AFTER sowing in Kargil the seeds of a disaster with few parallels in our tear-laden history, and in the process making clowns of ourselves in the international arena, on whom do we vent the concentrated fury of our righteous indignation? On the national cricket team. As some of our media wizards might say, this is homespun accountability.

Our star cricketers may be louts to the last man: lazy, greedy, erratic and temperamental who perform well only by fits and starts. But in possessing these attributes in what way do they differ from the rest of their countrymen? After 50 years of sustained effort we have managed to turn ourselves into a nation of boors, with the dominating national qualities being greed, laziness and mediocrity. What then entitles the nation's Moral Commissioners to judge anyone else harshly, least of all our cricketers who at least are good at something?

What can the rest of us claim for ourselves, including our rulers who, even after their victories in Washington, feel no qualms about saying that occupied Kashmir will soon become a part of Pakistan? This inspiring claim, fired at a nation still trying to recover from the Kargil experience, was made at Hiran Minar a few days ago at the ground-breaking ceremony of another inter-change on the motorway, the white elephant whose continued pampering is very likely to be the one economic activity which will survive when everything else comes to a standstill.

Consider also as to who is doing the judging. Pakistan's Chief Boy Scout, Senator Saifur Rehman. What is the operating Scotland Yard principle here at work? Set a saint to catch a thief. True, there is a cloud over his dealings with UBL to which he owes over a billion rupees. But he says his default was "engineered", a term which is Pakistan's contribution to the art and science of banking.

Before the Lahore High Court he has also taken the plea that interest is unIslamic, something which he apparently did not realize when drawing his loans. For good measure he is also suing UBL for a sum exceeding 900 crores for causing him undue distress and discomfort. In short, just the right man to conduct an ethical probe and visit judgment upon the cricket team.

Indeed, if the course taken by the heavy mandate over the last two and a half years emphasizes anything it is the striking indispensability of two individuals. In matters judicial, Justice Qayyum of the Lahore High Court. In matters investigative, administrative, financial and miscellaneous, Senator Saifur Rehman of Redco. Small wonder then if after having dealt with Benazir Bhutto, Asif Zardari, the independent power producers, the Jang Group (whose insurrection, alas, proved only too short-lived) and the Friday Times, the indefatigable Boy Scout has been entrusted with another national task: reforming the morals of the cricket team.

But what are our cricketers being accused of? That they have fixed matches and as a result brought a bad name to the country. It might be asked as to who has brought a worse name to the country: these match-fixing louts or the victors of Washington and Kargil? Whose is the more heinous offence? But to deal with questions is to tread on dangerous ground. So allowing this to pass, let us dwell instead on match-fixing.

Is this charge not likely to provoke the laughter of the gods? In a nation where everything is fixed - police, judiciary, customs, bank loans, favoured terms of trade for privileged industries (but not which is a strategic asset) and even elections - is it not funny to prosecute cricketers for match-fixing?

The present Muslim League itself is a monument to one of the greatest feats of political fixing seen in Pakistan. Conceived and consummated by the country's invisible masters, its aim was to build a counter-weight to the PPP. This was largely achieved and the result was the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad on whose back Nawaz Sharif successfully resisted the PPP from 1988 onwards. With this and other skeletons in our cupboard, it reveals a skewed sense of proportion to go after the supposed shenanigans of the cricket team. If confronted by the biblical injunction, let him cast the first stone who hath not sinned, what would Senator Rehman say?

If these same louts had come back with the World Cup as they had half a chance of doing, they would have been treated as demi-gods. Non-taxpaying traders would have held receptions in their honour. The Lord Mayor of Lahore would have feted them in the Shalimar Gardens or the Fort, two items of our inheritance abandoned to the peculiar post-independence culture of Lahore a long time ago. But having thrown away their last match our of sheer incompetence or call it what you will their sins are suddenly being remembered.

A picture in the papers says it all. Wasim Akram with an ingratiating double-handshake stooping before the newly-appointed cricketing czar, Mujeebur Rehman. Both of them should be ashamed of themselves: Akram, for behaving in a servile manner and not having any self-respect, Mujeebur Rehman for allowing this to happen. Akram after all, match-fixer or not, is a cricketing legend, one of the greatest all-rounders in the world today. Who is Mujeebur Rehman? His only known qualification for his cricketing job is his being the younger brother of Boy Scout Saifur Rehman.

It is things such as this which give one a headache. After 52 years what do we have to show for ourselves? That we have become a nation dedicated almost solely to the pursuit of mediocrity and bad taste. What else explains the need to commemorate with as much noise as possible the anniversary of our nuclear explosions, install cheap replicas of Shaheen and Ghauri missiles at traffic inter-sections, make empty boasts all the time, have no sense of remorse for our actions and none of shame?

When the prime minister is shown on television taking telephone calls from the general public on Saturday mornings, two plastic models of these missile can be seen standing next to his desk. Have they been put there to convey an impression of fortitude and iron resolve?

There is then Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani Oppenheimer, from whom there seems to be no escape. Every day in the papers there is a picture of him attending a ceremony where his scientific genius is lauded.

With things like this going on all the time, and with verbal and other forms of excess having become national pastimes, it is perhaps a hopeless undertaking even to suggest that a bit of modesty in word and gesture might do us some good or that before attempting to reform anyone else's morals we might try looking into our own bosoms.



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