Feisal Naqvi

Archive for May, 2008|Monthly archive page

This too shall pass

In Uncategorized on May 13, 2008 at 3:57 am

A few days ago, a man by the name of Joseph Fritzl made the following claim, “I am no monster.”

In the case of most people, such a claim would not be contentious. In the case of Mr Fritzl, this claim is extremely dubious.

In 1977, Joseph Fritzl started construction on an elaborate cellar in his house complete with remote-controlled steel doors. Subsequently, he imprisoned his daughter in that cellar and over the next few decades he raped her repeatedly. Eventually, she had seven children, three of whom were kept with her underground their whole lives, while the remaining four were brought up by Fritzl and his wife.

Some weeks ago, one of the children fell ill. When Fritzl took her to the hospital, it set off a chain of events ultimately culminating in the discovery of the underground prison and the release of all the remaining children and Fritzl’s daughter.

I come back now to Fritzl’s claim of not being a monster. In an interview, Fritzl claimed that he was being unfairly portrayed by the media because nobody mentioned the fact that he had kept his family alive. “I could have killed all of them,” he said, “and no one would have known. No one would have ever found about it.”

I mention this story because it is an extreme illustration of a universal truth: nobody ever thinks that they are a bad person. At the end of the day, no matter what they might have done, everybody always manages to justify their actions.

This fundamental human truth is worth keeping in mind because given the impasse in London, we will see a fair amount of finger-pointing over the next few days. Accusations will be hurled. Recriminations will be made. Names will be called.

Tomorrow, we will all pass judgement on who is at fault. History may or may not confirm that judgement. But in the meantime, we need to stop trying to convince the other side that they are wrong: even monsters don’t believe they are monsters.

What then are we supposed to do in the meantime? One time-honoured remedy for depression is, of course, to watch the entire oeuvre of Monty Python; hence the headline. Remember also that even if the coalition survives, salvation (or universal prosperity) is not around the corner. Instead, we will have to wait while our new rulers learn on the job what it is that they are supposed to be doing.

The last observation is based, in part, on the announcement by the current foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, that he is setting up two task forces, one of which will be asked “to determine the future direction of foreign policy”. Since the PPP has not been in power since 1996, one would have thought that 12 years would have been ample time to reflect upon “the future direction of foreign policy.” Apparently not.

I don’t mean to impugn Mr Qureshi’s credentials as foreign minister. If anything, he deserves credit for taking public steps to redress the evident lack of policy-making expertise in his domain. What I do want to point out is that there is no system in place which ensures that matters of public policy are examined and understood by politicians before they are placed in positions of power.

This is simply inexcusable. Pakistan may or may not be able to afford the collapse of the current coalition but it certainly cannot afford a system in which whoever comes to power is required to learn on the job.

There are two ways to address this problem.

The first method, as used in the United Kingdom, is to have a “shadow cabinet” made up of senior members of the opposition, each of whom is given a particular portfolio to handle. The shadow minister then learns what the specific issues facing his ministry are so that when his party takes power, he knows what to do.

The second method, seen more in the United States, is to have an entire ecosystem of policy think tanks and lobbyists, who concentrate on specific areas of public policy. In this way, when a new government or administration takes over, it has the option of selecting experts of its choice, or of picking a particular policy from the options on offer.

In the case of Pakistan, the first option is clearly unavailable. To begin with, we have yet to reach the point where we have a stable two-party system, let alone the point where our political leaders would be comfortable enough nominating a particular person as the presumptive minister of a particular ministry. Those with long memories may recall the less than enthralling process by which the current Prime Minister of Pakistan, not to mention the rest of his cabinet, was selected through an extended session of eeny, meeny, mina mo.

This, of course, leaves us with only the second option. Unfortunately, there are two fairly substantial problems with the universe of policy experts available in Pakistan. The first problem is that there are not very many policy experts available. The second problem is, that with some very limited and honourable exceptions (i.e., Shahid Kardar), those policy experts don’t know very much.

Clearly then, we have a serious issue. Equally obviously, we need a serious response.

It has been agreed by all and sundry that the next round of international aid needs to focus not on providing us with military equipment but on improving social conditions. May I suggest that instead of sending us “experts” to tell us what to do, the West helps us to grow our own experts so that we can figure out what to do. So if there is somebody out there reading this with lots of money to spare, here is my message in a nutshell: spend some serious bloody money developing a good indigenous think-tank for public policy. Note, I said think-tank: we already have tanks, both home-grown and imported.

As we wait for our think-tanks to grow, what all are we supposed to do? Well, Monty Python’s movie, the “Life of Brian” ends with our hero, Brian, being wrongly crucified by Romans. But does he ever despair? No. Instead, he kicks up his heels — on the cross! — and sings, “Always look on the bright side of life…”

And so, gentle readers, do not despair. This too shall pass.

The writer is an advocate and can be reached at laalshah@gmail.com