Sunday, August 8, 2010

An erosion of national character

Buffeted by air-crashes, natural disasters, economic collapse and terrorism at the Islamabad Marriott and Lahore’s Data Ganj Baksh shrine among numerous others, one wonders at Pakistan’s resilience. And the shot nerves of its populace. If fury rains from the heavens above, one can do the fatalistic thing and bow to God’s will; but how does one stem the tears when people wrong you?

National character is an extrapolation of individual, family and community values. And these have taken a steady downturn since Pakistan’s creation. The word sharafat has a deeper meaning than just decency- it is one of those untranslatables. Time was that as a nation sharafat was a concept that was recognized and referenced; with a bearing on marriages as well as national appointments. Lost in the chaos, confusion and cacophony of our national post-traumatic stress disorder is our moral compass. And though it sounds blasé in face of life and death issues, in and of itself it guarantees our perpetuity.

Islam underscores the means to the end; any and all means are not acceptable. Pakistanis seem to be emphasizing the end; the means seem entirely irrelevant.

The tragedy is not the mind-boggling wealth of the super-elite but the attitude that the 10% commissions did not happen as they were never proven. Even a cursory look at the net worth of MNAs is enough to give you vertigo. There has to be something deeply wrong somewhere if an American physician traveling to Pakistan feels poor around her friends who seem to be pulling out large denomination bills as though they had a veritable mint in their purses.

And how totally Pakistani to practice all the wrong that the West struggles with. One of the latest is the proving business. Take MNA Shumaila Rana for example. She calmly steals a woman’s credit card from a locker room, tries to buy jewelry with it and on failing and pressure from her party resigns. The entire interaction in the jewelry store and the conversation with the bank is caught on closed-circuit television, and when the banker is asking for her password, is particularly amusing, as she keeps saying “yes, yes”. The other lady does not press charges and so Ms. Rana now wishes to rejoin the National Assembly and has the gall to say that since the case against her was not proven she is innocent!

This same Shumaila Rana and women of her ilk riding in their top-of-the-line Lexus would have no problem harassing the poor vegetable seller and insisting he lower the price of tomatoes by a few rupees. Or abusing the farmer that tills the hundreds of acres that the elite own.

Pakistanis only concept of patriotism is to sing the national anthem with gusto. All else and thereafter is for self rather than state. Feudalism would be abolished, first thing, if that were not so. However broken, Pakistan has a democracy, but what use is it when legislators are feudal landlords and suck the blood of an entire stratum and keep them locked in illiteracy, poverty, debt, injustice and terror. With nothing for them or their families but a lifetime of tilling the land for pennies.

Another national fiasco is the issue of fake degrees, bringing home once again the point of only proof being relevant and not the truth. And in the wonderful vein of Pakistani resourcefulness, we have a plethora of fake degrees that the fraudulent had hoped would pass muster. What is even more interesting is the attempt by guilty parliamentarians to shift blame on the media and for female parliamentarians to actually pout and then sob. Have we no shame at all?

The Supreme Court has ordered a verification of the genuineness of these degrees by the Higher Education Commission. The disqualification of a significant number of parliamentarians could create a crisis for the ruling party. The HEC head Javaid Laghari is under intense pressure and has refused to “slow down” the process and as a consequence has suffered the arrest of his brother on purported corruption charges and a raid on his farmhouse and arrest of his servants.

Bill Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky seemed to have downed America in a pall of gloom and shame. And was probably one of the reasons that George Bush slid into the White House. The ruling elite of Pakistan are deeply corrupt, their antics displayed time and again on national and satellite television, but outrage is eerily absent. For the stage is set from above. In a frayed economy and multiple crises the population has learned to negotiate life’s tedium by the tattered moral standards of the ruling elite. Love that Americanism: “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”.

Years ago as I took the professional exams in MBBS in Dow Medical College I vividly remember the invigilator order me to “help” one of my classmates. Horrified and panicked I refused. She went on to another student with whom she made a tacit pact. This student had various pockets stitched into her shalwar and she removed various pieces of paper from them, copied them with impunity and handed them over to the one that needed the help. My idealism was shattered when the invigilator’s little pet, a professor’s daughter no less, graduated in the top ten.

Farah Hameed Dogar the daughter of then Supreme Court Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar had her marksheet manipulated 20 points so she could be admitted to Islamic Medical College Rawalpindi.

Youth Prime Minister Hasan Javed Khan who died in the terrible Air Blue tragedy had some wonderful advice for a nation that would mourn him and all that lost their lives: good governance and accountability are only possible with supremacy of the law.

I grieve for all that died in the Margalla Hills as much as I mourn the erosion of my nation’s moral character. Festering at the top and trickling down, leaving our youth with the premise that any and all means justify money and power.

Mahjabeen Islam is a family physician, addictionist and columnist. She can be reached at