By Tahir Malik
There is no single definition of a hero.
In my opinion, however, a hero is someone who leads his people to reality. Political heroes in particular help their nations become pragmatic. With this definition, I consider General Zia-ul-Haq, General Pervez Musharraf and President Asif Ali Zardari to be my heroes. Their rule, governance and leadership have certainly helped me better understand the nature of power and how my country has found itself where it is today.
General Zia’s rule opened my eyes to the ways in which leaders exploit religion as a tool to reign. Although they talk of a system that offers equal opportunity, education, justice, self-respect, security and progress for all (according to the teachings of Islam), what they actually do is contrary to what they claim. Since the creation of our country, there has been heated debate over whether Pakistan was created in the name of Islam, as a welfare state for Muslims. This thought was reflected in the general elections of March 1977. The political slogan of the PNA (political alliance against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto) was the promised implementation of an ‘Islamic system’.
PNA claimed that the elections declaring the PPP victorious had in fact been rigged and launched a massive movement to dissolve the ZAB government, which eventually turned into a movement for the restoration of Islam in Pakistan. During this time, the whole country descended into chaos. Bhutto tried to curb the movement forcibly, but also tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with PNA. Finally on 5th July, then Army Chief General Ziaul Haq imposed Martial Law and ended up ruling the country for the next 11 years.
After coming to power, General Zia vowed to apply Islam as per the people’s desire by introducing religion in almost all public spaces. His most enduring gifts to the country have been the blasphemy laws, the Ramzan Ordinance, the Hudood Ordinance and Zakat/Namaz committees to ensure that prayers are made obligatory in government offices. He banned alcohol in the army, and Western dressing was discouraged in government offices. He was the first to start his speech at the UNO with the recitation of the Quran. He was also the pioneer of the ‘Jihad’ against the ‘evils’ of Communism in Afghanistan.
He attempted to help the Muslims in China and Sunnis in Iran, and was a great supporter of the freedom struggle in Kashmir. He was a bosom friend of Saudi Arabia. He greatly undermined the Pakistani film and music industry to rescue the country from Western and Indian influences. He ensured pardah in general, and particularly on PTV. Above all, ‘Hasool-e-Rizk-e-Halal Ibadat Hai’ (money earned through fair means is piety) was printed on Pakistani currency during his era.
Nevertheless, his rule did not deliver. His Islamization failed to bring economic justice and progress on many levels. On the contrary, his time in power created a new class of supremely rich generals, smugglers and real estate tycoons. Instead of pouring state resources into education, Zia introduced a private education system. Hence, the common man was compelled to spend a major chunk of his earning on his children’s education. His dictatorship helped introduce drugs, smuggling, terrorism, sectarianism, contempt against vernacular languages, cultures, dances and celebrations in the country. In short, his attempts at bringing Islam to Pakistan had no real benefit for the average Pakistani. This certainly helped me and many others understand how Islam was exploited simply as a hollow slogan to retain power, but did not put an end to the common man’s miseries.
My second star is General Pervez Musharraf who helped me understand how the military considers it a right to rule supreme in the country. Since 1947, the nation has been taught to glorify the Pakistan Army as a defender of Islam and Pakistan. During the 60s, it was commonly said that the Pakistan Army and American ammunition form the best military in the world. According to the grapevine, Hindus and Jews have been bent upon wreaking mayhem in Pakistan as it is the fort of Islam, and the Pakistan Army is our only safeguard against these nefarious designs.
However everything changed after 9/11. After befriending the fighters of the Afghan ‘Jihad’ during the 80s, a telephone call from the US changed Pakistani policy completely. We were then told that the Pakistan Army was suddenly a frontline ally in the ‘War against Terror’. With this U-turn, Musharraf provided our new allies with secret information and use of the country’s airbases without any written agreement. Thousands of NATO war planes flew from Pakistan to kill the terrorists in Afghanistan. The Ambassador of Afghanistan in Pakistan was handed over to America as a prisoner, although before 9/11 he was considered an ambassador of a brotherly Muslim country. Musharraf’s policy after 9/11 certainly aided me in understanding the mindset of rulers. For them it is vested interests that matter most.
The third supremo is President Asif Ali Zardari, who provided me with great insight on civil bureaucracy. I used to revere civil servants as benefactors of the common man. I somewhat naively believed that in a democratic setup the citizens are the real rulers. But then I saw the power outages, the lack of water and gas, the near collapse of the Railways and PIA, and the dismal state of the Steel Mills and WAPDA. The police could not ensure law and order. So where is public service?
The Zardari government proved that the job of civil employees is not to serve, but to enact. Their duty is to take salaries and perks, but there is no obligation to do anything for the public good. They are not accountable, since no one dares to question their duties and responsibilities.
Zardari’s PPP is spending Rs. 240 billion on bureaucracy. In addition to that Rs. 129 billion are allocated for pensioners. Moreover, every year the tax ratio increases. During the first four years of the PPP government, tax collections doubled from about Rs.1008 billion in June 2008 to nearly Rs. 2000 billion in June 2012. Also, remittances are another lifeline of the government in meeting its expenses. They have remitted unprecedented amounts in the last two years, from around $9 billion in 2009-10 to over $13 billion in 2012.
Where is this money going? The government has earmarked Rs. 31 billion in this fiscal year for Pakistan Railways to meet its losses. The losses of PIA were Rs. 157 billion on 30 November 2012. The Defence Minister has said that the national airline is facing continuous losses due to corruption, mismanagement and overstaffing. He said that at present only 26 airports out of a total of 43 are functional, and only 5 of them are profitable. And to top this off, the PPP government has recently approved a 40 percent increase in the salaries of PIA employees.
According to the Railways Minister, when the PPP government came to power, total losses were Rs.16.85 billion which have now surged to Rs. 31 billion, with an average of Rs 2.58 billion per month.
The payable debt liability of Pakistan Steel Mills reached Rs. 82 billion on 31 October 2012, up from Rs. 75 billion four months ago, even after receiving a Rs. 14.6 billion bailout package from the federal government in July last year.
According to the World Bank, the Sui Southern Gas Company Limited (SSGCL) has reportedly lost $160 million (Rs. 15 billion) in 2011-12 alone owing to system losses. WAPDA debt is almost 400 billion. The whole nation is suffering from the effects of loadshedding, overbilling and poor services. But the Zardari government has dealt with this by rewarding these poor performances by 40 percent Revised Pay Scales in 2012, in addition to which house rent allowance was raised to 50 percent.
After this I have no reason to believe that civil employees are here to work for the betterment of the people of Pakistan. It took time, but my third hero helped me understand the real services rendered by civil servants to the nation.
(The writer could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Published in The Laaltain – April 2013 Issue