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The Shaping Of An Anti-Politics Mindset

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In 2016, Ahmad Faruqui interviewed an expat Pakistani whose rejection of Pakistan’s traditional political parties and lionizing of Imran Khan and men in khaki define contemporary politics of the country.

A few years back, I got into a black limousine in Washington, DC that was going to take me to my destination which lay two hours away. The chauffer turned out to be a Pakistani who had moved to the US in 1988.

I asked him what he thought of the suicide attack that had just taken place in Lahore on Easter Sunday. He said, “The enemies are out to get us.”

I asked, who are the enemies? He said India. Then he began talking about ISI’s capture of an Indian spy who was a serving officer in the Indian navy who carried the rank of Commander.

He said the spy had confessed to all his sins. I said a trained spy will not confess that easily. He said the security forces know how to extract confessions. I said a trained spy will swallow poison. He said not the Indians. They are afraid of death, unlike Muslims who embrace it with valor.

He said the attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot could not be traced to Pakistan. India was hiding the attackers and blaming Pakistan for everything that was wrong in India: “This time the Indians were on the back foot.”

He talked excitedly about the conspiracy being hatched in India to encircle Pakistan via Afghanistan and Iran. How many times had I heard that one? He said India had already won over Afghanistan and proceeded to dump on the Afghan president.

And now Iran was being recruited by India. He said the army chief had shown damning evidence to the Iranian president about Iran’s acquiescence to having Indian spies on its territory during his visit to Islamabad.

Then he started telling me about the great things that Sharif had done for the country, the general and not the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

And in the same breath he went on to call Nawaz one of the most corrupt of God’s creation, only exceeded in venality by his predecessor, Zardari, who was not only financially corrupt but also morally depraved. There was undisputed proof that he had indulged in acts of moral turpitude with a curvaceous model. Zardari was the ultimate mobster, one who would put the Godfather to shame. He had authorized not only the killing of his wife’s brother while she served as prime minister, but also her killing.

I asked: Why is Zardari not being tried for any of his crimes? He said Nawaz had made a deal with him to split the profits from their corrupt rules. He added: The PPP was finished. I said Zardari’s son may return and breathe new life into the party. No, he is not ‘fit’ to lead and everyone knows it.

What about Imran Khan? Oh, that man walks on water. He has taken the province which he governs to new heights. He added, prophetically, one day Imran will become the prime minister. Along with Raheel Sharif, he will restore Pakistan’s honor among the comity of nations.

He started drawing parallels between Imran and Jinnah, the country’s founder.

I was getting bored. He had started to regurgitate clichés that went back to my childhood. “We have meager resources. But we have hardworking people. If only we had honest leaders, we would be the world’s best country. Korea has copied us and see where they are now. Even India is copying us.”

Who was behind the ethnic and sectarian and religious discord in Pakistan? The foreign hand! Who was behind the poverty and illiteracy and hunger and disease? The big landlords and capitalists, who sucked the blood of the masses!

So I asked: what was your opinion of ZA Bhutto? Oh, he was the most diabolical leader in Pakistan’s history, responsible for the break-up of the country. He deserved to die on the gallows.

I had studiously wanted to avoid getting into conspiracy theories which were deeply embedded in Pakistani culture. Even the recent defeat of the cricket team in the T-20 cup was laid at the door of “vested interests.” It was inconceivable that Pakistan would lose to India because of bad batting, bowling and fielding.

So I asked: Will Pakistan prosper despite the evil designs of the enemies. “Yes, God willing it will survive.”

So everything rested in God’s hands. I wondered why God had allowed the pure land that was created in His name and which proudly called itself an Islamic Republic, to be ruled by corrupt and vile tyrants. An inner voice told me not to put the question to him. I held back.

I did remind him that the Islamic scripture says that God only helps those who help themselves. He agreed and said Pakistanis had a habit of electing bad leaders, that only the army could save it from certain destruction, and that the security agencies had saved the country many times the details of which would never be known.

I thought of making a comment but bit my tongue. Was it not General Yahya Khan who had tried to restore the “writ of the state” in East Pakistan in 1971 after his refusal to honor the results of the election provoked an outright rebellion and resulted eventually in a full-scale war with India and then the secession of the East?

I imagine the answer would have been that the generals of that era were corrupt and incompetent. Only if Imran Khan and Raheel Sharif had been in power, the Indians would not have had the courage to dismember the country.

As the drive came to a close, and it came time to shake hands, the chauffer said, “General Sharif is the world’s best army chief. If the army was to get the same weaponry as the American army, it would defeat the latter in combat.”

Postscript. General Sharif headed the “Zarb-e-Azb” campaign and served just one term as army chief. Yet his posters were everywhere. On retirement, he moved to Saudi Arabia. He now heads the Islamic Military Alliance.

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