DAWN - OpEd; April 25, 2002

Published April 25, 2002

The emperor’s new clothes

By Dr Iffat Malik


THERE was once an emperor. He hired a tailor to make him some new clothes for his birthday. The tailor ensconced himself in a workshop for many weeks, supposedly preparing the new clothes.

But whenever the emperor went to check on progress, he could see nothing. The tailor convinced him that where he saw nothing, there was in fact the most beautiful set of new clothes. Not wishing to appear a fool, the emperor too started expressing admiration for the clothes. And not wishing to contradict their ruler — rather to please him — his courtiers went even further in expressing their admiration.

The end-result was that the emperor led a public procession to celebrate his birthday wearing the new clothes. The public too remained silent. Only a small boy had the courage to point out the truth: that the emperor was naked.

The story of the emperor’s new clothes is being re-enacted in Pakistan, albeit with some modifications. No prizes for guessing who is playing the lead role of emperor. His new clothes are the universally admired and legitimizing robes of democracy. His courtiers are drawn from across the spectrum — governors, nazims, politicians, journalists, even a former TV personality-turned-convict.

All are engaged in a race to outdo each other in the depths of sycophancy to which they can sink. The hero of the story — the small boy — is a judge of the Balochistan High Court. Sadly, unlike in the storybooks, in this real version the emperor will not listen to the small boy and realize his mistake. Encouraged by his fawning courtiers, he will continue to delude himself that his clothes are beautiful.

But that is the ending: any good story should start at the beginning, with the emperor. Pervez Musharraf ascended the throne in October 1999. His ouster of the gluttonous king Sharif was not democratic, but had massive popular support. The new emperor began his reign with laudable pledges to transform the land, to rid it of the evils of corruption and mismanagement, and to bring prosperity to all his subjects. He also claimed to have no personal ambition — to simply be performing a duty by serving the masses. He sounded sincere — probably was — and many people believed him.

But power corrupts. It is addictive. Taste it and you want more. Taste it and you don’t want to lose it. This is what has happened to our emperor: he does not want to give up his throne. Of course, he can never admit that, and hence he has to find a justification to stay on i

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