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View from US: Don’t ask, don’t tell!

September 22, 2012

Why is that in Pakistan leaders are loath to reveal the truth about themselves? They mislead us by saying what a ‘son of a gun’ each of them is?

Did the Pakistani presidents and prime ministers (reigning and deposed) along with their legion of chief ministers, governors and cabinet members land powerful jobs on the wings of patron angels (read America) or on sheer merit? Did they accidently come into power or did the heavens above lend a helping hand? Did money come into play or did the ‘martyrdom’ of father, wife and ‘sacrifices’ of family members hand them a winning ticket to power?

Don’t yawn and say ‘of course we know how they got here!’ Okay. Is it not time then that we agitated to demand a change in rules of business? Holding political rallies is baloney; holding public hearings/debates confronting leaders with a direct question: tell us how you got here is more productive. Let them relate in their own words their personal stories from being average, even mediocre people to becoming wealthy masters of our destiny? Not allowed to speak are the speechwriters, nor the goons at the ministry of dis(information)! The testimony of these ‘greats’ must come from their own two lips alone.

If they can swear on the Holy Book when taking an oath to ‘serve’ their country, why can’t they swear in God’s name when answering questions during such hearings?

Some of you may think this idea to be so ‘American.’ Yes, it is. But it needs to be gradually pushed in Pakistan. Let me leave the logistics to our venerable lordship Justice (retired) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim. Let FGE as the chief election commissioner figure out a way. If he can start the process, he’s our hero. The elections are on the horizon and meanwhile our western neighbour has suddenly struck it rich. With all that money waiting to be excavated, what do you think Afghanistan will do to its impoverished, dilapidated and politically wobbly ‘enemy’ Pakistan?

News has it that under the ground in Afghanistan lies a trillion-dollar worth of oil, gold, iron ore, copper and lithium.

Bereft of such rich minerals, Pakistan’s oil, gold, iron ore, copper and lithium are our leaders. Let’s then excavate them to separate the wastage from the real stuff just as jewelers do when melting gold. Remember how your jeweller tells you that the gold trinket you’ve brought to sell him because you need the money has lost a bulk of its value due to wastage? Well, the same rule applies to our politicians — tried, tested and failed. When they came to power they were our assets and were valued by the 24-karat gold standard. When they left, they had turned to lead and had no value except to be junked.

The democracy touted by our leaders as their ‘personal’ gift to the 180 million Pakistanis must now be redeemed by them appearing before the public and answering questions about their wealth (hidden and revealed), taxes, track record and governance (abysmal or superb).

Tell us Mr President, Sir, the hazards on the way from Bambino Cinema in Karachi to the Presidency in Islamabad despite your Swiss bank accounts; tell us Mr has-been Prime Minister, the rough road you travelled from Multan to the Prime Minister’s House despite Fauzia Gillani defaulting on loans; tell us Mian Nawaz Sharif your booby-trap-laden journey from the ironmonger’s home in Lahore’s Gowalmandi to London’s swanky Park Lane luxury apartments.

The single most common factor among the three ‘greats’ is that they have been tried, sentenced and incarcerated, even though they swear they are innocent.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has routinely failed to coral the corrupt and bring them to justice. Just think: how can it play an impartial role when its chief is handpicked and appointed by the president of Pakistan? To protect his chair, he must tow the line given to him from the ruling government. The performance of current chief is a huge disappointment.

Justice (retired) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim has his heart in the right place, but the ticking clock to the elections is outpacing him. His appointment should have come much earlier if he was to put his act together. Still, our last hope is FGE. He may yet succeed in screening out some of the lawbreakers and stop them from fighting the elections.

Last word: Recently our Ambassador in Washington visited New York to address the Pakistani community. She rolled out a to-do laundry list for the Pakistani diaspora: foster understanding and friendship between Pakistan and the US; engage actively with American public officials, members of Congress and local politicians to counter the negative image of Pakistan being projected by the American media; as the “real ambassadors of Pakistan”, the Pakistani-Americans should “step up” their efforts to tell the Americans what “sacrifices” Pakistan has made in fighting extremism.

Sherry Rehman celebrated the gifting of democracy by reminding her audience of the “historic transformation” accomplished by her government. She said it has scored a first as an elected government to complete its five-year term. What she conveniently left out was a critical question being asked by almost all Pakistanis: “Are we better off today than we were before Zardari-government?”

The answer if asked is a resounding ‘No.’

As for shining Pakistan’s brilliant image urged by the ambassador, the reality on the ground is different: Last week I heard a couple speak Urdu at a family amusement park. When I asked where they were from, pat came the husband’s reply: “We are from Kashmir.” So, do you visit Srinagar often? I continued. “We are from Pakistan-side Kashmir and have our home in Rawalakot.” The couple didn’t want engaging in any more ‘Pakistan-talk’. So they moved away. I was surprised that they didn’t call themselves ‘Pakistanis!’

Over the weekend, in the compound where I live, I saw another couple, the woman in shalwar kameeez, out on a stroll. “Where are you from?” I asked after a few sentences. The wife looked up tentatively at her husband. The husband looked around as if to make sure no one was listening. He then said “Pakistan.” They too didn’t want to engage in a pow-wow with me!

In today’s America, few will come forward to own their native land. Fewer still to take its name. I then made a mental note to follow the golden rule adopted by our rulers, diplomats and Pakistani-Americans: Don’t ask, don’t tell!