Will the phoenix rise?

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Candid Corner

  • Of the state, leadership, institutions and people

“To be left alone on the tightrope of youthful unknowing is to experience the excruciating beauty of full freedom and the threat of eternal indecision. Few, if any, survive their teens. Most surrender to the vague but murderous pressure of adult conformity. It becomes easier to die and avoid conflict than to maintain a constant battle with the superior forces of maturity.”

Maya Angelou

Through decades, Pakistan has been transiting from one extreme to the other, from one lap into the next. This has been the general pattern of policy-making and nowhere has it shown its lethal fangs more gruesomely than its depleting options with the passage of time.

Even worse is the fact that, in every crunch situation, Pakistan has been reduced to playing its cards from a position of utter weakness with virtually no options to bargain with. So, it ended up at the receiving end of poor international appraisals cultivating numerous grave weaknesses in tackling the consequent challenges.

This has been a cyclic syndrome not confined to specific governments or leaderships. It has been an ongoing phenomenon ever since the day Pakistan became an independent state, but without quite knowing how to assert its sovereignty. Be it its plunge into western-led alliances at the cost of spurning overtures from its near and distant neighbourhoods, or its espousal of causes and engagements which it should not have touched by a million miles, or pursuing lopsided developmental priorities internally, it has continued to be attracted to undertaking ventures which have weakened it along the way, the principal one being its alienation from its neighbourhood, even from its own people.

Consequently, instead of working together for the benefit and empowerment of their respective people, Pakistan and most of its neighbours have ended up forging alliances and friendships to the exclusion of each other, thus creating an environment of antagonism and animosity. This has resulted in the wastage of their human capital which could have been cultivated to better use through constructive and well-directed engagements.

In the process, Pakistan has continued to suffer from a fear malady forcing it to take measures which have only perpetuated the problems it confronted at the outset. Yet, there has been no initiative to break free of this syndrome and try doing things differently. This also involved looking at its security-driven infatuation at the cost of developmental needs in multiple sectors and investing in the evolution of a society where, instead of being looked upon as suspects, people would become credible instruments of cohesion and strength of the state. While they have continued to languish at the fringes of the Republic’s priorities, the corrupt, divisive and discordant forces have increasingly gained sway in the country, manipulating both its exchequer and its policy-making echelons to indulge in remorseless spree of loot and plunder.

The paramount challenge is to create a state with a writ which is respected across all divisions and which it is not afraid of imposing. The three key components to making that happen include a leadership with unimpeachable integrity and moral fibre, institutions which are transparent and effective and uninterrupted investment in the welfare of the people to improve their stock so that they have the ability and confidence to distinguish between the right and wrong and understand and appreciate the power of their vote in electing credible national leadership

This is what we are witnessing in harrowing clarity around us. Every time someone is held for accountability, the slogans of ‘democracy in danger’ or ‘political victimisation’ are raised to mislead people. The parliament has been turned into a fulcrum of obfuscation and combativeness with legislators swearing that they would not allow it to function unless their demands were met. This narrative is given further credence because of the inept, often downright embarrassing performance of the accountability bureau which neither has the knowledge and competence, nor the wherewithal and the drive to carry forth effective prosecution.

Consequently, a process which should logically culminate in the award of punishment to the alleged criminals often results in them being bailed out by the courts to propagate their ‘innocence’ narrative. Thereafter, their cases, more or less, are confined to the growing stacks of outstanding matters, never to be looked into again. So, we end up with institutions which are utterly rudderless, a state without a writ and a bunch of vagrants who lay celestial claims to ruling the country. In the words of T. S. Eliot, it is like we all are, willingly or unwillingly, part of a ritual of “The Burial of the Dead”:

 “…Come in under the shadow of this red rock,

And I will show you something different from either

Your shadow at morning striding behind you

Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you:

I will show your fear in a handful of dust.”

A state can’t survive in fear. A state can’t survive without preparedness either. What is needed is a fine balance that would be sustainable in the long run – a balance between making the state viable in the strategic context and, simultaneously, investing appropriately in the welfare and empowerment of the people so that they become the pillars of strength of the state. Concurrently, the institutions have to become transparent, non-partisan, credible and effective instruments in establishing and promoting the writ of the state across all hues, shades and divides. It should be done in such ways that it commands respect among all echelons of the society, and those who continue to cast aspersions are dealt with the enshrining spirit and letter of the prevalent law, no less.

In the end, the paramount challenge is to create a state with a writ which is respected across all divisions and which it is not afraid of imposing. The three key components to making that happen include a leadership with unimpeachable integrity and moral fibre, institutions which are transparent and effective and uninterrupted investment in the welfare of the people to improve their stock so that they have the ability and confidence to distinguish between the right and wrong and understand and appreciate the power of their vote in electing credible national leadership.

All this begins with creating awareness and one must concede that there is more of it today than ever before. But, the shackles of economic captivity of a majority of the people in the hands of a few continue unabated and there are scant signs of an improvement in this domain. Unless this changes and the people are able to distinguish between who is deserving and who is not so, and then move on to use their right to vote in favour of candidates of their choice without any fear or coercion, there is no prospect of a credible and competent leadership emerging.

While some efforts may actually be afoot for bringing in improvements in the manner of governance, but measly sound bites are not going to be enough. A virtual movement is required to be launched to quicken the expanse and pace of this initiative so that the ground conditions can be improved from the perspective of the impoverished and the marginalised and their life continues to become incrementally better with the passage of time.

We have enough potential. We have enough goodness in our hearts. What is needed is the right leadership which could garner the dormant passion and determination to drive things along the corrective path. We may have been bloodied and badgered during the past decades, but the phoenix can still rise.

In the context of diminishing time, the paramount question is not whether it will. The question is when?