La patrie en danger – time to speak

Every once in a while, I feel despair over the plight of the country [Pakistan] — we are hurtling toward catastrophe but nobody wants to do anything to avert it. For years, I have been ranting like Nietzsche’s fool with a lantern: it is coming, it is coming. I do not know where and how. We stand on a volcano. We feel it tremble, we hear it roar. How and when and where it will burst, and who will be destroyed by its eruption is beyond the ken of mortals to discern.

Our country is in deep, deep trouble. The people must understand the full extent of the danger which threatens the country. Today, say Pakistan and what comes to mind: anarchy from within, irresistible pressure from without, a country cracking under American pressure, a proxy war, American military intervention, pervasive fear and frequent bomb explosions. No country can survive when its dream spills over; when its rulers seem more concerned about perpetuating themselves and protecting their power and their ill-gotten wealth rather than protecting the country and its people.

The American footprint in our country is growing larger and heavier by the day. Nuclear Pakistan is now an American colony and is used as a doormat on which the US can wipe its blood-stained boots. American military personnel cross and re-cross our border without hindrance. Their drones violate our air space with the agreement of our government and kill innocent men, women and children — no questions asked and no public outrage. No self-respecting country, big or small, would tolerate such intrusions. “You may come to the moment”, Churchill said, “When you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than live as slaves.” For us, that moment has come.

Farewell our dreams, sublime illusions, hopes, independence and our sovereignty. Today the survival of the country, its hard–won democracy, independent judiciary and liberties are on the line. No one is safe and perhaps no place on earth resembles Hobbes’s description of a state of nature in which life is “nasty, brutish and short.”

Today, Pakistan is rudderless and sliding into darkness. It is like a nightmare in which you foresee all the horrible things which are going to happen and can’t stretch out your hand to prevent them. Such is the feeling conjured up by the corrupt, inept rulers of Pakistan as it enters a period of great uncertainty and sinks deeper into the quagmire. I reproduce below some lines, relevant to our situation today, from an unknown writer about a railway accident:

Who is in charge of the clattering train,

And the pace is hot, and the points are near,

And Sleep has deadened the driver’s ear,

And the signals flash through the night in vain,

For Death is in charge of the clattering train.

Isn’t it a great tragedy that at a time when statesmanship of a very high order is the need of the hour, the fate of 170 million Pakistanis is in the hands of Mr Zardari and hordes of weak-kneed triflers, mountebanks and charlatans begrimed with corruption? Were politics in our country burdened with such notions as shame, integrity, accountability, rule of law, independent judiciary and supremacy of the constitution, all of them including Musharraf, would be in jail today. We live in a beautiful country, but robber barons – people who have no respect for our independence, our freedom, our institutions have taken over.

A testing time, critical to his presidency, is now upon Mr Zardari. He has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. Today, the only person in Islamabad willing to defend him is no other than Zardari himself. He alone is responsible for the mess we are in today because it is he who drives the train. He is aware that his good star has finally deserted him. The Goddess of Destiny has made up her mind. Destiny has trapped him at last. If Zardari left tomorrow, it would be morning once again in Pakistan.

Here in Islamabad there is nothing but the nauseating stench of resignation. With each passing day, the tide of hope recedes, revealing the unpleasant mud that the souls of slaves are made of. Is it our destiny that there must always be darkness at high noon, there must always be a line of shadow against the sun? We need people who will stand up and say: Enough! Enough! This is not acceptable in the 21st century. Why is the better sort of the nation so silent today? Why have the intellectuals adopted ‘the genre of silence’? Why is there no public outrage? Why is there no loud protest? The creative intellectuals have been driven to ramshackle ivory towers or bought off. Show me an educated man with a silver spoon in Pakistan today, and I will show you a man without a spine. So when will somebody pose a finger at Zardari and say, “J’accuse”?

It is time to wakeup. Let Pakistan be Pakistan again. Let it be the dream it used to be – a dream that is almost dead today. All those who see the perils of the future must draw together and take resolute measures to put Pakistan back on the rails before tsunami catches up and hits us all. The longer we allow the waters to rise, the greater the catastrophe that will follow the bursting of the dam. Our window of opportunity is getting narrower and narrow by the day. It will, no doubt, be an uphill struggle to redeem our democracy and fashion it once again into a vessel to be proud of.

At a time like this, people detest those who remain passive, who keep silent and love only those who fight, who dare. In this transcendent struggle, neutrality is not an option. You’re either with the people or against them. It is as simple as that. One thing is clear. The day is not far off when status quo will shift, corrupt, inept rulers will get their just deserts, and people will once again believe in the “power of the powerless”.

Pakistan is a case of failed leadership, not failed state. Until we get the right kind of leadership, Pakistan will continue to oscillate between long periods of authoritarianism and bouts of corrupt and sham democracy. I am a short-term pessimist but a long-term optimist. I have this palpable feeling that the Maoist prescription – things have to get worse before they can get better – is being tested in Pakistan today.

The view from the presidency, however, is clearly rosier than from where most Pakistanis sit. From my perspective, this is the darkest moment in our history. I know that an unusual agitation is pervading the people, but what it will exactly result in, I am unable to say. “I can detect the near approach of the storm. I can hear the moaning of the hurricane, but I can’t say when or where it will break forth”. How will this crisis pan out? Either this is a cyclical crisis in the system and it will soon resolve itself, or it is a crisis of the system and we will soon witness the passage of one epoch to another.

By Roedad Khan: The writer is a former federal secretary. Email:, Courtesy The News, Thursday, October 15, 2009.

La patrie en danger – time to speak: