Milestone or millstone?


The significance of long hands of the clock and long terms

Recently, the ruling PPP took out an advert in the national media to drive home what looked like the Guinness Book of Pakistan record.

On the right of an elaborate display, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani clad in white sherwani was shown hoisting the crescent-and-star flag under a coloured frame of President Zardari flanked by diffused images of his father-in-law and spouse.

On the left was the forlorn figure of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and placed next to it was a large clock with Gilani’s timeline thumbnails signifying the hours. Poor Liaquat Ali Khan paled in comparison even though the country’s first prime minister was at the centre of the clock.

Besides the digital timelines of Liaquat and Gilani in power, it also had the clock hands placed at not the standard 10: 10 that you see at the stores — about that in a moment — but 10:12. Symbolically, it was supposed to show Gilani had surpassed Liaquat’s record as the longest serving prime minister.

There are many theories surrounding why the pre-set time at stores is 10:10 where one hand of the clock points to number 10 and the other to number 2 — even though it is not the centrepiece of this piece.

Clock and watch makers normally, if not always, put their logo under the number 12. So placing the hands of the clock to 10 and 2, helps to frame and show the logo.

The 10:10 permutation also makes a resemblance to a smiley face. It is deemed to produce positive vibes at the store and increase the sales. Finally, it is said clocks set on 10:10 look more symmetrical; hence, better for advertisement.

The PPP government has scored many firsts in its latest stint. Some of these milestones are instrumental in terms of what has historically been a rather fragile democratic ship.
They point to a critical forward movement and perhaps, the PPP can claim a major role to that end with some justification.

At the end of the day, the fact that Yousaf Raza Gilani has become the longest serving prime minister — now into the third month of his fifth year in power — and his government early this month presented its fifth consecutive national budget are proof, if one was needed, that it is a no mean feat for an elected government to stay the course in Pakistan.

Earlier this year, President Asif Zardari also created a record by making a fifth consecutive address to the bicameral legislature — Ayub, Zia and Musharraf, the country’s three longest-serving dictators with a near decade-long or more reign each — either didn’t feel the need to fulfill a constitutional obligation or have the heart to stand up to elected representatives in a quasi-military setup.

To be sure, the combine of President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani have endured a rollercoaster ride and appeared close to being ousted on a couple of occasions thanks to the shenanigans of their bête noir — the security establishment and judiciary — but managed to return from the brink with matching gamesmanship.

However, history is not run from handouts of a statistics division, and while historians may well be kind in appreciating the odds that the PPP overcame, on balance, the party is itself guilty of contributing to the chaos around it and devoting much of its time, money and energy on protecting a tainted leadership.

As a result, four years on, the PPP has little to show for governance. There is near universal consensus on this with not even the party itself showing any heart in defending its meek record except to cite the problems it inherited from the Musharraf era and the odds it braved along the way.

Perhaps, if it was not overly concerned about protecting the compromised chair of the party, there would have been greater resonance around the ‘milestones’ that government and party ads boast of.

None exemplified this approach more pronouncedly than Prime Minister Gilani, who spent much of this year stonewalling the Supreme Court’s directives to reopen corruption cases in Swiss courts against the president and ending up with a conviction that has compromised his moral authority to continue in office.

It doesn’t take Einstein’s genius to figure out if the prime minister is sworn to protecting the constitution even as he drones on ad nauseum — with a smirk to boot. His actions betray political expediency, for, in protecting the president, he is only advancing his political career.

To be brutally honest, it was perhaps, too much to expect Gilani to move against his president — he had privately said more than once he would “not ditch my party and president” — apparently, that’s all there is to the constitutional oath of placing everything over and above the personal in “serving Pakistan”.

Even as we seemed resigned to the gathering ‘milestones’ there is a new circus in the old Arlington cemetery-sized town with the same old ‘milestones’ in terms of the moral compass.

Fated to be les misérables are we?

The writer is a former newspaper editor based in Islamabad and can be reached at [email protected]