Sunday, May 10, 2009

Is National Interest really in the nation’s interest?

Is National Interest really in the nation’s interest?
Majyd Aziz
Sep 16-2007

"Most of the greatest evils that man has inflicted upon man have come through people feeling quite certain about something which, in fact, was false." : Bertrand Russell

National interest (or as referred to in Pakistan: Mulk ke azeem tar mufaad mein) are probably the most callously over-worked words in Pakistan’s vocabulary these days. Over the years, these words have been over-used by everybody and anybody who wanted to justify their actions. As the years go by, the proponents of the words increase and their commitment to these words become so paramount that they actually and religiously deem every word and deed of theirs as in the national interest. This is more rife and relevant in political circles than in other spheres of activity. Political leaders and those in the corridors of power, imbued with self-established concepts that are very remote from ground realities, talk of national interest enveloped in integrity and righteousness and then indulge in activities that include rigged elections, blatant corruption, horse-trading, and spin doctoring.

Politicos and government Ministers talk about a social revolution for the welfare of the poor while living in a state of opulence themselves. They talk about development of the country but when their policies get implemented, the end result is that more people dive under the poverty line. They talk about the national interest but one senses that what they really refer to is their own personal interest or the interest of their kith and kin. The sad fact of life here is that the citizens know and understand that they are being taken on a ride to Fantasyland and that there would be no manna falling down from the Heaven, yet they seem to not only believe the rhetoric but continue to maintain their faith in these political parties and their leaders. The latter of course know it is nothing but an amusing game for them, yet they carry on with this façade ad nauseum.
Some of these pretenses are worth enumerating and talking about. The prime deception that is always developed and highlighted is that the government in power is truly the most patriotic and that the opposition parties are infested with traitors, vagabonds, and the scum of the earth. Every opposition leader is a personification of Judas. The comical spectacle is when the government Minister or senior parliamentarian comes on private electronic media and vilifies the opposition leader, giving two hoots to the real truth, that only a few moons ago he or she had sworn lifelong allegiance to that leader and party policies. The coldhearted switch was done in the national interest.
Our valiant armed forces are engaged in high intensity warfare with terrorists and extremists who have vowed to take their revenge on Pakistan because the President is, according to them, doing the bidding of the super power across the seven seas. A brigade of suicide bombers has been placed in strategic locations and has wreaked havoc in places where no one dared to tread before. Sporadic news does come out thru the ever-present “reliable sources”, but the mindset of the government publicity department is still in days of yore, trying to muzzle every authentic report, and coming out with a sanitized ho-hum version that either nothing happened or if it did occur, then there was no cause to worry and things were under effective control. Moreover, further information cannot be disclosed since it falls under the domain of national interest.
The recent events have drastically upset the citizens, the silent majority, and these have impacted dangerously on the thinking process. An open season has been declared by inimical elements against the much-revered armed forces and this could have serious repercussions on the working of the armed forces in the future. One hopes that that if the need arises then there would be an enthusiastic positive response from the denizens of this motherland for the armed forces. Pakistanis are a peace loving nation and they hold the armed forces in high esteem. The recent events have created a chasm that must not be allowed to become dark and deep. The abyss must be filled up for the sake of the country. Right now the chasm is supposedly created in the national interest too. At present, the allegations of possible corruption, political interference, mismanagement, and weak leadership have eroded the image of the armed forces. This must be addressed on an imperative basis by all concerned as this is actually in the national interest too.
The government propaganda machinery is still battling to ensure that, notwithstanding the resolve of the present government to have a free media, the newspapers and electronic media are kept under immense pressure if possible. Government advertisements are a lethal tool that can be utilized ruthlessly on the print media. Private TV channels are hostage to the cable companies or the dictates of PEMRA. All these in the grand national interest.
