Sainthoods earned

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NOW that Pope Francis has finished with the business of canonising Mother Teresa as Saint Teresa of Kolkata, perhaps he might apply his mind to the credentials of another equally deserving candidate for sainthood.

St Teresa spent her life emptying the Indian streets of the maimed, the needy, the indigent and the dying. Nawaz Sharif has spent his current prime ministerial term filling Pakistan’s streets with his opponents — the politically disadvantaged, those hungry for power, and terminal cases who slip in and out of comas of hopeless irrelevance. They exhort their followers to crowd every footpath, every road, every highway between Islamabad and Lahore, to agitate for his resignation/removal.

That Nawaz Sharif should have survived such a self-made epidemic of hostility and still continue with a semblance of governance is a miracle. It merits at least sainthood.

The PM has survived a self-made epidemic of hostility.

In just over a year, Mr Sharif will be energising his PML-N party for the next general election due to be held in 2018. He is confident of winning. The opposition is in disarray, and if their erratic performance is any measure of their preparedness, they appear to have condemned themselves to another five years or impotent opposition.

Take the MQM. You might as well, because nobody else will. For over 20 years, they have remained loyal to their ‘king across the water’ — the title given to the ‘Old’ Pretender to the English throne, James Stuart (then in exile), by his Jacobite supporters.

Recently, the MQM Pakistan Rabita Committee decided to adopt the warning Queen Elizabeth I had once given to an errant nobleman. She threatened him:

“I will make you shorter by a head.” The MQM, in an act of self-administered surgery, decided to shorten itself by decapitating its own head.

It disowned its absentee leader Altaf Hussain on television, in the press, and even in the National Assembly. No suicide could have been more public. It was as if Gen Rommel had swallowed Hitler’s pill of cyanide in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. Will the MQM still be able to totter, headless, to the finishing line in 2018?

The laws of nature would argue not. The laws of Pakistani politics predicate that even such a physiological impossibility is not impossible.

Today’s PPP is indistinguishable from the Roman Catholic Church of the 16th century. Its pope is deemed to be infallible. The vow of poverty does not apply to him. It encourages the worship of dead martyrs. Its Mary Magdalene is caught with a suitcase full of dollar bills. Its cardinals are allegedly corrupt. Its clergy lives off its parishioners. It apparently condones simony — the sale/purchase of a post or appointment for money.

No wonder, it is now discovering, that because of its insatiable greed, its parish is shrinking from a national, to a provincial, to an urban level.

The PML-Q waits in Punjab, like some horseless chariot, grounded until it can find a means of locomotion. Chaudhry Pervez Elahi chafes because many of the social initiatives for which the PML-N is taking credit were, in fact, his ideas. Chaudhry Shujaat lost Mushahid Hussain as his foghorn and has yet to find a replacement.

That leaves the irrepressible, uncontainable, enigmatic Imran Khan and his PTI. No leader in Pakistan’s political history has commanded such rabid devotion among his followers, nor identified himself so closely with lofty expectations of social integrity. Napoleon crowned himself emperor. He refused to let Pope Pious VII put the crown on his head. Imran Khan himself has placed the halo of probity around his own brow. It places him at an unenviable elevation.

He has set himself high standards, and the PML-N government even higher ones. Imran Khan, having seen the hologram of power, is impatient. He is desperate to grasp it. If only it did not hang tantalisingly beyond his reach.

Once, the Sharifs looked towards Washing­ton and Riyadh for succour and protection. Now, they look eastwards — towards Beijing. Short of renaming Islamabad Little Beijing, they are doing everything to ensure that China converts an inefficient, cleric-ridden, theocratic Pakistan into a Muslim facsimile of what was once a mediaeval, backward, lama-infested Tibet.

Is this the result of a conscious policy by the two Sharif governments, at the federal and provincial levels? Unfortunately, it is not. They are no more free agents to decide how much to concede to the Chinese than the Tibetans were.

China has learned that the secret of accelerated modernisation lies not in industrialisation, nor power generation, nor in exercising muscles of nuclear might. It lies first in education, at all levels. “Give me four years to teach the children,” Lenin once said, “and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.” The Chinese are reaping their early harvest. We stare at wilting seedlings.