If wishes were horses…

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Did you see that programme of Dr Danish on a private television channel the other day where Atiqo Odho and Imran Khan ignored each other, not trying to rock some boat? It was memorable because Danish was uncharacteristically subdued, his decibel level not jarring on the ears as usual; cute because of the naiveté on display, a simplicity and the simplistic most touching. Wish lists were spilling over like horses, like froth over a beer mug. If you’ve never seen that, even in the movies, you’re heavenward bound.

Both were going for the cake, Imran trying to take it all, Atiqa trying for her slice. In the end, Atiqa got hers. Our most immediate problem was not even mentioned: the bankruptcy of the treasury and an economy hurtling towards collapse. Without economic salvation wishes remain just that – wishes unrequited.

Viewers and voyeurs like watching the handsome and the beautiful – Atiqa looked handsome and Imran looked pretty, not going for Musharraf’s jugular (once his favourite, now his pet hate) as he always does. It was obvious that both were holding back while Danish was trying not to provoke them. Aggravation and provocation are the stock-in-trade of our anchors, an imperative to improve ratings. No fish market, no ratings. What’s cooking – a witches’ brew? These two are incapable of that: she is not a witch and he is no wizard – Atiqa is a chef of Thai cuisine and Imran is a great trencherman. But she is not cooking, at least not for me – more likely “Frogs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails”. Odd. Decidedly odd. If it is what I think it is, it will be a dainty dish fit for – let’s see – provided four and twenty blackbirds vote for them before flying out and don’t peck Atiqa’s nose off.

Being naughty (sometimes) is what readable columnists are made of – sarcasm and skepticism, cynicism and barbs liberally laced with acerbic wit and even spite. Readers enjoy a few moments of titillation in a country itself brimming with cynicism (any wonder?) and no dearth of witless wits and dimwits.

If I can laugh at myself, surely they can too – not at me but at themselves. Laughing at me would be self-defense of a very weak kind. I know Atiqa and mercifully she doesn’t take herself too seriously. She and Imran are basically good people and Oh-so-earnest – his Peshawar sit-in to stop NATO supplies to stop genocidal drone strikes is a case in point; her work in Jacobabad and Malakand are another. I wish them well. If they misunderstand me and don’t like what I say, as many ‘friends’ who go into public life have done because they take themselves too seriously, too bad. They need to get over themselves. Rare it is for God to send down someone who is His gift to Mankind. If you can’t take the heat don’t get into the kitchen. Its “Pakistan comes first” not “I come first because I’m good for Pakistan.”

Imran has now been in politics for some 14 years but still cannot be accused of not being fetchingly basic. Atiqa, in the game for only a few months, is a fast learner. Two most important lessons: don’t make accusations before checking your own glass house and don’t make tall claims that you cannot meet. Atiqa scored the only goal of the match by suggesting that ‘like-minded’ parties (whatever that means) should gang up (on the theory that half a cake is better than no cake at all) to provide people with a fresh-new alternative. Imran went along. That alone is good, for it shows that he no longer overestimates his strengths. He dribbled and dribbled so much that he didn’t give Atiqa a chance to score another goal, though she could have. She let many go a begging because she was holding back too. Peculiar. Decidedly peculiar. What’s cooking? – “Frogs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails”? Imran went on and on about youth, not giving Atiqa a chance to talk, forgetting that compared to him Atiqa is youth and should not have been dinned out. (Far better to dine her out). Don’t harangue the youth; give it a chance to speak.

Atiqa could have scored on Imran’s contradictions: if Gilani is so bad, why invite him to inaugurate your college? Why invite Musharraf to your hospital, when he famously said, “I wish Imran success in his third career as well”, sparking off the rumour that he was going to make Imran prime minister. Even Imran started believing it.

Problem is that our politicians and wannabe politicians are not so much like Cassius as Brutus the weakling. Instead of thinking too much, methinks they don’t think at all; simply repeating what they heard last. They have abdicated their thinking to others – a chat here, an article there and even (though rarely) a book somewhere else. They are populist: instead of leading the mob they are led by it, pandering to the lowest common denominator. Wishes are objectives: we will alleviate poverty (why not finish it altogether?); we will ensure justice; we will have mass literacy (why not education?); we will make Pakistan strong and prosperous and regain its lost sovereignty… “Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera,” as the King of Siam would say. That’s all very well, my dear well-wishers, but the question is not ‘what to do’ but ‘how to do it’. That’s the difference between strategy and tactics, something General Musharraf understands. All want a free and functioning judiciary, for example, imparting impartial and speedy justice at all levels. The question is: where will you find more than 600 judges that fit the bill? We just don’t have them. Be specific and realistic. Don’t divert attention with emotional verbiage and words like patriotism, honesty, determination, unity, faith… words used by politicians who want a dainty dish but don’t have the recipe. Clarity comes from having an ideology that realises wishes and crafts a better status quo, which is real revolution.

So what’s not cooking? Atiqa has yet to cook me a Thai meal – “No time to cook,” she said plaintively, doing five things at the same time. I hope now she will cook a Thai dish called ‘Tom Yam Horse’ fit at least for caustic columnists, for she’ll cook in my kitchen after all. Then …elephants would fly.”

The writer is a political analyst. He can be contacted at [email protected]