Reality Check

By Shafqat Mahmood

Friday, May 15, 2009

It is in tough times that a nation’s mettle is tested and we have not faced such challenges since 1971. Besides the rigours of war that our brave soldiers are fighting with grit and determination, we face a huge humanitarian crisis.

The government may be lagging behind in its relief effort but the ordinary people are coming through. From impromptu relief camps to truckloads of supplies from citizen groups, and an overwhelming urge to give cash, there is a visible anguish for the displaced people of Malakand.

Unfortunately, the state machinery is not moving as quickly. An announcement on behalf of the prime minister that all banks would receive donations has not been followed through. Until Thursday morning, even some of the more prominent Pakistani banks had not received instructions to open PM’s relief account.

Incidentally, is it too much to ask that there be some coordination of the appeals for donations made by various government entities? If advertisements in the papers are any guide, at least four separate calls have been made and there may be as many as six.
There is the Prime Minister’s fund and of the NWFP government. In Punjab, the governor and the chief minister have made separate appeals. (Why?). I am not aware of it but Sindh and Baluchistan governments may have also done something similar.

Is it impossible to have just one fund? If there were, it would be easier for people to give and for the banks to manage. But, then this would be asking our leadership to display some hidden executive talent. Let us face it; these people are good politicians but management is not one of their virtues.

On the battle field, our armed forces seem to be doing well. I am no military expert but they appear to be going about their task unhurriedly and with great care. Fighting insurgencies is not easy as it is not the conventional warfare armies are trained for. But, whatever evidence we have, of this and the earlier Bajaur operation, our armed forces are adapting and beginning to win.

On the political front, it is sad that even when we are in a virtual state of war, there are discordant voices. Some PML-N members continue to make speeches against the operation and against the army in the National Assembly. This is unhelpful considering that the both Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif have taken an unequivocal stand against the terrorists. Maybe these members should check with their leadership before holding forth.

However, no one has been more disappointing in this regard than Imran Khan. I have great respect for what he has achieved on the cricket field. He was an inspirational captain, a great player and his integrity was beyond doubt. His disdain for money in particular was something to admire in an era of match fixing and other shenanigans.
In social work, what he has accomplished in the shape of Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital is truly stupendous. Not only is it the best-run hospital in Pakistan, it provides free medical treatment to thousands of poor patients. What is more, the lack of any VIP culture in hospital management is a personal tribute to the vision and leadership of Imran Khan.

When it comes to politics and policy though, the same Imran is unfortunately a signal failure. It can be truly said of him that he never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. He could have teamed up with Nawaz Sharif in 1997 and got his party a presence in parliament. He did not.
He flip-flopped with Musharraf — supporting him in the rigged referendum, opposing him in the ensuing general election — and got the worst of both worlds. And, he boycotted the 2007 election when being in parliament (provided he won) would have made a great deal more sense.

These examples are of power politics and it may be argued that parliamentary success or power are no measure of a person’s success as a politician. Fine, let us look at his policy prescriptions.

From the start of his political career, he railed against something called western culture, which was a straight forward rejection of modernisation. In a country that was being pulled back by obscurantist mullahs, this was a strange choosing of sides. I will not even go into the personal choices he made while doing this.

His second fixation was the idealisation of a Pakhtun tribal culture. Again, I will avoid psychoanalysing a Punjabi’s identity crisis, but how a semi-literate and simple rural people could become a role model for a rapidly urbanising and complex Pakistani society was not easy to understand.

Granted that their inter-tribal dealings were egalitarian and perhaps the tribal councils or jirgas worked well, but how this model could be transplanted in other parts of the country, was neither explained by Imran nor obvious.

In between, he took some correct positions on the judiciary question and against Musharraf but badly fumbled while trying to prosecute Altaf Hussain in England. A politician should know which battles can be won and which are a lost cause. Imran vowed to go after Altaf Hussain in England and declared victory even before he had presented his case before the British government. As was expected, nothing has happened despite his various entreaties to the high and mighty in that country.
But, all these mistakes pale in comparison when measured up against his obsessive, single track refusal to understand that these barbarian hordes targeting FATA and Malakand division are a threat to our country. He has just one mantra that this is America’s fault, America’s fault, America… etc. America has contributed to it but is that the only problem we confront?

He cannot or does not want to understand that these people are linked up with Al Qaeda and actually do have an agenda of taking over our country. If he does not want to believe a ‘westernised liberal’ like me, he should read Saleem Saafi in Jang or others that know these people well.
In any case, how can he condone what these people are doing? Cutting people’s throats, lashing women, destroying all schools not just girls’, indulging in kidnapping and extortion and unleashing a reign of terror to subdue the people, are just some of their crimes. Above all, these people have taken up arms against the state. Why can’t he see all this?

He should listen to the stories of the displaced people now that they are out of the Taliban fear zone. They describe the Taliban as bloody thirsty criminals. It is sad that Imran visualises them as some kind of higher beings or fighters of Islam responding to American presence in Afghanistan. Please!
In this difficult time for the country, he is on the wrong side of history. No one doubts that American presence in Afghanistan has seriously contributed to our troubles. There is also a possibility that the Americans may have an evil eye on our nuclear programme.

But, we must also remember that barbarian hordes linked to Al Qaeda also have designs on our country and threaten our way of life. We have no choice but to fight them.
Imran must stand by his people and the armed forces. He should rise above his prejudices and help in the fight for Pakistan.

Email: shafqatmd@gmail.com

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