Looking for Short Cuts: Pakistani National Character?
By Hajrah Mumtaz: Dawn, September 17, 2007
MUCH has been made of political developments that unfolded over the past week. While headlines reflect the immediate newsworthiness of an event, true significance lies in how events alter or inform patterns of behaviour in society. And on that score, it has merely been another week of more of the same.
As a society, we find short cuts simply irresistible, even in circumstances where long-term benefit is clearly compromised. Our leaders act in our image. Consider: a self-proclaimed leader chooses to take the shortest way towards the perpetuation of his own regime, heedless of the fallout on either his own credibility or the country’s stability. One former prime minister tries to leapfrog her way into power at the cost of her popularity with the voters while the similar intentions of another former prime minister are thwarted because he took an earlier short cut out of prison and opposition politics.
In the attempt to milk a situation for all it’s worth, these personalities seek help from internal and external players that are all too aware of the durability of political alliances in the country. The irony is that our leaders then count on long-term support from their international friends.
Opportunism is symptomatic of Pakistan’s society as a whole. The lack of foresight, the inability to connect cause and effect, is evident everywhere. Unable to resist the lure of expediency, we shelve any considerations of societal development or, indeed, civilised and self-respecting behaviour. The kindest explanation is that perhaps we hope to deal with the larger issues once the current crisis — of which there is no shortage on the individual, institutional or constitutional levels — has been survived. The cynical explanation is that we simply don’t care — the future, when it comes around, will be dealt with by future players.
Our method of dealing with traffic jams, for example, is revealing. Vehicles try to beat the line by encroaching on to the parallel lane, thus blocking oncoming traffic and rendering the gridlock worse than ever — although oncoming vehicles are extremely unlikely to simply evaporate. That this pattern is displayed by vehicles ranging from Prados to donkey carts is indicative of the fact that the inability to weigh the consequences of our actions has little to do with education, economic standing or social standing.
The same lack of structured thinking is evident in those clinging to power. They address the short-term problem — how to get a reprieve — without recognising that power cannot be infinitely prolonged. And in humiliating those they have beaten, they forget that they too will have their faces ground in the dust by others who are far more unscrupulous.
It may be instructive to ponder, variously, that citizens refer to General Ziaul Haq’s grave as Jabra Chowk; that the court to which Mr Sharif directs his appeal for justice was stormed by his own men, during his government; and that the politician who returned in such triumph in 1986 is now so severely diminished.