Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Mother of All Speeches

By Saeed Qureshi

President Barack Obamaʼs electrifying first speech to a Joint session of Congress on the night of February 24, can be adjudged as the mother of all landmark speeches. The address of the American president, to the Joint Session of the Congress invariably outlines the broad policy perspectives and enunciates the strategies and goals of his administration, in both the domestic and the external domains.

I shall presently talk of his awesome brilliance, his unmatched diction and style, his unrivaled eloquence, his inimitable articulation that were the outstanding features of his first traditional address to the Congress after taking the office of the president of the United States. Irrefutably he is gifted with a mammoth memory. He seldom stumbles. The torrent of well chosen words and lucid phrases pour out of his lips incessantly and impact the listeners readily. With force and ease, he spoke for almost 52 minutes and every minute he was profusely applauded. Such was the mesmerizing degree of his address. He is not a firebrand speaker: he is more than that. With sobriety and logic, he articulates his convictions with fluency and vigor.

While fully knowing the enormity of the challenge that he faces and the stinging and un-obliging mood of his detractors for a variety of reasons, president Obama is seldom sarcastic, cynical, emotionally reactive or venomous in his rebuttals. He is in the habit of stating his views in a simple, truthful, coherent and direct manner.

He blends the seriousness of his message and agenda with the candor of superb declamatory fervor that makes the audience spell bound. He seldom digresses from his main themes and keeps a tight tab on his emotions. Without shouting or raising the pitch of his voice, President Obama, in a stable and sustained tone, injects a serene stress on every word and sentence that flow out of his lips. His political rivals may differ with his policies but they too cannot help adoring him for his oration.

As ever, this time too he looked scholarly and meditative while delivering his discourse. His sincerity of utterance corresponded with the poise that is manifest in his gaze and sleight of his head and hands and indeed a broad cheerful smile. With an abiding charm of his speech and a reservoir of splendid ideas, like a visionary, he portrayed and stressed the express need of reinventing the side-tracked ideals of American nation. After a phase of eight years that degenerated every aspect of American life, America is certainly fortunate for having a leader of the ability and talent of Barack Obama to lead the nation. The noble values of liberty, openness democracy, together with a robust and free economy have all along been the crowning distinctions of America. But these were dealt a severe blow during the administration of former president G.W. Bush by engaging America in wasteful and futile military pursuits and the so called war on terrorism , depleting the economy and halting the fast pace of an all embracing progress.

President Obamaʼs task to put America back on track is, therefore, massively arduous. Besides an unscrupulously instilled scare of terrorism by the former administration, there is a pervading fear psyche among the American society about the jobs, social security, health care, education and spiraling cost of living etc. In the end neither the terrorism has been bridled nor were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan won. The American economy is in bad shape and the people seem subdued. America has wasted three trillion dollars in this bad bargain.

Obamaʼs economic stimulus is basically for reconstruction and less for war spending. His economic package aims not only at resuscitating the sick economy but heralds a giant step towards putting America on the threshold of a new era of innovation and reformation. It is a new social contract to overhaul America. It aims at technological and social revolution. Innovation, peace and social uplift are its prime features. Accountability and transparency are central to the reconstruction vision of Obama. The stimulus funds and their spending will carry strict checks and a transparent accountability process. It takes care of the middle and the lower middle classes by way of social benefits such as health care education, pensions and tax cuts etc.

But understandably, the economic recovery of United States is going to be a long haul. By the year 2019 Americaʼs projected budget deficit would be about $712 billion and the national debt around $23.1 trillion. One may imagine how severe the economic cataclysm America is caught in is. It is hoped that the agenda of change that Obama has set for himself would alleviate Americaʼs economic afflictions to a large extent.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Impending Waterloo

By Saeed Qureshi

How daringly, the PPP co-chairman and the incumbent President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari goes back upon his solemn commitments and well meaning pledges held out to both his political allies and the people of Pakistan! Can even a commoner, let alone the President of Pakistan, be so appallingly and audaciously deceptive as to sweep a revolutionary agenda under the rug of political exigency? In a yearʼs time of its being in power, the PPP has been totally oblivious of countryʼs chronic problems and the peopleʼs massive sufferings. It has dismayed the people and antagonized and alienated its staunch political cohorts. By protecting one man whose name is General Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistan Peoples Party has downgraded its political standing and is being fast denuded of public support and esteem.

How long the PPP praetorians can cash on the legendary and revolutionary image of its founder ZA Bhutto and the assassination of his illustrious daughter Benazir Bhutto? There is a limit to peopleʼs compassion as well as their woes. People remember President Zardariʼs honeyed smile and the categorical statement to the affect that the first gift he would give to Pakistani Nation would be the annulment of 58-2/B: the draconian caveat that gives sweeping powers to the president. He promised to re-instate the superior courtsʼ judges who were deposed by former president through an illegal order.

