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Sitting on the Fence is no Option
In 1959, Professor Arnold J. Toynbee was invited by the Peshawar University to spend a month on the campus to deliver a series of lectures on a subject of his own choice. I was Deputy Commissioner, Peshawar. Once a week, thanks to my friend, Abu Kureshi, who was his guide and constant companion, Professor Toynbee would do me the honour of coming to my official residence on Fort road.

Professor Toynbee was a very simple, unpretentious and unassuming man. His company was a treat and his friendship an honor to enjoy. Meeting Toynbee was like meeting history. Having a conversation with him was a little like getting to volley with John McEnroe. Trying to keep up was hopeless, but it was exhilarating just to be on the court with him. Of Toynbee, Allan Nevins wrote, “Standing on his Everest, he is more than a historian; he is a great deal of a Prophet”. He would survey the past, produce a bird’s–eye–view of mankind’s history with a view to gaining greater insight into the present.

Pakistan was under martial law. Democracy had been derailed by power-hungry Generals. Talking about democracy, Toynbee said: Asians and Africans had constructed a syllogism which Aristotle would certainly have disallowed as being illogical. ‘The West European peoples live under democratic political regimes; the West European peoples are powerful; therefore democracy is a source of power; therefore we Asian and Africans must become democratic if we are to attain our objective of getting even with the West in competition for power and for the advantages that power brings with it’. This argument, Toynbee said, is obviously unsound. The truth perhaps is that democracy, so far from having been one of the sources of the Western peoples’ power, has been one of the luxuries that their power has enabled them to afford. The source of their power has been their marriage of technology with science, the opportunity for their democracy has been the margin of strength, wealth, and security which their power, derived from applied science has created for them. Unlike the belief that science has been a source of Western power, the belief that democracy has been a source of Western power is a fallacy. Democracy had been a Western amenity that Western power has brought within the West’s reach.

Election, Professor Toynbee said, is not the answer. The idea that you can just hold elections while everything remains colonial, feudal and medieval, means you won’t get democracy but some perversion of it. Elections are necessary but not sufficient. Elections alone do not make a democracy. Creating a democracy requires a free and independent country, an inviolable constitution, a sustained commitment of time and money to develop all the necessary elements: a transparent executive branch accountable to the parliament, a powerful and competent legislature answerable to the electorate, a strong neutral judiciary, and a free press. To assume that a popular vote will automatically bring about a democratic metamorphosis would be to condemn the country to a repeat of the cycle seen so often in Pakistan: a short-lived period of corrupt, civilian rule, a descent into chaos and then army intervention.

Perhaps no form of government, Toynbee said, needs great leaders so much as democracy. It is our misfortune that at a time when leadership is desperately needed to cope with matters of vital importance and put the country back on the democratic path, Pakistan is ruled by a corrupt, criminal syndicate. To no nation has fate been more malignant than to Pakistan. With few exceptions, Pakistan has long been saddled with poor, even malevolent, leadership: predatory kleptocrats, military dictators, political illiterates and carpet-baggers. No wonder, Pakistan is today no more than a poor, broken toy floating on an ocean of uncertainty.

The corrupt leadership ruling Pakistan has proved unable to govern a country rent by political, ethnic, economic, and social conflicts. Today Pakistan is a nightmare of despair and despondency, in doubt about its future. The rich are getting richer, while the poor, well, they are still dirt poor and are sinking deeper and deeper into a black hole of abject poverty. The country appears to be adrift, lacking confidence about its future. Disaster and frustration roam the political landscape. Look into the eyes of a Pakistani today and you will see a smouldering rage.

In Pakistan, nothing has so altered the fortunes of so many so suddenly as political power. Here money and power seek each other. No wonder, the business of politics attracts the scum of the community. These practitioners of the art of grand larceny loot and plunder in broad day light with no fear of accountability. The rich are evading taxes while the poor are searching the trash for food.

In these harsh and difficult political times, the question of leadership’s character is at the center of our national concerns. For a person, party or nation, the element essential to success is character. “Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident”, wrote Horace Greeley, “riches take wing, and only character endures”.

“In a President character is everything”, Peggy Noonan writes in her assessment of Ronald Reagan. “A President does not have to be brilliant. Harry Truman was not brilliant and he helped save Western Europe from Stalin. He does not have to be clever, you can hire clever… but you cannot rent a strong moral sense. You can’t acquire it in the Presidency. You carry it with you”. If a President, Toynbee said, has integrity, if he has credibility, if he is believable, nothing else matters. If he has no integrity, and no credibility: if there is a gap between what he says and what he does, nothing else matters and he cannot govern.

Today Pakistan stands in twilight, awaiting the seemingly inevitable descent of darkness. Is the dark long night about to end? And has the time come for us to leave the valley of despair and climb the mountain so that we can see the glory of another dawn? The darkest hour is just before the dawn and as generally happens in history, it is at the darkest hour that a bright star arises when you had almost given up hope. When a crisis comes, a kind of tidal wave sweeps the man of character to the forefront. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Today we have both. The hour has struck. And the man has appeared. The hour has found the man who has the will and the power to restore the Pakistan dream.

Today Imran incarnates all our hopes. He epitomizes the national struggle. He embodies the nation’s romantic dream of itself. Today he presents himself before the nation as a glowing beacon against the forces of darkness. It seems that, as in the case of Churchill in 1940, the last 15 years or so he spent in political wilderness had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial. A window of hope has opened for Pakistan. All the men of yesterday and all the men of day before yesterday who have ganged up against Imran are destined for the dustbin.

Today Imran is the only truly national figure in the bleak, fragmented Pakistani landscape. In this atmosphere of gloom and doom, destiny is beckoning him. Today he is the right man, at the right time and the right place to shake up this stagnant nation’s sclerotic statusquo and dislodge the corrupt leaders catapulted to the summit of power in tragic circumtances. It is our good fortune to have found the right leader whose character, integrity, credibility and ability fit the tide of history. He has courage, stamina, patriotism, idealism and habit of hard work that have become part of his being.

Now that election schedule has been announced, a sense of high intensity chaos prevails in the Capital. Pakistan is preparing for a showdown. It will be no ordinary election. It will be the defining moment for the destiny of the people and the country. The political parties will face an influx of young, angry, unpredictable voters. The stage is set for a collision between those who belong to the future and those who represent the forces of darkness and the dead past. In this Manichean struggle, you have to choose sides. Neutrality is immoral and is not an option.

We live in a profoundly precarious country. The country is in deep, deep trouble. Sitting on the fence is no option. Attentistes (those who wait or fence sitters) must make up their minds. The moment has come to join the battle for Pakistan. Now that young people, men and women, in particular, have come out in support of Imran, the winds of change have begun to blow. Things will change. The statusquo will shift, the corrupt regime will crumble. The long nightmare will be over. It will be morning once again in Pakistan. This is the last chance. The last battle.