Raheel Raza writing for the The Ottawa Citizen
Friday, October 17, 2008
My annual visit to Pakistan is full of surprises. What change will I find this time, I asked myself as I landed at Karachi airport a few weeks ago?
The situation in Pakistan is more complex than I’ve ever seen. The economy is in crisis with basic food costs so high that one wonders how the ordinary person feeds a family. The elite don’t care because most of them have taken dual nationality and siphoned their money out of Pakistan. The poor keep getting poorer and complain that no one in power has ever cared about them, so why should they care this time?
What bothered me most of all was the attitude of educated middle class Pakistanis. In the past few years I had noticed the rise of religious fervour among previously moderate Pakistanis. This time I was engulfed and bombarded by conspiracy theories everywhere I turned. At times I felt I was an alien in my own land!
From media to mullahs, everyone seems to thrive on their version of who the enemy is. A friend (who by the way is a Canadian citizen and extremely well educated) proceeded to inform me “this is the sixth part of the Zionist conspiracy to wipe out Pakistan.” She was keen to educate me on the “other five,” but I excused myself and left — only to find myself at dinner with a group who were convinced that it’s all an Indian plot. The third visit was just as nauseating because these were my cousins who told me that Pakistan is victim of a triad — the U.S., India and Israel — that was conniving to wipe Pakistan off the map. Everyone is to blame except themselves.
By this time I stopped going out and decided to stay home and see what’s happening on TV. Well, that was a wrong move. On mainstream television, a well educated, smart and eloquent young scholar speaks every evening at prime time about U.S. plans to invade Pakistan, and everyone is glued to their TVs, absorbing this garbage. It’s on this mainstream network a panel of scholars announced that Ahmadiyya Muslims are justified to be killed.
The alternative progressive moderate Muslim voice is relegated to midnight and I was told chillingly that he’s a western mole and the TV station that airs his program has been bought out by United States.
It’s no surprise then, that a few days later in the midst of this chaos, Pakistanis chose Mr. Ten Per Cent as their president. Asif Ali Zardari, widower of the slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, now sits smilingly, with a complete makeover, as president of Pakistan.
It’s an astounding comeback for a man who spent 11 years in jail on corruption and murder charges as one of Pakistan’s most disliked figures. More surprising, the corruption charges against Mr. Zardari that were dismissed ranged from allegations that he took $10 million in kickbacks from a gold importing company to allegations that he improperly used government funds to build a polo ground at the prime minister’s residence in Islamabad.
Having put this into perspective, let’s not discount this individual completely. Mr. Zardari is the son of an astute landlord and politician, Hakim Ali Zardari. Like Dennis Thatcher, Asif Ali Zardari has lived and learned from the most vibrant and brilliant of politicians — Benazir Bhutto. Mr. Zardari has cunningly aligned himself with the right people and is making carefully crafted moves.
Furthermore, the alternative to Mr. Zardari is the army, which has already ruled for half of Pakistan’s existence, destroying civilian and public institutions. So, while Mr. Zardari may make diplomatic faux pas like trying to flirt with U.S. vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, he may be the poison Pakistan needs to heal itself.
Painful as it may seem, Pakistan has to go through a process of democracy. Pakistanis must pull themselves out of a deep dark hole of victimization to realize what’s hit them, and then make a decision (without foreign intervention please and thanks) to keep or get rid of Mr. Zardari.
Only then will a cycle of true democracy begin, and will there be hope for the future.
Raheel Raza is an intercultural and interfaith diversity consultant and author of Their Jihad … Not My Jihad.
Picture Credit: Akram Shahid, Reuters