TRAVEL broadens the mind and fattens the purse, as our Prime Minister Imran Khan is discovering. He has enlarged his earlier fundraising experience by meeting leaders like Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, and most recently the UAE’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. His visits have resulted in our coffers being swollen (albeit temporarily). The price is that our international stature is being reduced to a size commensurate with our regional irrelevance.
Where is the self-respect we earned as a catalyst for the 2nd Islamic Summit held in Lahore in 1974? Where is our self-anointed indispensability as the US’s crucial proxy in the global war against terror? Where is our goal to become another Asian tiger? Gone, all gone. Far from being the only Islamic country with a nuclear power capable of bringing our foes to their knees, we now genuflect like an importuning bankrupt before Saudi Arabia, China, Turkey, and the UAE. (“Brother, can you lend a buck for a bang?”) To them, we must appear a nation of habitual scroungers, living (to borrow Juvenal’s caustic phrase) “in a state of ambitious poverty”.
Will we ever break the begging bowl, periodically unpacked as if it was some precious family heirloom? Will we ever see our state as rich as its leaders are? Will our politicians ever deliver on their voters’ legitimate aspiration that Pakistan becomes a pluralistic, functioning democracy in which every vote counts? And when will our elected representatives stop their macabre minuet to the death? Not in the foreseeable future.
Soon, it shall be another hot summer of discontent.
Soon, it shall be another hot summer of discontent, exacerbated by another sort of global warming. According to historian Robert Darnton, there is “a climate change in politics” in which “bigotry, bullying, mendacity, vulgarity … have damaged the atmosphere of public life. The protective layer of civility, which makes discourse possible, is disappearing like the ozone around the Earth.”
Darnton’s remarks target US President Donald Trump, but they have a wider application to countries such as ours. They should be heeded carefully, especially by anyone speaking or writing anything that will not attract lightning.
Nevertheless, let us examine our current situation with steely eyes. The parliament we spent Rs22 billion to elect six months ago languishes inert and impotent, its members enjoying perks and privileges without palpable performance. In it, a PTI government (which garnered 16.9 million votes) treats the PML-N (representing 12.9 m. voters) and the PPP (6.9 voters) with the same container-top condescension it sneered at them during the election campaign.
The mantra of selective accountability has been exposed, repeated without fruition and applied without conviction. Power has been fragmented. Effective power in India has devolved vertically from New Delhi to the states. In Pakistan, it has been divided horizontally into separate power centres in Islamabad and within Punjab.
Other countries — even Britain — must watch our dyslexic behaviour with bemusement, sympathy, even sadness. The British had Brexit as their Christmas pantomime. We have a Boxing Day farce.
Other democracies must wonder why our politicians cannot be less venal to each other, why they cannot engage in debate without lacerating each other to shreds.
Among them, the Turks may not be the best qualified to offer advice to us. In the 1960s, we were harnessed with Turkey and Iran into a US-designed troika called the Regional Cooperation for Development. More recently, Turkey has had a curiously personalised relationship with our leaders. Gen Musharraf spent seven years of his youth in Turkey, becoming fluent in its language. Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif were believed to have lucrative business collaborations with Turkish companies. Shahbaz Sharif, when chief minister Punjab, used the Turkish model of public transport as an inspiration for his well-meant but costly misadventures. Now, PM Khan has obliged President Erdogan by enforcing a ban on all 25 campuses of the Pak-Turk schools, set up in Pakistan by his former ally, now opponent, the US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. Their 11,000 Pakistani pupils have to find schools that do not have the misleading motto: ‘Two countries, One nation’.
President Erdogan still carries scars from his bouts against the Turkish military in his early years. Was he tempted to give his Pakistani guest for bedtime reading the famous Turkish fable of the two dragons? One dragon had multiple heads and a single tail, the other a single head but multiple tails. The multiple heads on the first dragon constantly savaged each other, while the tails on the second dragon obediently followed the commands of their single head.
Pakistani voters are overfamiliar with the denouement of that Turkish fable: the single-headed dragon survived, after swallowing the other.
The writer is an author.
Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2019