Pakistan: What the Bleep is Government For and What is to be Done?

By Anjum Altaf

I hired a guard to secure my home and found him asleep when the robbers came. I fired him on the spot. I hired a driver to transport me from here to there and found him stealing the petrol. I fired him on the spot. I hired a tutor to teach my children logic and found him imparting them theology. I fired him on the spot. I am (all of us are) so decisive when it comes to firing private servants who are found to be incompetent or dishonest or devious – khaRey khaRey nikaal diyaa is the phrase of choice. And yet, and yet…

We can’t do the same when we find public servants to be incompetent and dishonest and devious. What, after all, is government for if not to provide the citizens with security, direction and development?  And what greater evidence do we need that our governments have failed at each of these responsibilities? Why can’t we fire these incompetent, dishonest and devious public servants on the spot?

Why not, when we know full well that this is just the tip of the iceberg? Not only are the guards asleep, they are in league with the robbers; not only are the drivers stealing the petrol, they are driving us in a direction far from where we wish to go; not only are the tutors teaching our children theology, they are abusing them mentally as well. To boot, they are charging us half our incomes for their upkeep and funneling our remaining assets into their private accounts.

And what about those who dismiss the servants we have chosen and appoint themselves our saviors by divine instruction and get others like themselves to bless their appointments? What about them?

Imagine if this travesty of governance had been perpetrated by an occupying army. The nation would have been up in arms; there would have a nationalist movement, perhaps even a jihad, backed by appeals to rights and honor and sovereignty. What is it that changes just because the occupiers pretend they look like us, talk like us, walk like us? (Look closely, they don’t – un ke muunh par phitkaar barastii hai is the phrase of choice.)

Why can’t we fire these public servants who are really occupiers and have invaded our country? What changes from the individual to the collective domain? Is it because we don’t want to? Is it because the one looks so straight, the next so humble, the third so enlightened? Is it because we always see a silver lining to the blackest of clouds? Is it because democracy needs time to mature? Is it because the public domain is not our headache? Is it because there must be some reason to this madness? Is it because it is God’s will?

Or is it because we are unable to? We know they are all thieves – yeh sab chor haiN is the phrase of choice – but we can’t collectively find a way to get rid of those whom we have imposed upon ourselves and are condemned, at best, to rotate their marauding turns.

No doubt it is a bit of both but my guess is that the balance is tilting in favor of the second camp. There are now fewer willing to give such governments another chance and more wishing, albeit helplessly, to replace them with something that works for the owners of the country. So how do we put this desire into action? What is that we have to figure out and what is the first step towards a better future?

Clearly, the system we have is deeply flawed if we ourselves are responsible for elevating thieves to positions of power only to be unable to get rid of them; or if we are helpless when God’s angels take over the reins of power; or when high priests and guardians of the faith, unbearded and bearded, accord their blessings to the thieves. There is no way we can leverage this system to achieve meaningful change. The thieves have us by the short and curlies; they are thoroughly amused at watching us squirm and are laughing all the way to the bank.

There is no opening for an opposition of the traditional type embodied in a political party with a ‘good’ leader. For one, money talks and the thieves have the bulk of the money; for another, an hierarchical society is dominated by ‘influentials’ and the ‘influentials’ are the ones lording over us; for yet another, the incumbents have the monopoly of devious means that can undermine a movement of the traditional type; and, fatally, it takes little time for a ‘good’ leader to turn ‘bad’ if nothing else changes in the system.

There is no opening either for an insurrectionary engagement of the familiar type embodied in an armed revolution. For one, the thieves have the monopoly of force they would not hesitate to let loose on their opponents; for another, there are no revolutionaries who can provide a common platform for an ideologically divided polity.

The only way left is a people’s movement, a swelling of the people’s voice that gets so loud it overwhelms the bastions of power and prepares the ground for a new and different order. What is needed is a wave of the popular will that proclaims ‘Enough’ and carries so much momentum it washes away the status quo.

Almost a century later we are back to civil disobedience as the weapon of last resort. We need a unified movement without the need of a unified leadership. We need citizens motivated by the common desire to connect with each other to figure out a way to make their numbers felt without the need for political parties or political violence.

It can be done; it must be done. It needs fresh minds, young hearts, a new vision, a new modality. Let the first few get together and create ‘The Voice of the Pakistani People’ as a forum for collective thought and decentralized action at the individual, household and neighborhood levels that comes together at the village, town, city, province and finally the national level. Let us add our names to the forum till the scroll stretches from one end of the country to the other, from Pasni to Peshawar. Then we will figure out how to make our numbers count and translate our desires into reality.

There is always a first drop the marks the beginning of every flood. There are many willing to unleash a storm – baiThe haiN ham tahhiiyaa-e tuufaN kiiye hue; it awaits a chain reaction to sweep aside the floodgates.


  • a ercelan
    Posted at 15:16h, 17 May Reply

    i hired a chowkidar who insisted that we pay him rent for letting us be only infrequent targets of dacoits! another chowkidar wanted an exit payment since he had risked his life in managing enroachments!

  • Vinod
    Posted at 07:10h, 18 May Reply

    Reminds me of George Orwell’s Animal Farm’s ending.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 12:26h, 18 May

      Vinod: For those who have not read Animal Farm or have forgotten the ending, could you summarize the conclusion in a sentence or two and comment on what you see as the similarity. Thanks.

    • Vinod
      Posted at 13:13h, 18 May

      SA, Animal farm has been animated with a stark departure from the book’s ending. The animation ends with the start of a second revolution. The book ends with the animals simply looking on as they see their own kind who now rule over them act like the colonial masters they took over from. The animation is availabe on youtube

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