So the agitating lawyers are back with renewed fury and furor on the streets. Most of the opposition political parties have joined their ranks. From March 12 onwards, there is going to be another Waterloo in front of the parliament building in Islamabad. This time it would be staged against one of their erstwhile supporters: the PPP government. What a shame that the PPP leaders have so much belittled themselves in the public estimation by turning a deaf ear to judicial communityʼs genuine demand and bending over backyard to continue the policies of a former dictator, who had become a sore in the peopleʼs eyes and who is responsible for much of the prevailing chaos What kind of politics is this? The PPP leaders falsify or hide the facts and then with sheepish submissiveness acknowledge the divulged information and when the beans are spilled by others.

One case in point is the Drone air attacks on tribal areas. It was being vehemently denied from president down to the defense minister that these killer aircrafts were being operated from Pakistanʼs territory. Following the disclosure of Dianne Feinstein, Chairperson, US Senateʼs Intelligence Committee that the Drones were using Pakistanʼs territory; the Pakistan government hastily, endorsed that too. The moral fiber and the element of dignity or sanctity of the spoken word are alien and anathema to the PPP stalwarts. Are they ruling a nation of morons, dumb cattle and handicapped or slaves that they would like to lie to any extent and then conveniently, get away with unabashed impunity? Why such morally bankrupt or spineless leaders are leading a bewildered and bruised nation that is ever waiting for the redeemers since its coming into existence some six decades ago.

Just imagine a person who happens to be the president of Pakistan. Despite professedly knowing the murderers of his wife, he assigns the task of finding her assassins to the United Nations. Why doesnʼt he disclose the names of these callous individuals in a press conference and save the nation from a hefty 40 million bill to be spent on the UN investigation? Isnʼt it all funny? Why is he trying to hide the heinous criminals who killed an outstanding political leader and by whose efforts and political craft these guys have now become the power wielders? If you cannot catch or bring to justice the assassins of your own chairperson of the party under fear or favor, then how the people at large would receive a fail deal?

Notwithstanding their hob-knobbing with the former president, the fact is that the PPP least expected that it would soon sail into power galore and precisely for this reason they had not done their homework to deliver on good governance. The present crop of the PPP leaders is not only novice and an assemblage of upstarts in politics but have scant ideological fervor and revolutionary spirit that used to be the crying hallmarks of the rank and file of the PPP cadres from top to bottom in yester years. Now you have wrestlers and cronies and opportunists and fair weather birds who harbor personal interests than to serve the country in a patriotic and selfless spirit. Maintaining status quo or pedaling adhocism is their principal motto.

God had given Asif Ali Zardari a rare and golden opportunity to atone for his alleged wrong doings such as money laundering and amassing ill gotten wealth. A simple ordinance by a disgraced and unpopular, quasi dictator catapulted him from a lowly to the highest status in Pakistan. But by his dubious machinations not only has he saddened the more thoughtful members in his own party but disrupted the climate of consensus politics in Pakistan. The people of Pakistan made monumental sacrifices for PPP and therefore pinned hopes in it for splendid change from its governance. As the leader of a nation and head of state one cannot afford to stage a faux pas and play tricks with the country as well as the peer political forces.

After almost a year in power saddle, The PPP and its government with its poor track record of performance stands alienated and its popularity scale has drastically plummeted. The fiasco to be followed by the Lawyers resumed long march and sit one would be a hard blow to the stability of the existing shaky political set up under the PPP. New elections would, therefore, become imperative. It is highly improbable that the PPP can stage a come back. The favorite party is now Muslim league (N) that might form a coalition with the political parties siding with the Lawyersʼ mission. The PPP suffers from the leadership crisis. It may take a long time for it to resurface as a potent and popular political force in Pakistan. Is it not time for this party to refurbish its smeared image and save itself from a point of no return?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Do-Nothing Government

By Saeed Qureshi

Let us frankly admit that president Zardari is a jolly good person but he is not a visionary. He is not a Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto that we expect of him to be in these turbulent times that seem to be a replica or re-run of 1971 events, albeit with different settings. Zaradri’s friends say he is a remarkable figure and a trust worthy friend in that he is steadfastly following the tribal Sindhi culture of hospitality and goodwill and even an edifying spirit of altruism for his close friends and palls.

He has to his credit countless friends. But most of those with whom he made friendship during his several years in Jail (Benazir his spouse called him Nelson Mandela for his long incarceration) were killed along with Benazir Bhutto in PPP’s public rally in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007. He is by temperament a merry maker, a person who likes extravaganza, fun and revelry. He is cast in a mould of not doing serious things as is manifest in his broad grin, unguarded witty remarks and spicy repartees (with Sara Palin to hug her). He is fond of good food, nice company and partying. One of the high profile wedding festivities was held at the presidential palace with both Asif Ali Zardari and his illustrious prime minister ensconcing the bride and the groom. The food was plentiful and the dishes numerous. The law of one dish applies to the land and the people beyond the president’s residence.

