The “Long March” is at an end. A banner in the The Dawn proclaims “Mission Accomplished“, in Bush 43-esque vein. The International Herald Tribune announces a victory to “Justice”. “It’s a people’s victory”, The Nation declares. People blogged about it on the internet. Protesters tweeted live as they marched towards Islamabad. Others like Tahira Abdullah wept on national television, imploring the (former) Minister for Information to “Save Pakistan”. On the other side of the Wagah, journalists were at their ignorant, amateur best. The Hindustan Times called the PML-N leader “Sure shot Sharif”. Barkah Dutt exalted him as the “Sher-e-Punjab”.
Thankfully, not everyone drank the Rooh Afzah.
This was no battle for democracy. This was a protest launched by a shrewd politician who saw an opportunity to capitalize on the misdeeds of a bumbling President. Nawaz Sharif doesn’t care about democracy any more than did Stalin. Those who took to the streets and endured police assaults only succeeded in supplanting one set of cronies with another. This should become painfully obvious to the delirious intelligentsia fairly soon. The issue isn’t whether Sharif can do a better job than Zardari. Or if Iftikar Chaudhry can bring back the rule of law in Pakistan. There is something rotten in the State. Politicians in Pakistan have proven that they are incapable of governance. Or maybe they just don’t care. The sense of elation from yesterday’s “victory” is similar to popular sentiments that prevailed when Benazir returned to Pakistan in 2007, and when Musharraf was given his marching orders last year. However, so monumental was the task of rebuilding the country, and so incompetent were its politicians, that the jubilation quickly turned into despair. This time will be no different.
Political inertia is already crippling Pakistan socially and economically. Inflation is close to 20%. Throw in a projected GDP growth of 3% and the math doesn’t add up. The issue that should be patently obvious is that at this precarious point in Pakistan’s history, the quarrel shouldn’t be about which Chief Justice serves party interests better or how to settle personal vendettas by launching impromptu uprisings that cripple the state. Instead, Pakistani politicians should be working to reconstruct the parameters of engagement within the nation in a manner that will allow them to effectively govern, if and when elected. In addition to common maladies such as poverty, illiteracy and unemployment that plague the subcontinent, Pakistan has to contend with two serious challenges to the writ of State — Talibanization of the frontier provinces and the scourge of terrorism in the heartland. Nawaz Sharif has already proven, on two separate occasions, that he is incapable of governing the country. Zardari and Gilani have done little over the past few months to prove that they are any better. Unless citizens are able to hold politicians’ feet to the fire and make them accountable for the larger issues of the state, this farce will continue.
Barely a day the “Long March” concluded, a suicide bomber attacked a crowded bus stand in Rawalpindi, killing 15 and injuring several more. Unless the gravity of the situation in Pakistan is comprehended by politicians and citizens alike, very little will change.