Friday, September 05, 2008

Pakistani Elections: Open Letters To Presidents Ex, Why & Z

OPEN LETTERS TO PRESIDENTS EX, WHY AND Z

By Imran Anwar

We all have dreams. In my dreams I am intelligent, dashing, handsome, filthy rich and powerful. I am also wise and highly intellectual, with such great opinions that heads of state call me - or at least listen to what I have to say on matters of great importance. Then, usually, I wake up to reality.

Obviously I am not the only one who has wild dreams. After all, if it were not for dreams, why would people try to run for the office of president of our nation? In many cases they even do this with scant regard for reality. It is also always important to remember the difference between dreams, big dreams and delusions.

I am writing these lines in Karachi. I am here to be a guest on several GEO TV shows discussing the election for President of Pakistan. When I look at the candidates for president, I see a curious mixture of dreams, big dreams and delusions.

The readers of my articles, from back in the 1980s in MAG Weekly and News International, to my current topical blog postings at IMRAN.COM, know very well that I do my best to be fair and balanced, as well as an “Equal Opportunity Offender”.

I say it as I see it, without regard for racial, ethnic, national, political or religious affiliation. That is also why I probably never will be offered a cabinet post by any head of state in Pakistan, elected or otherwise, or any other country.

Since none of the three Presidential candidates in Pakistan has contacted me for my advice, I have to assume it is because they believe I must be very busy. So, to be totally fair, I decided to write to each of them through an open letter in this publication. Like variables in an engineering or Math problem, let’s call them candidates Ex, Why, and z.

To President Ex – Justice (retired) Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui

Sir, I have to give you credit for having a dream. Do I do not know you personally I salute you for being one of the few people in Pakistani elections that I have not heard anyone say totally negative things about. Sure, some may question your affiliation with the Nawaz Sharif party based on past events, but even your critics and non-supporters do not try to rip you to shreds. That, itself, is a major achievement.

You are a man of principle, said to have high integrity and the honor to stand up to a dictator. These are qualities that would get you elected and appointed in any other country.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan, these are the very qualities that would likely ensure you can not be elected president of our great nation. Sure, stranger things have happened. But, I thank you for dreaming and making a run for the presidency.

To President Why – Mr. Mushahid Hussain Syed

You, Sir, are obviously a man who has big dreams. I came to know off and respect you when I was a student political leader at the engineering University in Lahore. This was in the 1980s, when you were making a name for yourself as a journalist standing up to a dictator.

When I joined the ranks of the media industry, as business manager of Jang, and a writer in MAG Weekly, etc. I continued to respect you even though you were at a competing newspaper.

It is, therefore, a huge shock for me to learn that during the last 20 years you went from being an independent minded, outspoken, bold, Muslim media professional and a prisoner of conscience to someone who not only supported but became part of a dictator’s team.

It is easy for me to comment on your decisions to change sides in a political fray, but for you to change completely into the opposite of what you stood for is something I will never understand. In any case, I thank you for dreaming big, and making a run for the presidency. It will hopefully enable educated media professionals to be considered candidates for president in the future.

To President Z – Mr. Asif Ali Zardari

Sir, even though I have never personally met you, it has been my observation that it is nothing that you are understated about. We know that the other candidates have dreams and big dreams, possibly with some delusion thrown in for good measure.

In your case it is obvious that you had a dream, you have big dreams and, you may be suffering from a potent mixture of ambition, hubris and delusions of grandeur.

Apply that on top of a foundation built on a pliant political party machine devoted and dedicated more to a particular individual or a family than to their own roll in national politics, democracy or, heaven forbid, history. Result? You can almost be assured of the presidency. Congratulations.

The way I see it, only a miracle can prevent that.

Now, before you think I must be some anti-PPP, anti-Bhutto, anti-Zardari activist, let me assure you that is not the case. I have had the pleasure of meeting the late great Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in Karachi as a young teen, the late Benazir Bhutto, as a young media professional, and always been supportive of their role, as individuals, and as a family, in Pakistan’s democracy.

But, I am not a blind worshipper of the Bhutto name. Both those great individuals also failed to live up to the incredible potential, and historic opportunities, God gave them. They paid, in both cases, with their lives and the country paid either with failed experiments in democracy, martial laws or instability.

When I say that only a miracle can keep you from being President, I say that as a will-wisher of Pakistan and the Bhutto legacy – which I suppose is now more of a Zardari family name legacy. And, herein lies the problem.

Ego, ambition, hubris, cunning, ruthlessness, dreams, visions, delusions of grandeur, and perhaps even a dash of madness are not necessarily bad things – especially if they are attached to a person who dreams to change the world, to build empires for his nation, build historic monuments to man’s dreams and ability, to leave a legacy bigger than he himself ever was. Alexander the Great, even Napoleon, and many other “madmen” come to mind.

These same personality traits in more ordinary people, driven merely by desires to conquer real estate markets and build Swiss bank accounts, and to exploit opportunities for short-term gain, can only ensure disasters of history, and historic disasters.

My fear is that you have all the traits we talk about above but lack the vision to see this is a historic opportunity, not just another personal opportunity to “get more rich” and “take care of your friends”.

The sad thing is that even the staunchest Bhutto supporters, from politically connected families, to their servants and man-on-the-street type voters are all but certain that nothing good will come out of your becoming President, regardless of your beautifully worded article in the Washington Post.

You make a compelling argument for why your Presidency is essential. But, I wonder how you expect anyone, much less a jaded nation of 160 million people to believe a word you say, after your reneging even on your own signed agreements with Nawaz Sharif, and your obvious play at controlling the judiciary.

Almost to a man, the impression in every city I have asked people about you is that you are only doing this for personal financial gain at the expense of the country. They feel what may have been true or false impressions of large commissions associated with you as a nickname, will become even larger grabs of power and wealth.

As a result, the false blessing of your becoming President with a weak hand-picked judiciary, ugly constitutional amendments a gift from former dictators, lapdog lawmakers and apathetic public could become a true-curse.

The actions everyone predicts for you may ensure the total erasure of the Bhutto name and goodwill, and any chance for your son and coming Zardari generations from playing a positive, or any role, in the unwritten future history of Pakistan. The even bigger risk for your family and you would be to become “marked men” instead of leaving a great mark on history.

Therein, Zardari sahib, lies your opportunity. No. I do not refer to your opportunity to acquire larger Swiss bank accounts or longer lists of properties abroad.

You are actually blessed with truly low expectations from everyone.
From judges to generals, from journalists to generalists, from even your own voters, no one expects anything good for Pakistan under your rule.

That actually is a great chance for you personally. You, and only you, can easily, but with some soul-searching, some introspection, some staring at the mirror, some appreciation of where you stand on the crossroads of history, decide to become a truly historic figure - in a nation starved for historic leadership.

Will you, Sir, have the wisdom, decency, moral and political courage and a vision of making a real name for yourself, and your coming generations in history books.?

For your, your children’s and Pakistan’s sake, I hope so.

The nation is standing by to see what path you take. Good luck, President Zardari.

Imran Anwar
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