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A bad movie plot

Published Jun 23, 2012 02:02am


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ANOTHER day, another crisis in Pakistan. What else is new? Given the roller-coaster ride we have been on these last few years, nothing has the power to surprise or shock anymore.

Even the fact that a warrant for the arrest of Makhdoom Shahabuddin has been issued just as he was filing his nomination papers for election to the prime ministership causes a big yawn.

If a screenwriter had crafted the script we have been following, a movie producer would have rejected it for being too unbelievable. The whole business about a tycoon bankrolling a series of multimillion dollar holidays for the chief justice’s son and his family is bizarre enough. But in a swift counterstroke, the prime minister is dismissed by the top judge, pushing his son’s scandal into the background.

And if this sequence of events wasn’t too farfetched, our screenwriter also invents the leaked footage of two popular TV anchors pandering to the same businessman during an advertising break. The entire sick-making conversation is then aired by a rival channel. As if the allegations of corruption among the media that never tires of assailing the political class for venality wasn’t bad enough, a list of journalists alleged to be on the take from the same tycoon makes the rounds.

I mean, give me a break! Who could possibly believe this stuff? And while these dark deeds are gripping our interest and consuming all our waking hours, other dangers are threatening the country’s very foundations. Unfortunately, our courts, government and the media are too preoccupied with the many ‘gates’ that have opened up to pay any attention to other issues.

We seem to have forgotten that violent insurgencies bordering on civil war are raging in Balochistan and large parts of our tribal areas. Indeed, the Taliban have forbidden polio immunisation in Waziristan; so weak is the writ of the state that it cannot ensure that children in the area will be given these crucial polio vaccines.

In Punjab, thousands of people, driven to desperation by up to 22 hours of power cuts in 40-plus degrees of heat, have gone on the rampage. In over four years, this government has been unable to sort out this problem. In Karachi, nearly 800 people have been killed so far this year, with no respite to this bloodletting in sight.

The rupee continues its slide against the dollar, and the economy is in a tailspin. We are about to go back to the IMF, begging bowl in hand, to ask for yet another bailout package. Meanwhile, we remain at loggerheads with the US, our biggest aid donor, over a spat caused by the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers last November. But in truth, our sulk is over the fact that American commandos entered our airspace and killed Osama bin Laden without informing us.

Against this backdrop of pressing problems, what do our major state institutions do? They engage in a destructive fight in which the prime minister is sacrificed, and his successor might be forced to walk the same plank. In the old days, it used to be virgins who would be offered to the gods; now, prime ministers are slaughtered at the altar of justice.

Would any audience ever swallow this stuff? No, seriously, if I were a movie producer, I would discard this junk as unusable and tell the screenwriter to start again from scratch. Abroad, events in Pakistan are followed with bewilderment and scarcely concealed amusement: how can any state calling itself a democracy shoot itself in the foot so many times and still hobble around?

In Islamabad, the biggest junction is called Zero Point. I would have thought that this grid reference would be replaced with the name of a great Pakistani. Sadly, we seem to be very low on heroes. Who among the current or recent crop of leaders would we want to name roads or public spaces after? Kayani-abad? Zardari Nagar? Musharraf Colony?

When the hapless Gilani was unceremoniously turfed out, it was hoped he would soon be replaced to avoid a prolonged power vacuum. But in reality, the poor man had very little power, and so did not leave a very large vacuum: squeezed between the president, the army chief and the chief justice, to say nothing of a slavering media pack, Gilani must be glad to be back home in Multan. His sons, however, may not feel the same way.

When power is not exercised effectively, it has a habit of slipping away to other centres. Thus, when this government chose to focus only on completing its term, and not rocking the boat, it saw its authority seep away. Zardari stays in his bunker, and ministers are too busy making hay while the sun shines to bother about boring stuff like education, energy and health.

It is this larger vacuum that has been filled by other players. From opposition parties to extremists to street mobs, groups with their own agendas are challenging the writ of the state. More entrenched institutions appear to be pushing their own agenda — and it has nothing to do with providing justice to ordinary Pakistanis.

The army has always enjoyed vast powers, and it doesn’t need to stage a coup because it faces a supine civilian government. The media is the uninvited guest at the high table, and is behaving like an uncouth gatecrasher.

When so many power centres are tugging in different directions, it’s no wonder nothing ever gets done. Foreign governments complain they don’t know who to talk to about security matters: the president, the army chief or the prime minister? Answer: all of the above. But nothing gets resolved because none of them wants to take a decision.

And when the pressure mounts, the easiest thing is to kick the ball into the high grass of parliament. Here, responsibility (and blame) can be widely dispersed.

