Islamabad Insight: Why Not Reboot the System?

SHAHEEN SEHBAI — IN today’s technology-driven world, the first solution that is offered, if something stops working, is to reboot: the computer, laptop, the phone, tablet or the operating system.

Why not try it with our political, economic and power structure, while we have some little time and the working machine does not completely shut down and goes dead, unable to be recharged or resurrected.

Respected and not-so-respected analysts, economic and political, are saying almost the same thing in their writings and TV discourses.

One writer says: “One cannot agree more with Gen Bajwa’s words that there is a need for improving ties with our neighbors… It is the era of geo economics, and to have a dynamic foreign policy it is imperative we focus more on widening trade and economic relations with neighboring countries including India.

“The so-called Bajwa doctrine cannot provide an instant solution to the crisis. The economy is critical to national security but equally important is the continuation of the democratic process, however flawed. Economic progress is also linked to political stability,” he says in a leading newspaper.

And this analyst concedes: “True, the economy is in bad shape, and former finance minister Ishaq Dar, now implicated in graft charges, was largely responsible for financial mismanagement. The crisis has been brewing for a while, made worse by the deterioration of foreign exchange reserves. And yet, the situation is not irreversible.”

The man on Ground-Zero, General Secretary Exchange Companies Association Zafar Paracha, says foreign loans, the government’s unannounced commitments to
international bodies and corruption are responsible for the lower value of the rupee. Now Rs 116 to a dollar.

Paracha, speaking about corruption with respect to fluctuation in the dollar-rupee rate alleges that those with “advance knowledge” of the changing value were able to earn money off the adjusted rates, meaning even in this crisis people are making big bucks.

An known but compromised analyst, again writing in a leading daily, tries to camouflage the failures of the political government in words hardly any one can understand, let alone the ordinary illiterate voting folks. He says: “The civilian and military elites continue to monopolize power in rotation…Benefiting from the external hostility from both our eastern and western borders, they coalesced to promote a nationalism that served their privileges at the cost of sustainable and participatory development. The civil and military elites worked against both people and participatory democracy.”

All this verbosity is understandable as it comes from some people who speak independently and some who, according to General Qamar Bajwa, take “lifafas.”

The state of affairs has gone so bad the Prime Minister ignores everyone to meet US leaders, the finance minister-on-leave Ishaq Dar refuses to return and is an official absconder; the ousted PML-N leader is asking other institutions for a dialogue. A dialogue on what subject? To get him out of the legal mess and keep him away from jail? He is now a convicted person with no position and he is asking the judiciary and the army to talk to him because the TV cameras show his public meetings are big. Basically he is asking for another NRO.

But having said all the above, the fact is that Pakistan is failing as a State. The economy is tanking, and tanking fast; there is no government, which can even think of doing anything to stop the rotten termites that have already turned the foundations into a house of cards that can collapse on the whiff of a moderate gust of wind.

The ground realities are:
– Pakistan is neck, nay eyes deep in foreign debt, which it cannot repay or even pay the interest.
– The absconding Finance Minister loudly says, probably from his hospital bed in London, that everything has fallen apart because he is no longer in
charge. He is blaming his juniors for the mess and challenges them to get things right.
– The political government has no clue how to handle the economic free fall and no one is ready to take responsibility.
– The man who is supposedly in charge, Mr Miftah Ismail, says he is ready to hand over Pakistan Steel for one dollar if anyone buys the other national asset, PIA. The private airline of the PM flourishes, somehow.
– The PM, other ministers and top bureaucrats are focused on saving their skin from a NAB in over-drive, rather than making policies for saving the country.
– The Supreme Court has virtually taken over the day-to-day, rather hour-to-hour government, arresting people like Rao Anwaar, cleaning narrow village lanes where funeral processions pass, monitoring drinking water, banning TV anchors who said something about accounts of a killer, ignoring other TV anchors who wrongfully accuse everybody and his honest aunt everyday about much heinous crimes.
– The finance ministry, the foreign ministry and entire bureaucracy is looking from GHQ directions to do anything, no matter what the elected ministers say.

Many more examples can be cited but the situation is that a stalemate persists and everybody is interested in “completing the tenure” even if the crooks, looters and plunderers, the inefficient lot, who have wrecked everything, destroy everything.

So when this system is failing and has stopped functioning why not shut it down now and reboot it.

In political terms it means immediate fresh polls, if the semblance of this democracy has to be maintained although in any case this sham and termite-infested democracy will come to its logical end in about 60 days.

Everywhere in the world politicians, who are failing and lose confidence of people on any issue, go for early polls.

Our politicians use their past positions to get super protocol, with phone-jamming cars, at government expense, to go to courts to face criminal trials. The PM flies on a private visit and meets US Vice President seeking personal favors for his leader, or so it has been reported. Family illnesses are used for political camouflage. Why can’t our politicians for once prove they are interested in democracy and follow how it works round
the world?

Even in a short span of the remaining two months, they want to sell PIA, Pakistan Steel, make deals on Reko Diq, appoint unacceptable ambassadors in critically important countries and name chiefs of key intelligence agencies like IB. Do they not believe in the future of this country or their own?

It is time this charade and joke with the nation stops and someone starts taking things seriously before everything collapses to a degree where no one can retrieve it.

(A slightly edited version of the opinion piece appeared in the Daily Times on March 23.)

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