Wisdom with an expiry date | Fahd Husain

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Distill conventional wisdom, sprinkle some personal and organisational agendas, mix in a dollop of gut feel and you get a heady cocktail called policy. To market this policy, stitch together a strategy and call it a narrative. Now peddle it furiously and wait for the results.

Or we can upend the whole darn thing and re-look at how we look at ourselves and our country. So here goes (in no particular order):

1. Wrong: Pakistan’s potential to become geo-political crossroads for the region and reap the benefits of its location should be our primary goal.

Right: A country of 200 million people must think bigger than becoming an expensive doormat for big powers. Relying on our location to strategise for the future is an insult to the talents of our human resource and an admission that sans location we would be irrelevant. Aim low and achieve lower.

2. Wrong: The best government is the one that cares for the poor (note slogans of all political parties). Politicians of all shades promise to stand by the poor and the marginalised and proudly claim to be “ghareebon kee hukoomat” (government of the poor).

Right: The best government is the one that can ensure there are no ‘ghareeb’ to look after. Upward mobility, both financial and social, is a positive aspiration that a good government should encourage, facilitate and make happen. It is repulsively patronising when political parties promise to ‘look after’ the poor instead of promising to help them climb out of poverty and become as privileged as these politicians themselves.

3. Wrong: If we ensure absolutely free and fair elections, we will get the government with an authentic mandate which will then govern in an efficient manner and produce results to improve our lives. Anyone who criticises this system is automatically a ‘pro-Establishment’ person.

Right: A free and fair election — howsoever desirable — will not cure the inherent discrepancies within the existing parliamentary system itself. This constituency-based electoral system adopted from the British model is, within the Pakistani context, essentially exclusionary in nature. It will only throw up winners who can manage constituencies based on either biradris, tribes and/or a long history of local patronage/kinship. It automatically excludes a vast majority of Pakistanis who do not fall in this category, and who do not have the wealth to neutralise the deep roots in the constituency. What is also deeply flawed in this system is the requirement to choose the Cabinets from the elected people. Is it not a farce for example to have as the minister of Science and Technology a politician who cannot even in his wildest imagination claim to have any background or expertise on the subject? He then becomes dependent on the Secretary who himself is there for a stint till he gets posted to yet another completely different ministry dealing with something totally different. It is a system running on empty because it is fuelled by the awesome mediocrity of the civil servant combusted with the magnificent incompetence of your average constituency politician. Yes there are other models of electoral democracy — various forms of proportional representation among them — that can offset the negative effects of the present one and that can at least attempt to break the vicious electoral stranglehold of families over this system. It is indeed kosher to be a democrat and criticise this parliamentary system of exclusionary democracy.

4. Wrong: Invoking ‘national interest’ to justify anything and everything and maintaining ad nauseum that only a select few know and decide what is in the national interest.

Right: There is no greater national interest than making Pakistan strong, prosperous and vibrant. There is no greater way to make Pakistan strong than to make Pakistanis — all Pakistanis — educated, skilled, aware and providing them safety and security and a level playing field where rule of law reigns supreme and no one, absolutely no one,regardless of his status and rank is above the law of the land. Whoever does anything and everything to enable this to happen is the biggest patriot of all.

5. Wrong: Taking pride in ethnic or tribal traditions that denigrate others. If such traditions are steeped in misogyny and rigid social hierarchy they have no place in a modern society and should be decisively culled by the force of law.

Right: An agrarian society in a post-industrial world is not something to be proud of. Pakistan should be aiming to grow out of this agrarian mode of economy and shed the medieval practices that are attached with ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’. There’s nothing wrong with tradition per se, but there’s plenty wrong when tradition is equated with social inequality, economic backwardness, lack of exposure, lack of education and lack of opportunity for the disadvantaged crushed under the burden of a predatory state that shackles the populace instead of unleashing its potential.

6. Wrong: Justifying dynasties in political parties by saying if the people vote for them who are we to criticise them. Arguing that if the son of an army officer can become an army officer and the daughter of a doctor tends to opt for a career in medicine, why can’t the same apply for a political party. This logic is an insult to the voting public.

Right: Realising that in mature democracies political parties are differentiated by their ideologies and not the last names of their leaders. In the US George Bush became the nominee of his party not because his father was a former president (though it did help) but because he went through a system of primaries and got voted in as the candidate of the Republican Party and eventually the President. Ditto for Hillary Clinton (her loss notwithstanding). Does that hold true for the progenies of the Bhuttos, Sharifs and others? Calling a wrong a wrong is the first step in trying to make it right.

Conventional wisdom spawns hypnotic groupthink that numbs the ability to think critically and puncture the pomposity of tradition and status quo. Ours is too precious a land to be held hostage to people and institutions who are so deeply imbedded in the past they cannot grasp the future, let alone shape it.