Kingship knows no kinship

Karl KrausBy Humayun Gauhar

Congratulations to Malala Yusufzai for winning the Nobel Peace Prize, only the second Pakistani to do so after the great physicist Dr. Abdus Salam.

In Karachi for the Eid holidays, someone said, “The PPP and PML-N have reached their sell-by dates. To get life back they need a dead body.” Ominous. The obvious targets should watch it, not just Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadir but also Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif and Asif and Bilawal Zardari. They should watch their fronts but backs too and keep an eye closer to home. Kingship knows no kinship.

I have more friends and family in Karachi than anywhere else, then in Lahore where I have more family than in Karachi and many friends too and London where I also have many friends and family, including one wife, two daughters, one son-in-law, two sisters and assorted nieces, their husbands and children.

To my mortification I found that that I had left my computer’s charger behind. No computer, no article. As always, my beautiful friend Atiqa Odho came to my rescue and let me have hers – “What, another beautiful girl in his life,” you would say, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles I’m afraid. “Some of us have got it and some ain’t got it,” as the great Viv Richards said about batting talent. I know why I’m behaving like a teenager because Karachi does that to me and dotage creeping ruthlessly on reinforces it. The “petty pace of time” and all that jazz. Some may have been relieved if this article hadn’t been written, but I know there are many more who will be happy, not least my London wife who visits me in Islamabad sometimes – she is due in a couple of weeks.

Going far from the powerhouse gives one a different perspective. Power is generated in Islamabad while Karachi is at the end of the transmission line. But Islamabad is not the only place to be because distance gives one a different perspective. While we living in Islamabad are in the thick of the wood and can only see the few trees around us, those living in Karachi can see the whole wood, which makes their perceptions refreshingly different – wood-watchers compared to tree-watchers. “Which country are they talking about?” I sometimes ask myself, but often they see something that we closer to the action do not. The lesson is that through life you hear a hundred stupid things, but the art is to find that one intelligent thing that you may not hear in the thick of the trees.

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Karachi’s conventional wisdom has it that Nawaz Sharif is done and our political system has to go with him if Pakistan is to survive – focus on the word ‘survive’, for it is used advisedly. Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan cannot coexist; the system and Pakistan cannot coexist. It’s either Nawaz or the country, either the system or Pakistan. “The choice is yours, Humayun,” an acquaintance grandly said to me. “If people do not get satisfaction out of the growing protests, there will be anarchy, every area will raise its own flag and that will be that”. There is much in what this lady said, a successful businesswoman older than me, highly educated who has seen a lot of the world.

Hearing her, I thought of Bilawal’s last speech: it seemed suspiciously like flashing the infamous ‘Sindh Card’. Poor boy, I feel sorry for him and the way the ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’ around him are programming him at the behest of his father, saying stupid things they want to say out of his mouth to test the waters first before saying it themselves. He is the same age as my son, a victim of his family’s history whose youth has been stolen from him after an abnormal childhood with father and mother in prison or self-exile, all for greed-driven power.

Wherever I go I don’t talk only to those in my circle but also to students, teachers, shoppers and shopkeepers, luggage handlers and flight attendants, passengers, cooks and waiters and police dotted here, there and everywhere at pickets throughout the land. No taxi drivers for me though, our elite’s sole contact with the hoi polloi.

By the way, flying reminds me, my flight back to Islamabad was on a rented Turkish aircraft because PIA is fast running out of serviceable flying birds – just 27 working out of 37 I am told and going down the drain fast. “Pinocchio, Pinocchio, wherefore art thou Pinocchio?” wail our Juliets. Someone (guess who?) is going to buy PIA for a song, someone else (guess who?) is going to make a killing and a beautiful story will come to an end. But bigger and more beautiful stories are coming to an end too and causing PIA to crash on the tarmac. What PIA has crashed into is our constitution of questionable legitimacy mutilated by failed lawyers with intellectual pretentions and its spawn, the alien and irrelevant charade that we call a political system which passes for ‘democracy’ that persistently throws up corrupt and inept governments, each worse than its predecessor. What is PIA when the State is crashing?

