By Ghazala Akbar
In case you were otherwise engaged and missed this momentous event, the President and his son visited N0.10 Downing Street last week, where they were cordially received by Mr. David Cameron.
The British Prime Minister also accepted a gift of a cinema-poster style painting of his wife, himself and baby daughter Florence. Mr. Cameron has two other children, but they were mysteriously excluded. (Since Mr. Cameron’s Government is furiously engaged in cutting family welfare benefits, this abridged version of his family is somewhat fitting!)
One British tabloid described the gift as ‘tacky, bizarre and fit for the downstairs Loo.’ Actually it was a masterstroke in diplomacy! Gift of Rolex watches, hand- knotted carpets or thoroughbred horses have come in for criticism in the past as being a trifle extravagant from cash-strapped Third – world leaders. But Mr. Cameron could hardly have refused a picture of himself, his wife and daughter.
Disarmed by this charm offensive, Mr. Cameron or the British Press did not ask awkward questions about Pakistan of looking the other way on the War on Terror. Instead it was ‘Aaah! How sweet! How thoughtful. How nice of you to bring your son along as well. Earl Grey or Darjeeling?’
If you thought this was a routine courtesy call for tea and scones, think again. The dutiful son also attended a high-level meeting on intelligence-sharing matters with the UK Home Minister, Teresa May and other luminaries. Why was the son present and not Ms May’s counterpart, the Interior Minister? Just who was he representing and why? Was it because he is Chairman of his political party? If so, was the Chairman of the Tory Party also present? Was Mr. Cameron’s baby son there as well?
Such a stupid question! Don’t we know anything about family and dynasty and how the politics of the Asian sub-continent works! Widows, widowers, orphans, brothers, sisters, everyone has a right to rule and partake in power. Politics is a family business. This is the South Asian way. It’s not the economy stupid, it’s the brand name that counts.
Even the Thais are learning from us. Look at Thaksin Shinawatra. His sister, his clone, his proxy candidate has just won a stunning victory in his name while he sits in exile in faraway Dubai. In times of crisis who else can you trust to hold the fort except your own family? Two months ago Yingluck Shinawatra wasn’t even in politics, now she’s tipped to be Thailand’s first woman Prime Minister.
But doesn’t this negate the principle of democracy? Isn’t the hereditary principle a feature of monarchy? Aren’t we the Republic of Pakistan? Does a poor young lad of twenty – three need to be over-burdened with the responsibility of future saviour of Pakistan? Does he have no choice? Does he have no voice?
On the surface he seems to be a well- groomed and well-mannered boy respectful of his elders. We are told he read Modern History at Oxford. We hope for his sake that his stint at one of the UKs finest universities has been a source of profit. We hope that he has an inquiring mind because he needs to challenge certain assumptions regarding his exalted status. We hope he is a rebel, because rebellion is needed against the career path forced upon him by others. We hope he has the ability to think for himself. In short we hope he has the gumption to say No.
As a student of history he will be well aware of historical trends and the current tide against dynastic rule and corrupt politics that is sweeping the Middle East. He must have also heard of the likes of Saiful Islam Ghaddafi, Gemal Mubarak, Basharat al Assad and the late Uday and Qusay Hussain al Tikriti. These were all young men who had greatness thrust upon them by toadies, Yes Men and sycophants who nurtured dreams of dynasties and a divine right to rule. They were also wined, dined, feted and indulged by Western leaders. Where are they now? Heir today, gone tomorrow!
It may be argued that the politics of the Middle East and the Asian Sub- continent is different; that Pakistan, however imperfect is a democracy. It has an elected Parliament and President, an independent judiciary, a robust media. It may be further argued that the family of the ‘heir apparent’ have been in the firing line and have made the biggest sacrifices in the battle for this democracy. They have paid for it with their blood. Agreed. No quibbles regarding that.
But this is precisely why the young lad must buck the trend and swim against the tide. If he has to fulfil his potential, he must do it the hard way. He must earn his stripes. He must go through the proper political process .He must set an example. He must win the respect of the people of Pakistan. Not because of who he is or his name but what he achieves for himself, by himself, of himself.
Do it Son, just say no. Not now. In my own time, when I’m ready… if I want to. The paterfamilias and the party faithful may be displeased but 180 million Pakistanis will love you for it. Yes you can!