By Humayun Gauhar 

Some might react badly to this article for truth is often bitter and bald truth is very bitter indeed. No matter. Iqbal gave me my motto: “I have been ordained to speak the Truth: ‘There is no god but God’ ” – mujhay hai hukm-e-azan La Illaha Il Allah. So let the truth be told, as I see it obviously.

Behold the beauty of democracy. It bestowed on us a pretty picture of an alleged criminal president with many cases against him administering the prime ministerial oath to another pardoned and alleged criminal with many cases against him. This is polluted democracy, no less polluted than democracy under any military ruler. Both produce dictators in different garb. That is all.

President Zardari is a product of a Presidential Ordinance under which many criminal cases were withdrawn against him, his late wife and over 8,000 others who benefitted by default. Some went on to hold powerful government offices in yet another example of the beauty of our democracy.

The Sharifs were winkled out by a deal brokered by Saudi Arabia (kid brother Shahbaz protesting) after Nawaz had been convicted of hijacking and terrorism. The deal was between Saudi Arabia and the Sharifs that included President Musharraf giving Nawaz a pardon and a bargain in which many cases against him and his family were scuttled. But many remain pending and await adjudication. I don’t want to witness the sight of yet another prime minister being disqualified.

Yet Nawaz and Shahbaz were qualified to contest elections while many others with similar ‘credentials’ were disqualified. One alleged financial deviant administering oath to another makes a perfect picture of our pathos, underlining the complete and utter degradation of democracy engineered in the name of ‘the people’. This is not the only picture. I have photographs of the current chief justice giving oath to and taking oath from President Musharraf whom he would now crucify. These are pretty pictures of hypocrisy personified. When will we develop fear of God? These pictures also underline the utter bankruptcy of our political and economic systems, the judiciary and some of the ‘independent’ media that are bending over backwards to try and put a gloss on our warts by telling half-truths.

Accepting a pardon even under the camouflage of reconciliation is admission of guilt. No innocent person worth his salt would accept any kind of pardon. Period.

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A big deal is being made of Sharif’s hat trick, becoming prime minister a third time. If Benazir hadn’t been killed she would have been the first three-time prime minister. Instead, power went to her husband. She would have done a less bad job than him and Sharif may not have got another chance. But the script said she had to go to achieve two ends: give the PPP a rope long enough to hang itself by its own hand and get rid of Musharraf because he had drawn a red line that he was not permitting America to cross, like putting boots on our ground. As soon as Zardari gained power the US did put boots down in Bajaur, homes were destroyed and many innocents killed. Thousands of visas were issued in indecent haste to CIA-contracted assassins like Raymond Davis. They have become an epidemic in our country.

Actually, many have been elected to our assemblies more than thrice, showing that nothing changes except the garb of the mannequins in the show window of the facade of our democracy in which democracy’s essence is missing. Shahbaz Sharif has become chief minister a third time to give Lahore (where he thinks Punjab begins and ends) more buses at Rs 2.5 billion per kilometer and sell subsidized tickets to be paid for from an empty exchequer. As is that mummy-dummy from Cairo’s Pharaoh Museum third-time chief minister of Sindh whose strings are pulled by adopted brother ‘Tappi’ whose strings are pulled by Zardari the PPP’s master puppeteer to give us more dozen-a-day killings in Karachi. This is the beauty of our democracy that people go on about to pull wool over our eyes while the hapless masses go further down the degradation gutter.

With Sindh in his pocket Zardari may harbour the option of becoming the ‘Raja of Sindh’ in his sights for he knows that at the rate we are going there may be an economic collapse and rather Nawaz Sharif preside over it than he.

Sharif can avoid the collapse if – and it’s a big if – he can take hold of the script and rewrite it for Pakistan’s good. It depends on how much he has learned from his past, especially that there are limits to power that he should never cross again. Instead, he can gradually extend those limits with good governance and without upsetting any applecarts. That takes great wisdom and patience and ability to have the right advisers like Sartaj Aziz. He is a man of the world and knows what it is all about. Hopefully, Sharif got some wisdom and patience living in the Holy Land. He can get more from our Chinese friends. Otherwise what was the point of the last 14 years if he hasn’t learned and changed?

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It can be done but first we should accept what we have. Turmoil is not our friend. Let the dead past bury its dead and move on. Evolution will sort it out. Progressive people learn from the past and look to the future. We too must be patient and wise. Remember, one of God’s names is ‘Al Sabir’, The Patient. Another is ‘Al Hakeem’, The Wise.

When I first went to China over 30 years ago it was a model of underdevelopment. The only thing highly developed was the minds and value system of the people and their leaders. Hotels were all Chinese functioning in their own way. The food was Chinese only except in Beijing’s Friendship Hotel were PIA crews historically stayed that had some Pakistani dishes, and well cooked they were too – or perhaps I was in withdrawal after eating rabbit, Chinese cabbage and boiled rice in the Beijing Hotel for a month, except in banquets. There were no taxis, only busses. No cars, except official. Bicycles crawled everywhere like ants. Shopping for foreigners was restricted to the well-stocked Friendship Store. There was no black tea, coffee, sugar, milk or bread. When I found some and asked them to boil the milk for my tea the girls giggled. “Why would a grown man want an infant’s food?” they wondered. Everyone from Deng Xiao Ping down wore Mao suits, you couldn’t tell the difference between a man and a woman except from up close, they smoked like chimneys, their teeth were yellow because they didn’t know toothbrush and toothpaste, they had no contact with the outside world. In short, they lacked everything that most backward countries take for granted. In 1981 I also went to Dar as Salam under Julius Nyerere. The water from the taps of Hotel Kilimanjaro was brown because Lake Tanganyika’s filtration plant had broken down. They would sell things for one cigarette. We shaved with soda or beer whichever was available. There was no food to buy, just some sorry-looking dried fruit. Look at China now: advanced and advancing. Tanzania is still there more or less. We have regressed.

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If China could do it so can we. Sharif should study what they have that we don’t. The Chinese have a strong, coherent and dynamic ideology unlike the Soviet that became static. Mao’s two revolutions did a cleansing job for 30 years, albeit at great human cost. Deng Xiao Ping’s 1979 revolution tweaked the ideology to retain the best of socialism coupled with the best of efficient capitalism but under strict regulation, gradually, gradually, learning as they went along. The Chinese system produces highly educated leaders over years that start from the factory floor and field. They first enter local and provincial governments so when they reach national government they are imbued with experience at every level and knowledge about their country and people learned from that experience. Those that go astray are cast aside. Jiang Zemin worked in our Heavy Mechanical Complex in Taxila. In comparison, Sharif did not even work in his own factories. Zardari doesn’t know how to do business the proper way.

God says that people get the leaders they deserve. We deserve our leaders so don’t perennially bellyache. They are our punishment. Even if rigging hadn’t taken place, the result would have been much the same. God says that sometimes He does something that we don’t like but will later realize that it was for our good. The flip side is that God will sometimes do something that we love but if we cannot digest it we will later realize that it was for our destruction. While celebrating his hat trick, Mr. Sharif should keep this in focus. The look on his face says that he does, but actions speak louder than looks and words. We will see. He would have rejoiced when he became prime minister two times before. But his impetuosity needlessly destroyed those terms. He would have lamented when he went to Saudi Arabia. But that stint in self-exile brought him back to power. Now he has another chance, perhaps the last. God has given him a five-year rope. He can either hang himself like Zardari or start swinging like Tarzan. It’s up to him. God be with him – and us.