ONLY a few years ago, when one set of aspirants was desperate to dislodge the government, and in doing so was not loath to bring up the ‘umpire’s finger’, one wondered what the promised change would portend, especially in view of the roadblocks in front of a parliament ‘manned’ by juvenile delinquents. Today, another set of aspirants cannot wait to rid us of the incumbents. This time around, the umpire is being reminded of the importance of neutrality by one side, and the creatures capable of displaying it by the other.
One wondered, back in 2014, what great ‘homework’ the dharna brigade had done to deliver us from the ‘slavery’ of the West and its agents, ie, the IMF and the World Bank. We wonder today which think tanks the no-confidence brigade consults; what tomes on economy and public policy it scours to bring down inflation, increase employment and provide quality education to every child, including the 20 million-plus out-of-school children.
After the founding father and with the exception of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir, not many leaders ‘produced’ in Pakistan can be accused of being readers. No surprise then that the number of authors among them is equally thin — the biographies, both the ghost-written and ghastly ones, notwithstanding. If one stretches the criteria of leadership to beyond the holders of elected office, the ranks of readers and writers do not exactly swell.
There is a broad consensus in Pakistan that hardly any aspirant for public office can bubble up to the top without a helpful push from the establishment. The fizz usually turns out to be froth. This leads one to believe, their dim-wittedness notwithstanding, that all these ideas and theories propounded by successive people at the helm must have been transplanted by their handlers. It would be so much fun to find out what the handlers are reading or who is spoon-feeding them.
Who turns the ‘Muqaddimah’ into a two-page precis for aspirants?
While we have spent the better part of our lives trying to figure out who controls the levers of power in the country, a more interesting question would be: who are the ideologues pushing the buttons? Surely, they do not have enough neuro connectors to learn it directly from the tomes of Ibn Hanbal, Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn Wahab or even Ibn Arabi. Who is it that turns Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah into a two-page precis for them? Who does their must-watch and must-read lists? Someone must be running a history-, geography-, philosophy-, theology- and metaphysics-for-dummies academy. Who teaches them to parrot Iqbal’s poetry without the ability to even repeat the oath of office in the national language. These days, great fun is being made of politicians from across the divide for their inability to speak the national language. Imagine how close we came to teaching the Urdu alphabet with Ottoman references, ie: ‘alif’ for ‘Ankara’, ‘bey’ for ‘Bilgic’, and ‘pey’ for ‘Pasha’.
Could it be that no political ‘wing’ or ‘directorate’ exists, and all this indoctrination business is left to hacks-turned-anchors-turned-political advisers? Imagine, your favourite anchor holding forth on Maududi, Marx and ‘Mevlana’ while the young and not-so-young scions of political dynasties and grizzled wannabes take copious notes. Imagine, the intellectual types, that every political party employs at the taxpayers’ expense to act as minders and maids to the first family, explaining the Senate elections formula to the uninitiated.
To have the numbers to form a government and get the budget passed, and then to lose a key Senate position because your leading lights think an election official did not tutor them sufficiently in how to stamp, fold and drop the ballot paper in the box gives ‘bombed out of one’s mind’ a new meaning altogether. All the recent horsing around in parliament notwithstanding, can you imagine more inappropriate appointments than those made to the portfolio of interior or for holding dialogue with the ‘cross Baloch’?
Each one of us should draw up a list of 10 books that we would like the aspirants to high public offices to read. If you believe it to be an exercise in futility, then perhaps voting for them would be too.
In this day and age, where anything and everything ranging from a groom to a piece of bread can be ordered online, we in Pakistan still cannot order books from Amazon because it does not deliver here. It beggars belief that the giants of online shopping would mind making a profit by delivering books here, but then the ministry of thought control will find it difficult to make us believe that all wars “thrust upon us” were won by us if we can choose what books to read. Let us keep banning books and, instead, give free rein to ‘banned’ organisations, pay them to come on to the streets and pay them more to leave.
The writer is a poet. His latest publication is a collection of satire essays titled Rindana.
Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2022