The change continues!

The change continues!

What change?

By Humayun Gauhar

Will ‘change’ bring change for the better or will it just be change of faces? That is the question. Change for change’s sake is pointless. Change of government is not the issue. What we need is fundamental systemic change if we are to be saved.

Some people are feeling the winds of change; citing the government’s poor performance, change of guard in the army and the judiciary and rumours of Dr. Tahir ul Qadri and Imran Khan gearing up for action. What an unlikely duo. Both gentlemen are alpha males. Two alpha males cannot lead a pack. There is a fight to the death. Throw Altaf Hussain’s MQM into the pack and it becomes fraught with disequilibrium. They will have to work out how to divide the spoils between them beforehand. They have to devise their post-power agenda first and cast it in reality. The army will have to be on board and whether young Imran likes it or not, so will America, else he will be leading a wobbly bankrupt government. Its easer to stop NATO supplies than running a country whose geo-strategic location is a curse.

[box] In putting Musharraf on trial for treason, Nawaz Sharif has, as usual, not left himself any avenue of escape. The government is not being clever. It is nervous, its apologists would say because of past experiences. Sure, but they brought those past experiences on themselves by punching above their weight. If only they are at least seen to be delivering on promises and taking the people out of their misery, not misleading them with forked tongues and tall claims, they would be in no danger.[/box]

Change means not change of government but of system, of change in people’s lives for the better. It means honest and competent rulers with a doable national plan to save Pakistan. Else there’s no point. It’s nucleus has to be making the constitution workable by removing its hypocrisy, lacunae and contradictions, reorientation of Pakistan’s administrative and provincial structure, a political system that delivers good governments, an equitable economic system, justice up the line, enforcement of fundamental human rights, especially the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and the state’s duty to provide people affordable nutrition, shelter, clothing, healthcare and education, to earn a respectable living, to protect an individual’s and family’s dignity and provide security… Real change means an equitable new status quo towards a truly Revolutionary Islamic Welfare State as envisaged by Mr. Jinnah in his August 11, 1947 speech. Else all that untimely and forced change will do is once again derail and delay our evolutionary process of learning from our own mistakes.

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People’s growing desperation is palpable. The air is fraught, pregnant with rumours and rumours of rumours. If it is because of change in the army and judicial commands, don’t forget that these gentlemen come not from Mars but from the same ruling class and are sworn to protect the status quo unless it comes to saving the country: then the army will act and the Supreme Court will legitimize it again to save the status quo. They will make some cosmetic changes that will be torn to shreds by the old pack of political wolves when it returns. The objective should be to chase away this pack and change the system.

There could certainly be a movement but have earlier movements led to anything better? Either the army returns and does well for a while or the politicians return and do badly immediately. Once sacked judges returned and spread confusion by not working in tandem but at loggerheads with the other two branches of government.

Imran Khan’s party has had a patchy stint in provincial government. I would be happy if Imran were to become prime minister and translate even half his rhetoric into action. If it were not for his blocking the NATO supplies he wouldn’t have regained his lost support. But given some of the people he has collected around him at the top does not bode well, jaded renegades from other parties who turn coats in the blink of an eye.

On the other hand Dr. Tahir ul Qadri has never held office, so we have no track record to go on. Whatever he predicted came true, which goes in his favour, though many of us were also predicting much the same. In a mullah-ridden society he is a religious scholar who doesn’t call himself ‘mullah’. However, he must learn the endgame and not enter into deals at the moment of victory. He must learn to kick the ball into the goal after successfully getting it into ‘D’ Square. If he does get another chance he must make the most of it. He should become an agent of change of system, not of government only. That’s hard.

It’s easier said than done. Overthrowing a government is one thing. Overthrowing the status quo is quite another. New faces cannot start doing their homework after getting power, as military governments always do, looking hither and yon for people and policies and falling for what the last person said to them in the escalator. They must do their homework now, make their teams and hit the ground running if ever they do. The political forces arrayed against them are awesome and have returned from the dead many a time because of their money, reach, deep ingress into all state institutions and support of outside powers.

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If elections are forced this summer and the Qadri-Imran crowd comes in, who will be what? Alpha males have Himalayan egos. If they don’t have a two-thirds majority in parliament and control of provincial governments, particularly the Punjab, they will find it well nigh impossible to bring any meaningful change. Then their changes will only be cosmetic and all we would have achieved is change of faces. Big deal.

Without real change one would rather wish this parliament to complete its term and the people’s learning process not to be aborted. Learning from suffering is the best way to ensure that mistakes are not repeated. Let this system continue towards its natural evolution or self-abolition. Don’t abort it, for in so doing you only give it artificial life and prolong our misery. There is not point in overthrowing the status quo unless you are absolutely clear what you want to replace it with and how to get it accepted by the masses. If the people take to it the international community will follow. If not, you create another bridge for hegemony.

The problems any new government will be confronted with are the same the present government is confronted with and more. Apart from terrorism, for which neither Nawaz Sharif nor Imran Khan seems to have a credible solution except surrender, there is the dire situation of the economy with its concomitant degradation in the people’s lives. There are no immediate measures to provide long-term solutions that will take us out of the vice of indebtedness and fiscal deficits – spending less than we earn while increasing our earnings to increase our spending with fiscal surpluses, not loans. You do that by increasing the GDP. GDP won’t increase without investment in the right sectors. Investment won’t happen as long as Pakistan is rived with terrorism, gang wars and Mafiosi, the biggest of which is government itself. An illiterate population laced with dysfunctional educated that does not make for either good manpower or good management does not make for attracting investment either. Education, education and more education is the key. Education is nowhere in our set of priorities whereas it should be at the top. We don’t have enough qualified teachers at any level to provide good teachers. All we have are bad literate-illiterates who cannot get a job elsewhere, don’t have any language well, not even their mother tongues or the national language, forget the other official language, English. It’s a deadly Catch-22. They will need to think out of the box to create a properly educated populace if Pakistan is to rise.

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Education would solve many problems. It would decrease population growth and gradually decrease the rate of increase in demand for food and services. We could be a net food exporting country with a healthier and more educated populace. An educated people go a long way in attracting investment. More investment means more jobs and fewer hopeless desperadoes joining the ranks of terrorists and criminal gangs as cannon fodder. While education will always remain the most powerful weapon, fiscal surpluses would give us our own money to invest in defence, surrounded by turmoil and imbalance in the region as we are. I can go on but why labour the point? I’m sure all of you get my drift.

In putting Musharraf on trial for treason, Nawaz Sharif has, as usual, not left himself any avenue of escape. The government is not being clever. It is nervous, its apologists would say because of past experiences. Sure, but they brought those past experiences on themselves by punching above their weight. If only they are at least seen to be delivering on promises and taking the people out of their misery, not misleading them with forked tongues and tall claims, they would be in no danger. Take the people along, convince them about the problems you face, show them a credible roadmap and they will follow to improve their sorry lot. Stop being indecisive, stop berating the army, stop corruption and nepotism, end the vulgar pomp and ceremony around you, your family and cronies. To rule long is to rule well. It’s not that difficult. Don’t create problems where none exist as if those you have inherited are not enough. Are you dying for more challenges?

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