The State crashing reminds me of the institution whose justification for existence is to save the State from crashing. It is being said on credible authority that after the Senate elections next March Nawaz Sharif will be stronger in parliament and plans to bring legislation that will make the defence minister a player in the promotion of lieutenants general and corps commanders. End of army as an ‘enemy’ for Nawaz and enemy for India, for all promotions then will be made not on merit but on political considerations. Will the army take this lying down? Will we? Imagine, Khwaja Asif and his ilk selecting and promoting generals? The mind boggles, the stomach churns. This makes February 2015 or thereabouts the D-date. Nawaz Sharif’s second stint in power was cut short before impending Senate elections in March 2000 after which the controversial 15th Amendment or ‘Shariat Bill’ would have been passed by the Senate and become law. We were saved by the skin of our teeth from Nawaz Sharif becoming ‘Commander of the Faithful’ – ‘Commander of the Faithless’ more like.

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The beneficiaries of our decrepit man-eating system may be few but they are so powerful that they won’t be downed by long sit-ins, massive rallies and rousing speeches alone. A critical mass of public agitation will have to build, the kind we saw on the Karachi-Islamabad flight when irate passengers threw two ‘VIPs’ off the aircraft for causing delay. People have had it with this decadent VIP culture and fake VIPs. The killing of an innocent boy by former Prime Minister Yusuf Reza Gillani’s son’s guards was like throwing oil a tanker full of oil on a conflagration. Its akin to Marie Antoinette’s Dickensian statement, “Let them eat cake.”

Yet another suicidal stupidity by Nawaz Sharif, inevitable and overdue, will cause him to lose office for a third time, a record for which he should get a gold medal. First stint he took on a president armed with the power to dissolve the National Assembly and throw out a government and finally lost, despite the Supreme Court having reinstated him, because he got the back of the army chief up as well. Second time, even though the army chief had conveyed to him twice that “the army will not act but it will react”, he illegally and unconstitutionally sacked the army chief while he was on an overseas flight and in his stead appointed an engineer general who came from his Kashmiri clan. Now, unable to help himself, Nawaz Sharif has again taken many a ‘punga’ with the army – ‘punga’ being akin to – forgive my language –  ‘fingering’ for want of a better translation. The word ‘punga’ along with ‘dharna’ should also be included in the Oxford dictionary like I am told ‘Gullu’ as in hoodlum is being included. One punga too many and he will be history: giving the defence minister the authority to appoint corps commanders will be one punga too many.

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That’s not the end of it. Having inherited a badly faltering economy from Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif is now close to collapsing it. This is what happens when countries become poorer and poorer while rulers get richer and richer. So bad is it that without IMF handouts to finance our fiscal deficits the government will not even be able to pay its salaries. I am told on fairly credible authority that the IMF has finally discovered what we knew for a long time, that our finance minister is a big liar. The next IMF tranche is already delayed. The IMF programme could stop because it finally refuses to finance a corrupt and illegal government and not build up ‘Odious Debt’ that may be repudiated one day by a legal and honest government. Add the news that responding to Imran Khan’s call for civil disobedience overseas Pakistanis are holding back on remitting money to Pakistan and the annual remittance that bails out our trade gap perennially is reducing drastically. That’s a double whammy for the economy that Nawaz Sharif and his gang of geniuses will not be able to withstand. The writing is on the wall and “not all [their] tears will be able to rub out a line of it.”

India’s unprovoked firing across the Line of Control in Kashmir and our international boundary near Sialkot that has killed many civilians seems demented, for it could bring the two countries to the nuclear threshold. Sure they would distract our army from fighting terrorists so that Pakistan remains ‘Terrorism Central’ and India can exploit it to degrade us internationally and divert attention from its own state terrorism in Kashmir and elsewhere. We should have expected it after India elected the mass murderer Modi as prime minister. Sure it has to do with influence in Afghanistan post NATO. But there is a method to India’s madness. Its violations across the LOC and the international boundary have most to do with keeping the army’s hands full to prevent an intervention and save Nawaz Sharif. They love him for he bends over backwards for them. Idiotic Dr. Strangelove, this Modi. Having started the nuclear arms race in South Asia, India seems to want to test it real time. Idiots