Never have a country’s rulers shown so much incompetence in such a short period of time as demonstrated by those in power in Pakistan. When Islamabad exploded six nuclear devices on May 28-30, in response to arch-rival India’s five explosions on May 11-13, there were wild scenes of jubilation throughout the country. People let off firecrackers to celebrate Pakistan’s nuclear prowess. There was immense admiration and pride in much of the Muslim world as well.
In less than three months, the country is reeling from high prices and there is a mood of despair. The foreign exchange reserves are down to US$750 million while the government must repay $700 million by the end of September in interest alone on the US$32 billion external debt. It needs $5 billion in loans immediately.
The rulers’ first mistake was to freeze foreign currency accounts - of locals as well as foreigners. This was compounded by contradictory statements from the governor of the State Bank, the prime minister and the finance minister. For weeks, it was not clear what the government’s position really was.
While the fear of a run on foreign currency was not without foundation, the manner in which the affair was handled reflected panic. It also revealed the depth of corruption compounded by incompetence prevalent among the ruling elite. Most of the money deposited in foreign currency accounts had already been used by the government, reflecting a precarious economic situation.
The sanctions imposed by the west - essentially the US - were expected. Yet there appeared to be no contingency plans to deal with such an eventuality, notwithstanding the brave noises issued from the prime minister’s office. It is commendable to wish to stand on one’s own feet but that requires some degree of sacrifice from those at the helm of affairs. So far, there is no evidence of a move in that direction. In fact, people connected with the ruling party are going about their business as if there is no tomorrow.
To the corruption and incompetence must be added the total subservience of the ruling elite to Uncle Sam. If there is one country in the world that can be identified as a mortal enemy of Muslims, it is America. The US has inflicted immense misery on the peoples of the world in general and Muslims in particular.
Yet despite its horrible record, Uncle Sam continues to be worshipped by the Pakistani elite. The latest manifestation of this was the manner in which Islamabad tried to appease the US by promptly extradicting to Kenya an alleged suspect in the Nairobi embassy bombing. The suspect, Mohammed Siddiq Odeh, had travelled, allegedly on a forged Pakistani passport. Surely, he should have been tried in Pakistan, not extradited to Kenya from where he has now been flown to the US.
Odeh was indicted in New York on a number of charges on August 28 relating to the embassy bombings, as was Abdul Rashed Daud al-Owhali, a man of Yemeni origin. He, too, was extradited from Pakistan.
The embassy bombings - there are strong suspicions that the Israelis were behind it - and the subsequent US missile strikes against Afghanistan and Sudan have raised other questions. The missiles fired at Khost and Jalalabad in Afghanistan violated Pakistani airspace. They also killed five or six Pakistanis inside Afghanistan. Pakistan had initially protested to the US about the killings of its citizens inside Pakistani territory. When it was discovered that they were killed in Afghanistan, Islamabad apologised to Washington.
The irony of the Pakistan government stand was obvious to everyone except the rulers. While the US felt it was justified in attacking people thousands of miles away from its shores on mere suspicion that they may have been involved in the embassy bombings, the Pakistani government felt that so long as its citizens were blown to pieces by the US in Afghanistan, it was all right!
The meek protest lodged by Islamabad with the UN security council has already been shelved. Uncle Sam acts as an international outlaw but the Pakistani elite continue to sing its praises in the faint hope that he might relent and agree to some handouts to the cashstrapped country.
Prime minister Nawaz Sharif has now taken a leaf out of US president Bill Clinton’s book. When in trouble, seek a diversion. Clinton unleashed his deadly missiles on innocents to divert attention from his adulterous affair with Monica Lewinsky. Nawaz Sharif has done nothing so scandalous but he has come up with the gimmick of Islamization.
This is time-tested formula in Pakistan. When in trouble, reach for the Islamization card. Every scoundral - past and present - has tried this and largely succeeded. Now, however, even the gullible people of Pakistan have seen through it. They are no longer willing to accept it.
But the ruling elite’s total alienation from the sentiments of the masses is reflected in the manner in which they despise Uncle Sam with a passion while the rulers love to kiss his hand. This chasm between the rulers and the ruled is widening.
Already, Pakistan has become quite ungovernable. The rulers have done little to arrest the slide into anarchy. Nature abhors a vacuum, especially a political vacuum. The lava of resentment building up in Pakistan is likely to explode sooner than later.
What Pakistan needs is a clear direction at this time, not worn out cliches dished out by politicians. Political parties of every persuasion have also failed. They are part of the problem, not the solution. Pakistan is ripe for an Islamic Revolution based on a complete break with the corrupt practices of the past and humiliating subservience to the US.
One of the fundamental pillars of the new call must be a total break with Uncle Sam and his criminal ways. The people of Pakistan are seething with anger. This must be channelled in the right direction towards a positive change, not just of faces but of the system which enables crooks and criminals to continue to rule. Nothing less will do.
There may not be too much time left for Pakistan.
Muslimedia: September 16-30, 1998