Pakistan is once again gripped by political and social upheavals. With rapidly deteriorating economic and law and order situations, there is real danger of an implosion.
The government exists only in name. The rulers’ purpose in life seems to be to steal whatever they can put their grubby hands on and to keep the masses busy in endless problems: lack of electricity in the summer’s blistering heat, skyrocketing prices of essential food items further impoverishing people, and lack of water and public safety.
Amid this chaos, a bit of drama erupted on June 19 when the Supreme Court declared that Yousuf Raza Gilani was disqualified as prime minister because he was guilty of contempt of court. He had disobeyed the court’s order to write to the Swiss authorities to open corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. A venal character, Zardari stole billions of dollars from Pakistan when his wife Benazir was prime minister. The couple was also involved in massive kickbacks from foreign companies, forcing even the Swiss, British and Italian authorities to open corruption cases against them.
Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was sworn in on June 22 as prime minister to replace Gilani. Ashraf is also mired in corruption cases, so has anything changed in Pakistan? Interestingly, Western media outlets projected the court’s verdict as a “power struggle” between the executive and the judiciary and suggested the chief justice of going after Zardari and Gilani because of a personal grudge.
While the Supreme Court led by Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry stood its ground and dismissed one corrupt politician, it will do little to clean the swamp. Every Pakistani politician is corrupt; this has also infected their children. Take the case of Bilawal, the playboy son of Zardari who lives in England. He conducts himself as if the Bhutto family owns Pakistan and he will return to assume the mantle of governance. This feudal family has a long history of treachery. The British knighted Shahnawaz Bhutto, the family patriarch, for betraying Muslims during British colonial rule in India. He was also awarded vast land holdings in Sindh province. His son, Zulfiqar Ali and the latter’s daughter Benazir, ruled Pakistan for brief periods. Both met horrible deaths; one was hanged on murder charges (4-4-1979) while the other was gunned down (12-27-2007). The family seems to have learned nothing from such horrible experiences and continues to snatch morsels from the mouths of poor hungry people.
If the Zardari-Bhutto combine were the only corrupt family in Pakistan, one could live with it. Every feudal family is guilty of treachery and corruption. All use their ill-gotten wealth to buy their way into power. Once there, they begin to plunder the country’s resources to make up for what they have spent and to amass additional fortunes for the next round of the circus called elections. The entire system is rotten and must be cleansed before there can be civility in the country.
One can enumerate Pakistan’s ills endlessly but the fundamental question is, who will sort this mess out? A commonly heard refrain is that Pakistan needs an honest leader. Where will such leader come from: will he fall from the sky? There is an even more basic point that must be addressed: will elections make any difference to the type of rulers that emerge? Successive elections have shown that the situation has deteriorated with each change of face or party. This should force sincere Pakistanis to realize that it is not faces but the system that must be changed because it is not responsive to the needs of the people.
How will this come about? First, some bitter truths must be admitted. All existing institutions in Pakistan have failed. There are no exceptions and there should be no sacred cows. Those calling for the military to intervene to save the situation fail to understand that the military is as much a part of the problem as the politicians. Pakistan needs a revolution. And people should not wait for someone from outside to come and lead them. They themselves must take the lead. In recent weeks, protests in several cities against load-shedding (power shortages) indicate that the people are fed up. It is time to channel this anger toward constructive change. No single individual can do it, but collectively, the masses can bring about change.
They can place their trust in Justice Chaudhry and strengthen his hand to lead them; however, he and the legal establishment he heads have taken little legal action against whom it will count most: the 900 lb. gorilla in the room, which is continued US domination of the Pakistani political scene in the form of US-endorsed and funded politicians in key decision-making positions. If a few corrupt politicians are publicly hanged in the process, it will send a powerful message that this time the people are serious. It may be time to install the guillotine. Nothing less may do if Pakistan is to be saved.
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought