No leadership, no policy, no national direction

… ?by Ayaz Amir

Cut out the rhetoric about Islam and what is left of our national story? What do we want to do with ourselves? In which direction do we want to go as a nation? What kind of republic do we want to build? There?s just no cohesive narrative, just a set of piecemeal, disconnected policies.

These disconnected policies are: 1) we must be a nuclear power because that?s essential for our survival; 2) we must be on our guard against India because India represents an existential threat; 3) we must borrow at all costs and keep borrowing all the time as external loans too are essential for our survival; and 4) we must have an external protector—first it was the United States, now it is China. Can anyone think of any other national aim?

Education is a not a Pakistani priority?never has been, which is why there is one system of education for the middle classes and the elites, another for the native masses and a third catering to seminary students.

Health is not a Pakistani priority, which is why we have posh facilities for those who can afford them and rundown government hospitals for most of the population.

We can?t lift our own garbage, which is the reason garbage collection has been outsourced, at considerable expense, to a Chinese company in Karachi and to Turkish companies in Lahore and Rawalpindi. The Chinese are building everything now and are extracting coal from Thar. Where we want to do something as in the nuclear field we can perform wonders but for far simpler tasks we either don?t have the capacity or the inclination.

Karachi?s garbage crisis is now getting to be serious as Beirut?s. Half of the city?s garbage consists of a single item: plastic shopping bags. Get rid of them and replace them with paper bags and half of the problem disappears. But who?s bothered? Who?ll give the lead? Who?ll educate the masses?

The army, air force and navy could have taken a start and banned the use of plastic bags in their cantonments and restricted areas. But no, the problem for them too does not exist.

Look at the army?s priorities. It has its hands full with the war against so-called jihadi elements but still it has time for setting up more and more defence housing authorities (DHAs). They have sprouted up in Quetta, Gujranwala, Multan and Bahalwalpur. No one should be fooled: DHAs are commercial enterprises, the army venturing into the irresistible realm of real estate. Since Gen Kayani?s time a few plots are set aside for shaheeds to give the impression that this is about the welfare of the families of shaheeds. This is a smokescreen. DHAs are pure commercialism.

Incidentally, in no other country of the world do we find a similar phenomenon. Army-sponsored housing societies backed by constitutional sanction—which is why they are authorities with their own statutory powers and not societies—are a distinction unique to Pakistan.

Real estate, the way it is being promoted and run, is now eating into the country?s vitals. There is no check on its spread and no effective laws governing the operation of this sector. This is distorting the face of Pakistan, involving as it does the loss of precious agricultural land on a huge scale. Islamabad is now a concrete jungle with no limits to its expansion. And this is not housing for the poor but for the middle classes and the elites. Look at the way Lahore is expanding, and for that matter every other town and city in the country.

No one seems to be investing in industry as all the money is going into real estate where the returns are very high. The real estate sector is booming, the cement industry—which when I am feeling bold I call the cement mafia—is making fat profits. And the shoddy car industry is booming, as more and more cars come on to our already overfilled roads. I am a layman and for the most part economically illiterate. But can any expert tell me which other sector of the economy is doing well?

Pakistan has a serious leadership problem?no question about this. When it comes to self-interest or doing well for themselves there?s nothing to beat our ruling classes. But their vigour and elan deserts them when it comes to looking beyond their persons. Pakistan wouldn?t be in such a mess if we had a slightly better, slightly more selfless, political and administrative class.

So what to make of the reports that Gen Raheel Sharif, arguably the most successful army chief in Pakistan?s history, is ready to take up a new assignment under the Saudi flag? He may say vociferously that heading the so-called Islamic force the Saudis are sponsoring does not amount to service under the Saudi flag. But no one is likely to be deceived by this assertion ? it amounts to that.

And for what? A fat Saudi paycheck? By launching a war against ?jihadi? extremism in North Waziristan and by ridding Karachi of the violence-soaked dictatorship of Altaf Hussain, Gen Raheel earned the respect and admiration of ordinary Pakistanis. Had he been moulded to a higher purpose he could have bided his time and waited for the right opportunity to enter the political arena. If he had done so I at least think he would have got a hero?s welcome. But unless I am being rash or premature in my assessment he?s thrown it all away by becoming ready to take up the poisoned chalice of this Saudi offer.

Imran Khan has been in the wilderness for so long but now everything, suddenly, seems to be conspiring in his favour. Raheel is out, no longer the figure that will be drawn on the back of Pakistani trucks. And the Sharifs are stricken by the nightmare called Panama. If the verdict is a clear one and it goes against them, God help them.

And look what the new army chief has done: he meets Imran for a meeting that can only have caused grave disquiet in the ranks of the PML-N. I have been an MNA and an MPA. If an SHO so much as meets one of our rivals, let alone in the dead of night, we are beside ourselves with concern and anger. What will the Sharifs be thinking? Here?s someone they anointed as army chief over the heads of two powerful contenders—Gens Nadeem and Ramday— and today he?s meeting their chief rival without so much as a nod to them.

Who knows what the verdict in the Panama case is going to be? But the signs are not good for the Sharifs. Will this turn out to be their summer of discontent?
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