S Khalid Husain
The originator of the phrase “between a rock and a hard place” would regret if he were alive that he did not keep the setting in Pakistan in mind, to save his phrase from becoming a mockery. The phrase implies someone’s being at a stalemate, in a bind, or in a quandary, such as one in which the rulers have kept the country for the past over three years.
No halfway competent government would make a habit of sticking the country between a rock and hard place on any issue, and almost never on every issue. The country under the present PPP government has been immovable on almost all issues. What the PPP government has shown in the process is that being stuck like this is not a big deal for it, especially in terms of things like the army’s “strategic depth.” Then being stuck can be useful, even if for a time. Time at the tiller is what the present rulers seek most, for more moneymaking.
The very first issue on which the PPP government got the country stuck was the murder of the ruling party’s chairperson, Benazir Bhutto. Instead of moving with speed to unravel the mystery behind the murder and expose the culprits, the PPP government chose to take a route which was guaranteed to lead to nowhere. And that seems exactly where it wanted to go, when the government asked the UN to investigate the murder.
However, the president caused the issue to become stuck still further by expressing reservations on the UN report, terming it “incomplete” and as “leaving many things out,” even as slogans of “Bibi hum sharminda hain tere qatil zinda hain” (“Bibi, we are ashamed your murderers are alive”) drowned the president’s address at her mausoleum on the third anniversary of the murder. The murder remains stuck between the PPP followers’ clamour for the solution of the crime and the ugliness its solution is likely to uncover.
The invalidation of Musharraf’s PPP-specific National Reconciliation Ordnance (NRO) by the Supreme Court is stuck between what is lawful, but could be hurtful for almost the entire top echelon of the PPP and more than eight thousand others, and what is defiance of court order and, therefore, unlawful, but could be “beneficial” to this group. The Supreme Court is biding its time as the PPP government, led by its minister of law, uses every trick in the book to undermine the court order, even if the entire legal fraternity has to be corrupted for the purpose.
Corruption is one of the few things which are not stuck. In fact, it is the only thing the present rulers have managed to get really, really unstuck. Corruption is now a habit, an addiction, an obsession, and the country an El Dorado for the corrupt of the land. There are no exceptions, not even the Hajis, who were merrily robbed in broad daylight by the ministry of religious affairs, no less, with no bearded conscience being pricked. The Hajis’ welfare has been entrusted to the ministry of foreign affairs from next year. Too late. The surfacing of visa letters and visa issuance scams are corroboration that the corruption epidemic has spread to the Foreign Office, and to our embassies abroad.
The PPP government, far from leading the country towards good governance, has instead caused it to be stuck between the ruling party and extremist religious parties, which in the past have consistently been rejected at the polls. There was the strong hope that the PPP, the MQM and the ANP would be a barricade against extremism. But along came Mumtaz Qadri to murder Salmaan Taseer in cold blood.
The barricade that was to be collapsed like a house of cards. Interior Minister Rehman Malik, the man who received a presidential pardon for his conviction by the country’s highest court, pronounced words that seemed to say he would do exactly what Mumtaz Qadri did if he came across a “blasphemer.” Not wait for his trial by a court of law but gun him down. The National Assembly’s and Senate’s refusal to offer fateha for Taseer’s soul amounted to endorsement of Qadri’s act by the two bodies. That the MQM also joined in the refusal was unfortunate.
If the government finds itself stuck between the religious parties and Americans on the drones, and on the issues of Aasia Bibi and Raymond Davis, it is the result of the incompetent, corrupt and characterless leadership, and a result of its wheeling and dealings. None of these has been remotely in the country’s interest, but strictly of personal benefit for the coterie of leaders. By its incompetence and poor governance, the PPP government has played into the hands of extremist parties by continually providing grist for their street politics.
Inflation and rising prices are caught between world trends and the business interests of those who occupy positions of power or have a nuisance value. If diesel prices break all barriers, there are personal interests involved, including the interests of some individuals belonging to the bearded variety. So also with sugar, flour, bus fares and all the rest. The process of education is caught between promotion of education and protection of fake-degree holders through weakening institutions responsible for higher education.
There is not an issue on which the country is not stuck between a rock and a hard place. The rock often is presidential ego, which prevents recognition and correction of mistakes. PIA and the Pakistan Cricket Board are two glaring examples of ego scoring over institutional well-being. The presidential nominees who are heading the two hapless organisations have made it a habit to create one crisis after another.
In their demeanour and their management and work style, such as ignoring the duly constituted board of directors, or giving short shrift to management and decision making processes, the worthies emulate their mentor’s approach, with similar disastrous results.