Where Are The Ideas?

We need to put together a foreign aid package for President Obama as a thank you for the billions his government has sent us. Our aid package can contain the political strategies of Zardari that help him, even while unpopular with the intelligentsia, win by polls. Even the PML guys can throw in their own help with some memos on the latest coalition building. And in exchange, we can ask Obama not to send anymore billions, but just a few people with actual policy ideas.

If there’s one thing that our politicians and intellectuals understand too well, it’s politics. My god, everyone in the country not only has an opinion, they are also experts on the subject. If politics was a natural resource that could be exported, we would be the wealthiest nation in the world.

Cyril Almeida makes this point perfectly in Dawn yesterday.

Unfortunately, we’re also one of the poorest nations when it actually comes to some policies for our politicians to enact once we elect them. This is also reflected in Cyril’s column – not by what he says, but what he doesn’t say. For all his exposition on the political strategies in Islamabad, there’s not one single sentence about the policies that might actually do some good for the people who don’t lust to have ‘Mian’, ‘Amir’, ‘MNA’ or ‘Minister’ before their name.

Ayaz Amir says as much in his piece for The News. I do think that he is much to sour in his writing – how can not come away with a stomach ache after reading it? But he does make one or two important points which I would like to draw to your attention.

First, he makes the observation that the media is not actually helping anything. Recently I was watching Shahid Masood’s show and a young woman commented that these TV anchors simply invite people on who they can prod into loud arguments and at the end of the show there is no solution proposed, no recommendations for action – just more yelling.  Here’s how Ayaz Amir characterizes it:

The crisis we face is more serious than we think. It is not just about fuel prices, sugar, inflation in general, or the breakdown of law and order. If it was only this there would still be hope. What we are facing is a bankruptcy of ideas, a governing class – covering the political and military spectrum – that can’t ask the right questions and therefore is in no position to get the right answers.

President Obama has had his comeuppance in the midterm congressional elections. He looks chastened and a bit beaten. The American electorate had a choice and it has exercised it. But what if there was such a moment in Pakistan? What choice would we have? What would be the alternatives on offer? None, because there would be none to begin with. Just more of the same, the past recycled to represent the future. This is a greater crisis than anything on the economic horizon.

Every wakeup call in the morning, when you scan the newspapers, is an invitation to cynicism.

And it is not just TV shows, either. The media gets criticised (though, let me tell you, it doesn’t seem to be getting through their thick skulls) but in a sense why should we expect from our journalists what our own intellectuals can’t even handle?

The spirit of Gen Zia lives on. In a nation that could never claim a shortage of false piety, he raised an entire temple complex to the spirit of hypocrisy. His legacy endures. The Pakistan of today is not cast in the image of Jinnah or Iqbal. The veneer of democracy notwithstanding, it is a tribute to the spirit of Zia. The supremacy of form over substance of which he was the master engineer continues to blight what, without a trace of irony, we call an Islamic Republic.

What should be our charter of economic renewal? Have any books been written on the subject? Are we even seriously debating this issue? Foreigners, and an increasing number of them, come and give us lectures on governance and economic policy and we accept what they say because we have little of our own to add to the narrative or the debate.

I have said before that I am sick to death of all these people clamoring from their TV studios and computer keyboard for some ‘revolution’ without even thinking about what they means or to what end they are revolting. But I will say that this country is desperate for a revolution of ideas.

I think we throw the label ‘intellectual’ around too easily. We have set the bar too low. All you need is some degree and in a county where everything has its price, it is well known that even an impressive sounding degree can be purchased.

But too many of our so-called intellectuals are not thinkers, they are simply parrots who learn to repeat certain catch phrases about hegemony or sovereignty or corruption. They give everyone a headache with their constant squawking until the people are ready to do whatever they say if they will simply shut up!

But this is no way to move a country forward. Jinnah had ideas. Iqbal had ideas. These were men who did not yell at each other about problems, they thought seriously about how to solve them. Where are our ideas now? They cannot have perished with these men. We need thoughtful people to step up to the task and begin a discussion not about politics and personalities, but about ideas.

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