“Our time of awareness is a
A blinding interval in which to
know and suffer.”
Mirza Ghalib, translated by
Consider it the ultimate blinding lightening flash or a slap in the face of the nation, or whatever your intellect or political affiliation allows you to believe, the title of this column is a verbatim quote of Pakistan’s Prime Minister, in response to a question asked by a CNN interviewer in London recently. The British interviewer had sought the Prime Minister’s opinion on media reports that a sizable number of Pakistanis wanted to leave the country because of rampant corruption, political and fiscal mismanagement, breakdown of law and order, safety and security concerns, and lack of appropriate governance in the country. The Prime Minister, in a matter of fact manner, and with an air of absolute belief in his judgment on the question, quipped: “And why don’t they leave…….Who is stopping them?”
Let me take you back in time a bit: Marie Antoinette, queen of France, married to Louis XVI, when informed that the people of France had no bread to eat, purportedly said: “Let them eat cake.” This was prior to the French Revolution (1789) when eventually the French people, tired of poverty, deprivations, class society, bad governance, corruption and massive excesses of the nobles and ruling elite, publicly beheaded them.
But that was the 18th century. France was a monarchy. Queen Marie’s response was rooted in her ignorance and alienation from the people of France. What else could have been expected of a ruling monarch that considered the common French citizens as their “subjects,” entitled to no better treatment or rights than “slaves” and whatever the monarchy willed it to be? Indeed, the king/queen was the embodiment and the law unto themselves - France was king and queen, and king and queen were France - the French people existed at their pleasure and perished at their will - and that was that!
In recent times, Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Emperor of Iran, the “darling” of the West and their front “henchman” in the Middle East, prior to the Iranian People’s Revolution in 1979, is reported to have “asked his opponents in Iran to leave ‘His’ country if they did not like him.” This showed the incredible ignorance and preposterous arrogance of a Shahanshah, who, intoxicated with power and wealth, considered himself omnipotent - Reza Pahlavi was Iran and Iran was Reza Pahlavi. The state existed for the emperor, and the emperor was the state. In this mental disposition of alarming political and conceptual “madness,” Shah’s personal view of the “state” and its citizens is understandable - that is, if one is inclined to believe that a nation can be governed by a ruling elite and its leadership that is gruesomely insane and grotesquely suffers from a complete and lurid lunacy.
The question is: what is Yousuf Raza Gilani’s excuse? This is May 2012. Supposedly, Pakistan is a democratic country. Understandably, logically and rationally, that is if one believes in democratic norms, the citizens of Pakistan are not the “subjects” of the incumbent PPP ruling regime or its Prime Minister. The “state” of Pakistan is not Yousuf Raza Gilani, nor is Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Pir from Multan, the state or law unto himself. The citizens of Pakistan are entitled to full civil, political, legal and democratic rights, and no one, not even a sitting Prime Minister, has the moral, ethical and political authority to tell them: “Well, you don’t like me, then leave the country. Who is stopping you?”
This is absolute arrogance, unfathomable ignorance, and an inexcusable assault on the dignity of the nation. But above all, the Prime Minister’s emotionally-loaded, ethically-flawed, politically incorrect and sentimental barrage (“Why don’t they leave? Who is stopping them?”) is a direct consequence of the incumbent PPP regime’s total alienation from the mainstream populace in the streets of Pakistan.
The fact of the matter is that the PPP’s entire political leadership suffers from an incongruity, an incapability and an intellectual-political incapacity to conceptualise a strategic vision of a democratic Pakistan and its democratic-political management. It is entirely focused on maintaining the political status quo in the country and preserving their political power at all cost, no matter what. The Zardari-Gilani junta considers “democracy” as a process of skilful manipulations, a craft of buying and selling loyalties, naming a price and paying it out of the national exchequer, and to hold onto power irrespective of democratic ethical-moral constraints or legitimacy of political power. No wonder then, that today’s Pakistan stands at the verge of a failed state. (The CNN interviewer in London insultingly termed Pakistan as a failed society in the face of Yousuf Raza Gilani!)
The Pakistani Prime Minister’s visit to Britain has raised more questions on the integrity and credibility of the Zardari-Gilani regime than resolved any fundamental or important issues facing Pakistan. In the first place, British hospitality to Gilani does not provide legitimacy to the Pakistani Prime Minister, nor can it overturn the Supreme Court’s conviction. If anything, it made a public mockery of fundamental democratic norms and conventions on which Britain (needlessly) prides itself now. Contradictions in British political behaviour are becoming vividly visible - so be it!
Then there are some other important questions that still further undermine Gilani’s personal political conduct, political integrity and political credibility. For instance, why did Gilani and Cameron have a lengthy private meeting? Did Gilani once again compromise Pakistan’s national interests and sovereignty on the issue of US-Nato supply routes? Is Pakistan going to open the US-Nato supply routes on conditions laid down by the Americans and their allies? Has there been, once again, secret arrangements and commitments between the US-Nato and Zardari-Gilani regime? Has Cameron, on the behalf of US-Nato, assured political support to Zardari’s incumbent presidency and covert backing to the PPP in Pakistan’s general election? Are the commercial incentives offered to Pakistan by Cameron subject to conditionalities? What are those conditions? And so on and so forth?
Will Gilani, on his return, publicly share with the nation what was talked about and agreed upon by him and the British Prime Minister? I do not think so! The Pakistani people are being, once again, cheated by their ruling elite: that is what Gilani’s visit to England was all about - secret commitments, secret understandings, and surrendering Pakistan’s national interests to US-Nato dictates - in exchange for the West’s support of the vested interest groups in tomorrow’s Pakistan.
Indeed, the US-Nato would not like to see a nationalist government come to power in Pakistan because they are fearful that a it would not serve their geopolitical interests in the region.
The question is: Can this stop a transformation of political culture in Pakistan? Can they block a process of “change” that is already underway in this country?
The Pakistani people are at a crossroads of an ultimate battle between what it is now and what it ought to be tomorrow!
This is our blinding lightening flash of awareness in which to know, suffer and prevail over our adversaries!
We will…….we will…….we will…….
n The writer is UAE-based academic policy analyst, conflict resolution expert and the author of several books on Pakistan and foreign policy issues. He holds a doctorate and a masters degree from Columbia University in New York.