The saga of the shameless - Tallat Azim - 3rd March 2013

It is the month of March and absolutely glorious weather – you know, the mornings with the clear blue sky, chirping birds and the perfect sun with just a hint of breeze. These are the sort of days one wishes would last forever and inspire you to aim for new beginnings and fill you with hope. New beginnings are what we so desperately need as a country. They appear to be so close, but yet so far - if one thinks of the tight grip the outgoing parliamentarians have on the system that’s been made so manoeuvrable by them.
It is also the month when a new caretaker setup will be put in place and steps taken towards organising the general elections after some weeks. As the pace of work regarding this mammoth activity builds up, more stories come to light of how it has always been up to now - and all that has been made possible for their own preservation by the influential in this country.
It is ironic, to say the least, that our Minister for Education, the same Sheikh Waqas Akram, who does not tire of telling us what is wrong with all of us who dare to criticise any act of the government, is said to possess a tampered college degree. One can forgive some of the others perhaps, but the Education Minister?!
A lot of good satire is being aired on TV about all such things, but, unfortunately, it is being accepted in the name of freedom of expression with zero effect on the butt of the jokes. The shamelessness in the face of so many accusations is hard to understand. The meaning of ‘a thick skin’ has acquired an altogether new dimension in the last five years.
The ministers and the parliamentarians treat the skits and the songs much as they were ‘sitnis’ (traditional pulling of leg of the groom’s family through songs and innuendos done at weddings by the bride’s family, for ice-breaking and harmless fun). The wedding ‘sitnis’ are supposed to be accepted with good humour and equally saucy rejoinders and that’s exactly how they are treated by our power-wielding politicians. No regret or reform has ever been witnessed to date.
But this is not a family wedding and nor are these accusations made in jest. This is, probably, the most critical crossroads that we, as a country, have ever been at. All the statistics, all the facts point that way. One prays and hopes that there is some plan afoot, some conspiracy by the Gods, to bring us back on track and throw up leadership, who has the will and the resolve to bring this country to its potential. The upcoming elections have to be seen in this context.
With so much that needs to be put right, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), in spite of having full support of the people at large, does not appear to be measuring up to the task at hand. It seems to be buckling under the pressure to stop effective scrutiny of the candidates. The demand by citizens is that the ECP should perform its constitutional role, without fear or favour, and filter out those who presented fake degrees, hold dual nationalities, have evaded tax, defaulted on loans or indulged in criminal activities. They ‘must’ be disqualified.
Fukhru Bhai, this is the sort of spring-cleaning we are looking at this March – not half-hearted attempts that leave most of the germs inside the dish being prepared. The critically ill system needs the best hygiene standards you can apply to be able to recover fully.
The battle for the hearts and minds of the electorate is in full swing and General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, too, has announced, in no uncertain terms, that he plans to return in this month to take part in the elections. It was in March that the Pakistan Resolution was passed in 1940 and may history record that in March 2013, the resolve of cleansing the system of corruption was fully endorsed and practiced by the ECP, which proved to be a harbinger of change.
Postscript: Two good things have taken place that deserve to be highlighted. For one, the Chief Minister of Punjab has presented himself and his team for accountability through an agreement with Transparency International Pakistan. The impartial international institution will review whether all the required transparency was maintained during the mega projects undertaken by the Government of Punjab in its tenure. Slowly but surely, things are moving towards change as was also proven by the party elections held by PTI in which some people won unexpectedly - as they were the choice of the voters.
The other good thing that happened was the response of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Punjab governments to the initiative of a campaign about education by a private TV network. The campaign is about exposing the low and unacceptable standards of schools and teaching in all the provinces of the country and the plight of the children studying there. It is common knowledge that corporal punishment is awarded to students for various offences and that there are no real checks on teachers for this. Three of the provincial governments have proposed legislation against this practice. It is, indeed, an important milestone and recognition of the role that the media can play through such programmes and the highlighting of correctable issues.