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Twilight of Pakistan

As a young judge in the provincial judiciary, I presided over the Referendum held in Swabi on July 6, 1947, to decide the future of my home province. The result was a foregone conclusion. The province was in the grip of wild excitement. An atmosphere of mystic frenzy prevailed everywhere. Students and teachers, young and old, men and women, poured their idealistic zeal into the emotionalism of Pakistan. We perceived Pakistan as a bright dream, a passionate goal, the vision of paradise on earth.

74 years after its creation, a perfect storm has descended on Pakistan. It is comprised of national humiliation, economic disaster, political division and American tutelage. Tragedy aplenty: no drinking water, no electricity, no gas, no jobs, no cash, rampant corruption, and no hope. At this moment, the worst in her history, who would assume the burden of Pakistan?

This is the bleakest era in the history of Pakistan since 1971. Today Pakistan has a rotten socio-political system in an advanced stage of decay and decomposition; its rulers are corrupt, despotic, authoritarian, unresponsive to the prime needs of the people, accountable to none. The nation is breaking down. It has become ungovernable. At a time when leadership is desperately needed to cope with multiple crises and matters of vital importance, the country needs a leader who would put the country back on the right path. Unfortunately, today it is ruled by people who lack both integrity and credibility and seems oblivious to the realities of their awesome responsibilities.

Looted and plundered and ravaged again and again by corrupt rulers, Pakistan bounced back again and again and managed to survive. Surveying the past, Pakistan looks somewhat wistfully and longingly at the progress made by some other countries in our part of the world. It is not inconceivable that if Fate had been less malignant and our rulers less corrupt and greedy, today Pakistan might have been not only more secure and stable, but also more prosperous and more advanced in all that makes life worth living. Already some people are anxiously scanning the horizon waiting to see if the cavalry will come riding down the hill to save Pakistan.

Look where Pakistan risks going. The Supreme Court defied, all our institutions trampled upon, our international prestige debased and a bankrupt economy. All the pillars of State, with the exception of the Supreme Court are dysfunctional. The Parliament, the symbol of the unity of the Federation, is fake like a Potemkin village.

The country is trembling with anxiety. This is a moment of deep anguish for all Pakistanis. Mr. Jinnah’s unworthy successors have pushed us to despair. They have infused our life with corruption, terror, death, poverty and hyper inflation. The nation has lived so long in the embrace of death that violence has become more normal than tranquility. Like Dinosaurs, disaster and frustration roam the country’s political landscape. Talk today is of a vanished dignity, of a nation diminished in ways not previously imaginable. It is almost as if no one wants to acknowledge a sad end to what once seemed a beautiful dream.

We are in a period of moral lassitude which has brought the profession of politics into disrepute. Pakistan has turned cynical and has jettisoned the last vestiges of idealism on which the people had hoped the nation’s polity would be based. It is in deep, deep trouble, is going down the tube and nobody cares. One thing is clear. The ‘Wechselstimmung’ or the mood for change is unmistakable. Another wind, now approaching gale force, is blowing through the country. This Nation asks for radical change. And change now.

Nature abhors vacuum. So does politics. When Weimar Germany was buffeted by civil unrest and commotion, its tenuous democracy was discarded in favour of Nazism. If we are not vigilant, some such thing could happen in this country. When state institutions wither away, when respect for law and order declines, and a void is created, the devil of force, in the words of Percival Spear, leaps into its place as the only possible substitute. If the original breakdown of authority is caused by a ferment of ideas, a genuine revolution like the French may result. If it is simply due to decrepitude of authority, the solution is the substitution of fresh authority, but whether the substitution is external or internal depends upon prevailing circumstances.

Not long ago, there was a state called Yugoslavia in the heart of Europe. Today, with a lamp in your hands, you won’t find it anywhere on the map of Europe. Yugoslavia died after the death of Tito. Don’t take Pakistan for granted.

Is there any hope? Cometh the hour, cometh the man. “If the individual and the situation meet”, Willy Brandt told Oriana Fallaci, “then the machinery is set off by which history takes one direction instead of another”. In Pakistan, the situation and the individual met 72 hours ago with unpredictable consequences.

How have we played our part since independence? Our generation has nothing to be proud of. We are leaving behind a splintered, impoverished country, plagued by political, ethnic and sectarian divisions. Pakistan, born at midnight as a sovereign, independent, democratic country, is today neither sovereign, nor independent, nor even democratic. Today it is not just a “rentier state”, not just a client state, it is a slave state, ill-led, ill-governed by a corrupt, power-hungry junta and a puppet government. Pakistan has become one vast bedlam.

The present leadership is taking Pakistan to a perilous place. The course they are on leads downhill. It appears as if we are on a phantom train that is fast gathering momentum and we cannot get off. I am reminded of some lines from an unknown writer about a railway accident:

Who is in charge of the clattering train,

And the pace is hot, and the points are near,

And Sleep has deadened the driver’s ear,

And the signals flash through the night in vain,

For Death is in charge of the clattering train.

What will become of poor Pakistan? “What the end will be”, Carlyle wrote, “is known to no mortal; that the end is near all mortals may know”.