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Ostriches at large

June 15, 2011

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ONE of the costliest attributes of poor leaderships is their inability to foresee adverse trends. They are incapable of avoiding loss of face by abandoning positions which are bound to become untenable sooner or later.

The people of Pakistan see such ostriches with their heads buried in the sand almost every day.

The Supreme Court orders grant of licence to a TV channel and the federal government spokesperson promptly says it will honour the court’s verdict. Why couldn’t the government anticipate what was coming? It had several weeks to realise that the odds were stacked against its none-too-efficient bureaucracy. It had the option to salvage some goodwill from a bad job but it waited for the ultimate humiliation with the resignation of an opium-eater.

The same flabbiness was displayed in the matter of formation of the Election Commission. The matter was delayed for months and the Supreme Court had to issue several tough warnings before the matter was settled. Quite late in the day, the government blamed the opposition for non-cooperation and dilatory tactics. If that was the case, nothing prevented the government from taking the people into confidence at each stage of contact with the opposition. That could have surely facilitated agreement at an earlier date.

The faux pas caused by the lack of foresight while announcing the commission on the Abbottabad mystery, if that is the right word for the sensational affair, could have easily been avoided by not choosing a serving judge to head it, or by consulting the chief justice in advance and by securing members’ consent. There may not be anything more to it than an honest error of judgment, though governments are generally not spared for such innocence, but the message the people have received is that the initiative was deliberately marked for derailment.

Now the government is spoiling its image further by dithering on the demand for a high-powered commission to probe journalist Saleem Shahzad’s murder after torture. This is a fit case for a successful assault on the underworld of intelligence services and if this chance is missed the government will have no face to present before the public.

The ruling coalition has apparently bungled the election of the leader of the opposition in the Senate. What happened was not even a clever manoeuvre. In the old days it might have been described as low cunningness. Eventually, the government may have to face an adverse judicial verdict.

The Shahid Afridi affair has already reached the court and the government looks determined to bite the dust for its failure to settle matters in time. Change of captaincy of a cricket team is nothing unusual. In India, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has captained teams that have included two or three former captains. The real issue was the freedom from knowledge, reason and discipline allowed to the president of the Cricket Board. The government is paying for its pathetic failure to send the PCB satrap home or to make him see reason and commonsense. Even now, no attempt is under way to clean the mess that the grossly overpaid and unduly patronised babulog have created in the PCB.

It has sometimes been argued, and rightly so, that the Supreme Court’s judicial work suffers because of the large number of cases about the authorities’ misdemeanour it has to take up, many of them in the exercise of its suo motu powers. A part of the responsibility for this must be accepted by the government for if it could work efficiently and learn to avoid mala fides the judiciary could be persuaded to concentrate on what the people believe to be its fundamental functions.

However, not all the ostriches are to be found in Islamabad. The other centres of power are offering good competition. Target killings, land-grabbing and abuse of authority have made life for the people of Karachi a never-ending misery. The ANP indulges in tirade after tirade against the MQM and the latter returns the compliment; both have an inexhaustible repertoire of invective. Both are allies of the PPP in the ruling coalition at the centre and in Sindh.

Many knowledgeable observers are of the opinion that the gladiators are jockeying for political fiefs and undue privileges they have become addicted to. The leading party in the coalition is either unaware of the problems this fight between two of its allies is creating for it or is incapable of enforcing order through negotiations. In either case, it gets negative marks for its leadership.

Take the land of promise and honey, Punjab, where road building and road repairs are the highest priorities. If Islamabad is known for its lethargy, Lahore is making a name for phurtian. After the work on the Kalima chowk (Lahore) flyover and underpass had crossed quite a few hurdles, the need for a change in design was realised. Then after many days of hectic activity comes the news that the underpass part may have to be reviewed as it threatens the off-again on-again project to use an overhead train for mass transit.

The martyrdom-loving majority party in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has lost another district president. Its leaders legitimately take pride in their tradition of sacrifice. Perhaps they need to realise that there is neither honour nor sense in letting their cadre be decimated like this. No party can remain unaffected by the kind of blood loss the ANP has suffered. Failure to take decisive steps to ensure greater security for important political figures will send wrong signals to the people and they will start raising questions about the party’s capacity to provide effective administration.

Unfortunately, those in power do not realise that they are not only undermining their own future prospects, they are also turning the people away from democracy and politics itself. In the mood of cynicism that has been prevailing in Pakistan for decades, ‘wise’ analysts and observers have acquired the habit of dismissing the rulers’ shenanigans as something that does not concern them or by treating them as material for after-dinner jokes. By shutting their eyes to the tsunami-like disasters looming on the horizon they are proving to be the biggest ostriches of them all.