Look, another year

D’où venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Où allons-nous? (Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?). