Monday, August 03, 2015
From Print Edition
We all need a break. To live in blizzards of critique and pressure all the time can force even the strongest to come apart mentally. It is distracting, dispiriting, and destructive of optimism to be ridiculed day in a day out. Research has proven that long-term exposure to negativity can cause genetic changes. Capabilities are lost as an aftermath of destroyed self-belief, which is a precursor to sure-shot failures that in normal situations can be easily avoided.
Nations are not different from individuals. Collective pride and hope is the elixir that keeps them going even when the going isn’t good. That is why every country goes to extraordinary lengths to market its strengths and understate its weaknesses through means fair and foul.
Pakistan has been under the dark cloud of strange forecasts about the future for a very long time. Its challenges have been numerous and grim – so numerous and so grim that the gloom and doom industry has never been out of business. But every now and then it is good to remember and recall that for every dark cloud there may be a silver lining; that at the end of every tunnel there may be a light pointing to an exit to happier prospects.
Let us start with politics. For all its turmoil, disappointments and bitter feuds the country’s national political outlook looks far more promising than most countries in the same league as Pakistan in terms of economic development and democratic evolution. Two outstanding features stand out even as politicians continue to battle it out against each other. One is the constitutionality and legitimacy of political actions. While the dharna was a dangerous derring-do by a group within the PTI that could easily have flared into an upheaval leading to a breakdown of the entire constitutional order or political fragmentation down to the grassroots level, its resolution has been deliciously legal, genuinely democratic and – what’s more – well within the parameters of public interest and commonsense.
Political parties can take due credit for the sagacity they have exhibited by sticking to the conventional method of cracking problems – compromise, adjustment, reconciliation. They can congratulate themselves for surmounting the heap of hatred built in the last many months in a rather short period of time. True, there are deep grudges. True also there may be endless debate within parties for settling scores and getting even with those on the other side of the fence, but it is clear that this sentiment shall not define the character and mood of national politics in the days ahead. Everyone knows that the only way forward is coexistence. They all accept it.
Some may think this to be a small matter: they may say that after a bout of craziness, it is circumstances rather than wisdom that have dictated the PTI’s return to the assembly. They may also point out that the Muslim League government’s hands are tied. It is incumbency, they can say, rather than maturity that has forced upon them the only choice they have: accepting the arch rivals back into the fold of the system.
This is fair criticism but it needlessly belittles the real achievement: how a dangerous political situation was managed and defused and then turned into a solid opportunity for (electoral) reform. We can only appreciate the value of this development by throwing a gaze at how so many other countries in the recent past have been unable to survive political sword fighting and their future has been ruined by the toxicity of powerful politicians’ personal ambitions.
From the horn of Africa to the heart of the Middle East, country after country has collapsed with the breakdown of consensus on the scheme of political governance and, more crucially, on the rules of political business. Whether a nation is inflicted with the curse of terrorism or is in the grip of mad dictators and warlords, flip the pages of its recent history and you will find that the origins of its troubles really started with the rise of acidity levels in politics.
We have to bear in mind that the modern difference between failed, failing and hopeful states has less to do with their economic performance and more to do with the conduct and response of their political class to political challenges. Consensus-building is the keystone of nation-building. Without consensus countries come apart. States fall. National flags changes. We should know that. This is our history too.
Pakistan today happily stands in the league of those nations that have learnt to keep internal fights within the agreed framework. This is no small thing. Those who disagree and are fond of mindless citations from archaic revolutionary ideologies need to see the cost that broken nations are paying for non-inclusive politics all around us.
The second element of encouragement comes from increasingly steady and decisive focus on reforming the system and making it useful for the public. There is no escaping the fact that now being in power is not a privilege: the head that wears the crown of power needs to be tightly and rightly fixed and its carrier had better be ready to deliver services or be bashed relentlessly.
Now elections must not just be fair, these should be seen to be fair as well. Now clean drinking water, better education and health standards for all, accountability of the corrupt and acceptability of people’s voice in core policy issues is no longer a concession granted from the top. There is an absolute and across-the-board demand for urgent, effective and speedy reforms that is resonating throughout the country, amplified by a new social class that has any number of means available to express itself and be heard.
In other words, Pakistan’s national agenda is already crafted, and crafted well, by its people. You don’t need a guide or a guru to tell you what the country needs: it is out there, rolling off every tongue that wags in anger, desperation or hope. And this is an inflexible agenda in the sense that it cannot be changed or action on it postponed for any exotic thought or plan. No bargaining on this one.
That’s because the public knows what its wants are. It knows how these can be achieved. It is aware what stops its needs from being met and it is not going to wait for a messiah to descend from the horizon to help it overcome these hurdles. You don’t give them water or deny them electricity, they will burn portals of authority down. You overtax, they will shut the industry down. You demand taxes from them and don’t file your own returns they will name and shame you till you join the club. Police brutality will not remain unchallenged and rape victims will speak up. Terrorists (all shades) might still kill at will but they will never be allowed to hold the public hostage.
All this is revolutionary stuff, straight from the pages of grand theories of social and political change. But the best part is that this is bloodless, unstained by carnage and chaos, or displacement of millions and destruction and annihilation of opponents. It is native, peaceful, constitutional and is unfolding right before our eyes. It is beautiful.
It is slow, yes. It is troubled, of course. It is hobbled by vested interests and sometimes trumped by strong lobbies, we know. But no one can deny that it isn’t there.
Not long ago it was a country that was being categorised as a failed state, whose end was near and for whom requiems were readied. Today, the same country stands tall on the pedestal of democratic evolution and public empowerment. This is a big thing. Let us look at this side of national life to give ourselves a break and breathe easy.