Such is the level of lavishness and flamboyancy exhibited by our incumbent rulers as if the country called Pakistan was the promised paradise where honey and milk flow. The president of Pakistan gives a non-challant and carefree countenance as if he cares a damn even if the country he is presiding over was slipping into an abyss of extremism and total breakdown. The prime minister in tandem with the father-figure president blurs out the cacophony and loathsome refrain that the incumbent administration was going to complete its five year term. By this they mean that they were not concerned even if the country was going to dogs, they would stay at the helm for the stipulated period.

The woeful state of affairs and the complacency of our governing elite remind one of the funny parables of a beggar who was chosen out of blue by the residents of some city to replace the deceased king. The beggar king’s first order of the day was to serve him pudding that he ate heartily. He voraciously kept on eating variety of puddings every day. Now it so happened that the army of a neighboring country attacked the city of the beggar king. When asked to issue orders for counter-attack he instead ordered for pudding. When the enemy army drew close to the palace, he was again beseeched to issue royal decree to fight back. Instead, he grabbed his worn out blanket, put it on, and shot out of the place by saying” I was here only for pudding”

This fable may be analogical to some extent to the prevailing coterie of rulers of Pakistan. But perhaps they may sooner than later opt to leave power citadels and even the country by quipping” We were in power to serve ourselves and not the people: good bye Pakistan and good bye its people”

The fight for power for the ruling cabal was in fact not hard won. The fruits were windfall that had fallen into their laps not through a long drawn and rigorous political movement or strenuous struggle for change. Before assuming power, the top notch leaders were in foreign lands. They landed in Pakistan after agreeing to maintain the status quo and to allow Musharraf to remain president, ostensibly for the American led war on terrorism to continue unabated. That plan agreed between the foreign underwriters, the then military command and the PPP was patently against the wishes of the people who were up against the former president and the filthy system in vogue.

It was the civil society most notably lawyers, media corps, and human right activists who were clamoring against the dictator and his decadent system. The 9th March 2007 proved to be the first spark that started the prairie fire of resistance to Musharraf’s dictatorial regime and that continues to this day. The then chief justice for his own reasons or as a matter of principle braced against the oppressive manipulation of the self confident head of state who least expected such a defiance. The role of political parties in the ensuing countrywide anti government agitation was either minimal or half hearted.

But all said and done, we must admit that president Zardari should not be expected of playing the role of a revolutionary like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Fidel Castro of Cuba, Deng Xiaoping of China or Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Truthfully, he is neither a politician nor a statesman, an ideologue or some one who should be much concerned about state, rule of law, supremacy of the constitution, people’s aspirations, the need of a civil society, human rights, relgious extremism or harmony, the difference between the interests of his own country and those of a hostile neighbor et al.

He did not beg nor struggled for the highest office in the country. It was bestowed upon him by luck. He is not obligated or beholden to any one except of course to his own wife for donning the mantle of party’s leadership after her death. And lo and behold! She did die and Asif Ali Zardari did become the Chairman of the party and finally the president of Pakistan. He doesn’t owe any debt of gratitude, whatsoever, to any one except to his wife, although the deceased leader did acknowledge the sacrifices and campaign of lawyers for restoration of democracy in Pakistan and indeed for the rule of law. He is the one who now calls shots in place of his predecessor President Gen. Musharraf. The difference is in name and not in style of governance. Why should, he therefore, stick to the written or oral agreements as for him these are not worth the paper written on?

So if the government is docile and is doing nothing to ameliorate the lot of the people and rid the hapless country of a plethora of problems, The blame is not on the PPP regime because even though it came into power with the peoples’ mandate yet the ground for it to contest elections was originally leveled by the back door forces in and outside of Pakistan. That is how the political exiles were allowed to return to Pakistan. It is here that the key role of Josef Biden to facilitate PPP leaders’ return to Pakistan and work with Musharraf comes into limelight. Prime Minister Gilani is absolutely right when he joyously gives all the credit to Biden and discounts the role of lawyers and the civil society in restoring the country to a representative form of government.

Every individual is endowed with a particular talent or expertise in which he excels. Mr. Zardari is not cut for politics or social reforms. He would be in his finest form if you tell him to run a club or a business enterprise. Therefore, let us not bother him or the saintly prime minister of Pakistan to curb the proliferating threat of extremism, recall Pakistani armed forces from tribal regions, provide electricity, water, food, health care, jobs, clean administration, law and order, curb abductions and kidnappings of the defenseless citizens, bridle the goons rampaging the entire length and breadth of Pakistan, lower the spiraling prices, overhaul all the nation building institutions and so on and so forth.

So let president Zardari laugh heartily, enjoy his presidency to the maximum, disregard public woes, willfully break his pledges, hold weddings in presidency, make foreign junkets, take easy the encompassing national chaos , not to take seriously the public outcry and the renewed lawyers movement and then leave at the end of the day. Quaid-e- Azam’s successors are no less than a pudding crazy beggar.