There is always talk about sacrifices. People are routinely exhorted to sacrifice while those who pontificate do so without any qualms about their own initiatives to sacrifice. Leaders who are most enthusiastic proponents of national interests appear to be the most reluctant in this respect. Three score years down the line after Independence, the nation is still being asked to sacrifice so that those who wheel and deal their way to power continue to maintain their stranglehold on the country’s destiny. These leaders and even their minions are so conscious of their own safety that the country’s law and order enforcing agencies have now made it their full-time job to be on VVIP duty. What difference does it make to the people in power if during their visits, the traffic is in disarray, crime shoots up, and people curse every second they have to wait for the cavalcade of high and mighty to pass unobstructed and in neo-royal style? Of course, this security, and even the discomfort for the citizens, is in the national interest too. Why talk about Ministers and political leaders in United Kingdom or Austria or even in Sweden who often take the train to work? It will be enlightening if the public is told how much it costs the taxpayer every time the Prime Minister travels from Islamabad to Karachi for instance. That too in the national interest.
The Constitution of a country is the most sacrosanct document and its sanctity and worth is held supreme by all pillars of the government. Amendments are made after lots of discussions, after lots of brainstorming, and after developing a consensus. Amendments are not made to suit someone’s personal agenda. Alas, the Pakistani Constitution has become a concubine for people in power. It is routinely made to dance to the tune played from the echelons of the powerful. Of course, all this is in the largest national interest. The politicians, once having tasted the fruits of power, forget the right path and develop their own private roadway to achieve their own ambitions. When in opposition, the politicians are the most idealistic and profess themselves as self-sacrificing human beings. Their every word and intonation ooze with the magic phrase ‘national interest’ but when they get the chance to reign, there is little they relinquish for the sake of the nation.
The politicians speak a lot about the economy and never miss a moment to yodel from the top of the mountains that the country’s economic fundamentals are in top gear, the State Bank coffers are brimming with dollars and euros, foreign investors are making a beeline with satchels full of money to invest all over the country, and the movers and shakers of the stock exchanges and the financial sector are laughing all the way to the bank. While much of this is true, any criticism of the government’s economic policies is against the national interest. It is common knowledge that most of the politicians, as well as some advisors, are incompetent misfits in the world of economics and that the country ends up paying the price for their mismanagement. It has happened during all the past regimes. Ministers and advisors take it as a personal affront if trade and industry leadership disapproves or shows a negative disposition to the government’s economic policies. It is not in the national interest to complain and condemn.
The successive governments have been, for various reasons, accused of selling the family silver in the name of privatization. Each transaction is alleged to be non-transparent, sold at lower than market rates, given to favorites or unknown off-shore companies, and done in haste. The government spin doctors cry themselves hoarse trying to convince all and sundry that the deal was truly kosher. And, naturally in the larger national interest. Even white elephant projects are touted as in the national interest inspite of billions of rupees going down the drain or into secret bank accounts.
Then comes the time when the political landscape is about to change. The loyalties and allegiances take on different hues. Yesterday’s opposition leaders, reviled and despised, suddenly become saviors and messiahs, all in the national interest. Deals are consummated behind closed doors in alien lands, foreign interference becomes common knowledge though never admitted, constituencies parameters are amended, massive shifting of bureaucracy becomes an everyday affair, and rules and regulations are re-written, all in the name of national interest. The oft-repeated mantra of provincial autonomy again becomes the rallying point but just for the parochial-minded small minority. Everyone wants to see a united, democratic, and prosperous country in this land called Pakistan. Any idea or action, which moves the land in this direction, is in the national interest. Till, undoubtedly, the elections are over. Then it is back to the old chessboard.
It is apparent that the President is determined to keep the Presidential mantle safe within his reach. Nevertheless, in the Pakistani politics culture and attitude, he has to indulge in co-habitation between him and a legislature possibly dominated by another political party or a coalition. Normally this would be unworkable and ill-considered, but in Pakistan the impossible is easily transformed into the possible. All for the sake of national interest. Wearing or doffing the uniform depends on what is in the best interest of the nation especially with regard to the war on terrorism and extremism. It is an accepted fact that the President has done a superb job safeguarding the integrity of the nation while at the same time reviving the economy. The people of this country are mature and understand the situation Pakistan is faced with. The President can now do one thing, which no one can deny is in the national interest. He can give the green signal for the General Elections so that the people may speak, because ultimately it should always be that what the people say and believe is really in the national interest.
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Martin Luther King, Jr.

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