Feb 23, 2009

2008-2009 The lost year

Dedicated and creative spin doctors would be hard-pressed to put a positive gloss on our first year of post-dictatorship government. The spirit of cooperation that was evident in the days after the momentous election of February 2008, the sense of a new direction being taken, the hope that we might have started on a new and more positive path – all have gradually dissipated. One year on, Pakistan has little to wave the flag about when it comes to governance, and the time is fast running out when the present dispensation is able to lay the blame for whatever our problems might be at the doors of the previous dispensation – at some point it becomes their responsibility. Perhaps it was naive to expect that things would change, after all the characters on stage were much the same as in previous failed productions that had received poor reviews - and been closed by an exasperated military. Thus far, military patience with the civilian government is holding firm, but a repetitive tendency in our short history tells us that that might not continue.March 9 sees lawyers on the road again, two years after the actions that eventually led to the ouster of the Musharraf government. The restoration of the sacked judges was a pillar of the electoral campaigns of the principal parties, whose recent past is now paved with broken promises. At his inauguration, Prime Minister Gilani promised that the judges sacked by Musharraf would be restored. Is there any sign of this happening? There is not. At his inauguration President Zardari said that he would remove Article 58 (2) (b) – he hasn’t and shows no sign of doing so. Security for everybody has nosedived. Large parts of our nation are now ruled by the Taliban, other large parts of it come under their influence and from their public utterances we understand that they intend to bring the whole country under their banner. A year ago this would have seemed to be preposterous nonsense – today it is a possibility. Are we so powerless as to be unable to shut down a makeshift radio transmitter? Are we so powerless as to be unable to prevent the wholesale destruction of the education infrastructure of the Swat valley? Do our leaders truly believe that the deal with acknowledged terrorists to bring an end to the slaughter in NWFP and FATA is anything other than cosmetic? The writ of the state is no longer in a fit state to run, and will need more than a sticking-plaster to repair it.Poverty has increased almost at the same rate as the power in our plug-sockets has decreased. Inflation has eaten a hole in the pockets of everybody, rich and poor alike. The political parties tear at one-another’s entrails in Punjab. Crimes of violence trend ever upwards. Violence against women has been elevated almost to the status of a national pastime. Our national pastime of a more palatable nature – cricket – has slipped further and further into an abyss of its own making, and we might as well have sent performing seals to the Olympics in Beijing. American-controlled airbases on our soil are home to the drones that bomb (us) at will. The polio virus pays us regular visits. As we struggle to identify a positive development we note that our parliament has a woman speaker for the first time. Our telecommunications industry continues to boom – but with little indigenous manufacturing of handsets. There are the faintest of signs that the economy may have bottomed out – and the only way is up. We hope that it is, and that the second annual report on this government has more in the credit than the debit column.

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