 'internationalize' it by using the Bomb as a threat - the annihilation of one fourth of mankind, inhabitants of this subcontinent. They feel that the world owes a debt to them and the country that the onus of solving the Kashmir problem lies squarely on the shoulders of the major world powers. Thus was engineered the Kargil misadventure.

The Line of Control was crossed by some 500 men. By sending in 30,000 men, artillery, and military planes to dislodge them, Pakistan claims that India escalated the situation. The world has failed to see the logic of this argument.

Pakistan's line is that the uprising in Kashmir is "popular, spontaneous and indigenous." Its line, as voiced by its foreign minister on the BBC, is that all that it provides to the freedom fighters is "moral, political, and diplomatic" support. Does he know that the BBC news, just after his 'Hard Talk,' showed the Islamabad correspondent talking to freedom fighters who had just descended from the hills of Kargil to their base depot at Muzaffarabad to rearm, regroup and return? Why do our men mock us, and make a laughing-stock of us in the eyes of the world?

The mission to China failed. A statement from the G-8 was frosty. With the intent of averting a major conflict, Nawaz Sharif sought help from the president of the United States, 'rushed' to Washington to meet him on America's Independence Day. Clinton met him, not in the White House, but in Blair House. During the meetings, Clinton, not wishing to antagonize India, broke to ring Vajpayee and apprise him of the progress. A sop of sorts was thrown at us. We accepted. Sharif and his family went shopping, then on their way home stopped over in London, where he shook Tony Blair's apprehensive hand.

Though the prime minister has pledged that hostilities will cease, noises are being made that the government is not sure that the popular, spontaneous, indigenous freedom fighters will abide by the terms of Nawaz Sharif's pledge. We know that the present localized hostilities will cease once the shot and shell stop raining from the skies. We have heard the Indian prime minister boast over the airways that India will give us no quarter and will 'kick us out.'

Neither India nor Pakistan is concerned about the desire of the seven million Kashmiris. Neither country talks of allowing them to decide their fate for themselves. China for its own good reason is not keen on Kashmiri self-determination as it has its own problems with the fundamentalists in a large track in the south-west of the country, and in Tibet. Pakistan is unconcerned about the plight of the 150 million Muslims of India. It does not realize that each time it embarks on a Kargil-type misadventure, these Muslims have to work overtime trying to prove their loyalty to their country.

India, with its size and weight, can afford to be, and is, intransigent. To get India to talk and see things our way, we do need global support and sympathy. Does the government comprehend that so far all we have achieved and established, relatively cheaply, is that we are globally isolated?

Has a lesson been learnt?


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