Opinion Maker Special

By Humayun Gauhar

One afternoon while sitting on the lawns of a friend’s house near the Himalayan foothills of Islamabad, there was a rustling in the trees and down jumped a most impressive monkey – big, young, beautifully groomed and powerful. Scornful of our presence he made straight for the kitchen. He didn’t even look towards us. “Today it is this beautiful monkey,” I said. “Tomorrow it will be the people.” That day is nearly upon us.

Want to see the mirror, my friends – “Mirror, mirror on the wall” and all that jazz? I fear that the mirror will tell us: “You are so pathetic that an odious Pakistani-American loudmouth of a showoff with a comically fake accent could stand your country upon its head with a single article. In which Special Export Zone do you make such characters? Go drown yourself.”

Rulers come and rulers go. What is important is that the country goes on. The idea behind the graveyards of the world being full of indispensible people is that no matter how ‘great’ anyone might be, life goes on. Sudden illness takes the president to Dubai. Gossip junkies break into frenzy. Speculation explodes. Chattering goes into overdrive. Media fuel the fever. Theorizing hits the stratosphere. Every Mr. Know-All, every American mouthpiece, every establishment parrot has some information, some theory. No one really knows. How could they when officialdom itself is singing different songs? What is the excitement about, anyway? It is not that those waiting in the wings can navigate us out of our dire straits. No product of this decrepit system can.

Speculation is rife. How ill is Zardari? Has he escaped? Has he gone to reset his deal with America? Will he return? Will he be ‘allowed’ to? Why is his son here? Is this a ‘soft’ coup? Will there be a ‘hard’ coup? Was it a heart attack? Was it brain hemorrhage? The most credible information is that it was a “seizure”, a sort of mental or nervous breakdown, some say a mental bi-polarity, brought on by inordinate pressures from Abbotabad, the ‘Memo-trap’, the attacks on the Mohmand check posts, the NRO… Such mental pressures could trigger a heart incident and or a small brain hemorrhage. Add embolism to that, pulmonary or elsewhere.

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A ‘nervous breakdown’ builds up over days, which explains Zardari’s “incoherent” conversation with Obama, who wanted to speak about Mohmand while he rambled on about the memo. It is said that he also spoke to the army chief in this condition. Stupid of his handlers, exposing him to the two men who matter most and would also worry most about whether he can still discharge his duties. Or did his handlers deliberately allow him to expose himself?

Will he resign? Or will he return for a time and then resign? He is a fighter, remember, and will not step out of the rat race unless he absolutely has to. His detractors can use the constitution against him; those medical reports from US doctors to a Swiss court that his memory is compromised, even if they were an excuse at the time, don’t help. Neither will the reports of the Dubai doctors. Remember, someone with a nervous breakdown type ailment can start sounding coherent after a few days only, but the problem remains and usually returns.

Will there be elections? Will we have an even more fractured parliament and an even more unlikely coalition of more cats and dogs with their tails tied together by the ‘establishment’? Or will there be a technocrat’s government of butchers, barbers and the baker man, for they are all ‘skilled’, which is precisely what ‘technocrat’ means – ‘skilled people’, technicians. Today’s economists and bankers are bogus technocrats, skilled illusionists who thrash around in a sea of assumptions, lucky if some turn out right. You just have to see the condition of America and Europe to believe me. Who has been incubated to head the technocrat government? Those that claim they can bring the economy back to life have all been tried, tested and found wanting.

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Regardless, this doesn’t deter people from overrating themselves and seeking a place in the old-new sun yet again. These ‘Smart Alecks’ with simplistic solutions have started preening their wigs and brushing their dyed hair transplants for the many slots that will become available. Bespoke tailors are busy – real technocrats again. The bogus technocrats only need to ingratiate themselves with important generals and the US and, hey presto, the Pakistani flag will soon be flying proudly on their bulletproof cars in comical motorcades, sirens wailing, strobe lights gone mad, police in hysterics, announcing to all: “Yes, I am a prime candidate for killing or kidnapping.” These people unfailingly wail for democracy when there is dictatorship and hanker after dictatorship when there is democracy. Since they are all from the same ruling class in different garb, what ‘change’ are we talking about? When O’ how will we be rid of them? One way is to let the process continue. Such people cannot be destroyed; they destroy themselves, if only we would let them.

We are like a yoyo, swinging between what passes for democracy and what passes for dictatorship. Ironically, neither is quite what it claims to be: every democratic government tries to become dictatorial and every dictatorship tries to become democratic. In the end, each ends up doing more for the other – our democracies foster dictatorships and our dictatorships foster democracies. Shows that we understand neither. It is just not in us to go for the obvious: have the patience to let the political process take its course and either correct or destroy itself and the people to learn. Hardly four years have passed since yet another return of democracy and everyone wants the president, parliaments and governments out, with out-of-the-sun politicians leading the fray.

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Being a federation, I don’t have faith in this unitary British parliamentary system anyway, but it has to die its own death. Try killing it and you actually give it a longer lifespan –interventions are its best tonic. Of course letting the process continue might still not stop the ‘wretched of the earth’ from running out of patience and exploding into anarchy. Then it could go the other way. But that would be natural too and perhaps for the best.

What people call ‘collapse’ will be a collapse of our iniquitous status quo and the degenerate political system that it has spawned, which have given us nothing but tears and heartbreak. Its collapse is a necessary precondition for a new status quo to arise, like the mythical Phoenix from the ashes. There is no guarantee that it will be better – a Phoenix is a firebird that burns and chars. Better this happens than dying atom-by-atom, cell-by-cell. No point in worrying that the present status quo will be replaced by one worse. Worse for whom, one might ask? A better status quo will be worse for the rapacious ruling elite, not for our multitudes of poor and naked getting hungrier. It could break our iniquity and perhaps make a nation of us, a nation that can hopefully forge a more equitable dispensation no matter what I, you or countless others have to pay for it?

Meantime, considering that we are going only one way – downwards – make the beautiful monkey head of the next caretaker government. He would be better than any ‘naked ape’ undertaker. He knows exactly what he wants: he is efficient, purposeful, powerful, brimming with pride and self-esteem. A ‘technocrat’ made to order.