‘Ill fares the land’

‘Ill fares the land’ by Tariq Ali for the Times of India, August 12 2011

The queasy condition of Pakistan, incapable of either a complete collapse or of throwing up a regime that could move the country even a few steps forward, has been a cause for depression for many a decade. The privileged elite — military and civilian — live happily in their bubble exercising military, political, administrative, economic and judicial power over the whole land.

This is, of course, the case in most countries, but in Pakistan the contrast between rulers and ruled is so stark that there is nothing to protect the weak majority from the powerful and rich minority. Kinship networks, like protection offered by gangsters, can do a bit but any notion that this can substitute for the state in providing the necessities of life — water, electricity, subsidised flour, health, education — is a form of reactionary utopianism. Progress, to be meaningful, has to be in the interests of the collective as a whole. This has never happened in Pakistan.

The fault is neither in the stars nor in the people, whose forbearance and patience have been exemplary. They have tried everything in terms of political parties and military regimes and have obtained nothing. Despite this fact, there is no gadarene rush to join even the moderate Islamist parties, leave alone armed jihadi groups. Till now a large majority of Pakistanis have resisted this course, despite the induce-ments on offer in the next world. Contrary to global media images, ordinary Pakistanis are not attracted to religious extremists.

Demography is always ignored: 60% of the country’s population is under 25. They live off their wits and part-time work. Unemployment is huge. A majority of them want education, jobs and an end to political corruption. Will these demands ever be met?

There have been three constants in Pakistan’s political life: the United States, the Pakistani army and a corrupt, uncaring elite, currently symbolised by President Asif Ali Zardari, known throughout the world as someone whose interest in making money and accumulating property transcends all else. The last opinion polls in the towns showed him on 2%. Cruel Punjabi taunts often greet the venerables of the ruling party when they venture out to meet the people. This is slightly unfair and could apply to all the Muslim Leagues as well. The fact is that people are disgusted with politics and see politicians as crooks out to make money and feed the greed of the networks they patronise and which double up as useful vote banks.read more