Let in a little hope, please
DEPENDING on who you talk to in Islamabad, the future is either completely bleak or there are signs of hope on the horizon.
Being in the picturesque capital after a long absence, if one follows conventional wisdom strands, one gets an undeniable feeling how little things have changed.
The president may have already addressed parliament for a ‘record’ fifth time; he may also have proven wrong all those who said he’d never make his second speech. And the government may well be in its fifth and final year.
But there are those who are still vigorously taking bets that the prime minister will not be in office come the next month and also warn that the president may still run into trouble in what’s called the ‘Swiss letter’ issue.
Of course the ultimate red herring, a gift of someone described as a ‘Walter Mitty’-type character and the just-retired chief of the ISI, continues to resonate here.
Memogate largely targeted Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington. Nobody seriously expected a bigger casualty than the ambassador. Once he was gone, many sensible people would have argued that the case should be allowed to quietly fade away.
But that wasn’t to be.
Passengers passing through the Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto International Airport, however, would be grateful the alleged misdemeanour of Husain Haqqani on the one hand and the efforts of Mansoor Ijaz and Shuja Pasha on the other weren’t permitted to be forgotten quickly.
For it was after the latest memo commission hearing that Balochistan High Court Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa passed through the airport on his way to Quetta. He noticed banners, posters etc at the airport, which presented a messy sight, and ordered a clean-up.
The passengers must have been doubly grateful to PIA as the chief justice’s aircraft developed a technical fault and returned to the parking bay for repairs. This gave him an opportunity to demand and secure a ‘compliance certificate’ from the airport managers.
Even such positive developments failed to move those wedded to pessimism: one example being a friend who was so worried about the state of the economy that he complained that Dawn had incorrectly reported on a State Bank report in its Wednesday
It was one of those rare days when, thanks to unhelpful hotel staff, I hadn’t been able to get the paper of my choice so I couldn’t really understand what he was talking about. Never one to waste an evening arguing with friends anyway, I let the matter drop.
Later, I later managed to get a copy. The positive point, according to the friend, the paper had incorrectly led on was the State Bank’s forecast of the growth rate for the current financial year which was between three and five per cent.The report did also
call for fiscal discipline and referred to the yawning deficit and other dire economic indicators. But, frankly speaking, a three to five per cent growth rate in the current global climate would be the envy of most developed nations and a banner headline.
People of Spain and the UK where we recently were would probably treat their finance ministers like royalty if they ever managed to spur growth to anywhere near the figure forecast for Pakistan.
But then what’s happening around the world has often had little meaning, little relevance to many of us as we are far more adept at navel-gazing than looking at the wider canvas. Perhaps, we fear a broader perspective may better our understanding and undermine some of our biases.
It is easy to become a prophet of doom and gloom. Who wishes to focus on the positive? Yes, it’s easy for me to talk about things positive, you’d argue. Having moved abroad what do I know about the devastation caused by corruption and misgovernance?
Isn’t it also true we aren’t even 65 years old? If we look at, for example, European history it won’t be impossible to trace their evolution to their current developed state through some extraordinarily stormy waters. Pity, we have never used history even for solace.
Through the haze of doom and gloom, it would have been easy to miss a remarkable piece of information in this paper’s op-ed pages just yesterday: our middle class could now stand at 70 million, 40 per cent of the population. Surely a cause for some celebration.
That there is need for reform, and drastic ones, no one can argue against. If the gap between the rich and the middle class is too wide, the disparity between the haves and have-nots remains unconscionable. Economic mismanagement is another sad story.
The civil-military balance remains an issue with the civilian government losing face and credibility over its helplessness in reaching out to the estranged Baloch leaders as it is hamstrung by a military determined to put down a ‘threat to national security’ using the only means it knows.
However, the next election is approaching when a freely elected parliament will cease to be because its tenure ends and not because of an extra-constitutional intervention; the 20th Amendment is likely to lead to an election which isn’t disputed; with the passage of time the principle of civilian supremacy is also being slowly established.
Then, having spent an evening in the capital with an amazing bunch of young professionals some of whom, having attended the best educational institutions in the world, have returned to work here, one couldn’t help but be infected with their optimism.
This optimism appeared to be well-rooted in a sense of history and philosophical reflection, unlike the despondency being dispensed by some of my colleagues and stalwarts of the Fourth Estate, especially of the electronic variety. I’d vote for the younger lot anyway.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.