So when the next prime minister is duly sworn in, and ordered by the Supreme Court to write to the Swiss government to force it to reopen the money-laundering case against Zardari it had dropped four years ago, what then? Well, then we may have the sequel ‘Return of the Judiciary’. So perhaps there is a movie here after all…

The writer is the author of Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (23) Closed

Cyrus Howell Jun 23, 2012 06:16pm
BRAZIL followed up it's police raid into a Rio slum of 120,000. Six months ago, the police carried out a massive "pacification" - an aggressive operation to root out the drugs gangs that had made normal life impossible, and the authorities had followed up with a vigorous investment program in: new schools a library (with a queue of eager children outside it) sports facilities Pakistan never seems to have a Plan B.
Cyrus Howell Jun 23, 2012 06:26pm
The upper crust is playing racket ball with the nation.
Yogesh Jun 23, 2012 02:03pm
Excellant !!! Irfan Husain is simply too good.
Canadian Guest Jun 23, 2012 01:58pm
I always read your columns in Canada and the pictures you paint are almost true for Pakistan.This is the land of unfortunate people.
Kamath Jun 23, 2012 01:40pm
Irfan is magnifying the problem unnecessarily. This is a growing lessons in a democracy. Pakistan will not fall apart.
ABose Jun 23, 2012 01:37pm
Excellent narration of the situation . Article shows the dire situation of Pakistan's nascent democracy. I like to see a stable democratic Govt. in Pakistan and like to visit someday, especially Swat Valley.
NASAH (USA) Jun 23, 2012 01:35pm
You are so right Irfan Husain -- never in the recent history of the subcontinent -- a Chief Justice has embarrassed the whole country before the entire world -- to divert attention from a personal embarrassment May be it is time for CJ to consider going home like the ex PM -- after taking this unprecedented dangerously destabilizing step.
Agha Ata Jun 23, 2012 01:01pm
One more definition of a good fiction is that it has series of strange and fantastic things happening for very good reasons. Everything is fine in the story of Pakistan, except that the reasons are not only very good, they are ridiculous. Besides, “the sequel ‘Return of the Judiciary’” you are talking about, is, maybe, the sequel of “Zardari chapter” only, as I have seen at least fifty sequels of the whole story during the last 64 years! It may beat the book of tales “Arabian Nights” one day!
swamy.ka Jun 23, 2012 12:44pm
Only god can help
raika45 Jun 23, 2012 12:06pm
All movies have an end where good triumphs over evil.When is your savior going to come riding on his steed to save the nation. After all you have some 180 million inhabitants.It is time this circus comes to an end.The people deserve it.For once after all these years,give peace a chance.It is what we call in a game "TIME OUT"
millerd Jun 23, 2012 11:47am
A vivid rundown of the nations dilemma. The nation is running from pillar to post with no goals insight.
Mujeeb Jun 23, 2012 03:49am
polarized Pakistan!_
Ram krishan Jun 23, 2012 03:57am
Dear Mr. Hussain , Once again you have hit the nail on the head. Now it is in the hands of people of Pakistan to choose a corruption free leader to set an example for the rest ie a sincrere leader like Ata Turk who put Turkey on the path of prosperity.
Ejaaz Jun 23, 2012 04:16am
Irfan Sahib, You forgot the really fascinating twist in this play. Our CJ who broke his Oath to defend the constitution and swore on the Dictators PCO, and then suddenly acquired a zeal for fighting corruption after having struck a deal with the other players, The CJ is very sensitive to corruption every where except when his son accumulates a Billion Rupees worth of Business in four years, the CJ is totally ignorant about it. The CJ's son and wife go on crore of rupees of shopping trips to london and they do not remember whose credit card they used, and our CJ never bothered asking where all these riches were coming from. And then like a good movie, the CJ pulls out a Quran sets it in front of him and promises to emulate Calipha Umar and punish his son. Can you possibly beat that?
Feroz Jun 23, 2012 05:03am
Excellent stuff Irfanbhai ! At least you have a choice of moving to Sri Lanka or UK, what of the millions not so privileged ?
Haji Ashfaq Jun 23, 2012 06:53am
I know before I think to write comments that they will be deleted before I click next news but to satisfy myself I do. Sir, there is Musharraf colony already and half of Pakistan has been named after Bhuttos and Zardari. Left half is for Chaudhries, Maliks, Rajas, Makhdooms etc etc. So, stop worrying. You look to be very sensitive for things not adaptable.
meekal a ahmed Jun 23, 2012 06:56am
excellent, Irfan.
straightupnow Jun 23, 2012 07:44am
This article is a reflaction of reality. One can't write it better. Whew.... I wonder how much time we have left before we start a typical civil war. I think this war is already closer than we'd like, It will be between two polar opposites in our people, They can generally be described as one who has Zia-ul-Haq like mind and the other group which is composed of PPP and a large, silent segment of our society which still likes moderate-progressive ideologies
farhanshahidkhan Jun 23, 2012 07:50am
If poor Gillani had no space, how come he got so rich that he bought 3 coats worth 8 Million rupees? Comeone give me a break. This government is not defendable
Aftab S. Alam Jun 23, 2012 08:25am
Good critique on a real bad and sad movie. It's especially depresing because it is about us and at our cost.
Yasser Masood Jun 23, 2012 08:28am
Quite an amusing read... :)
Kaka Pehalwaan Jun 24, 2012 12:56am
Truth is stranger than fiction. Indeed.
Khurramsaif Jun 24, 2012 02:17am
CJ Iftikhar Chaudhary appears to be running parallel government.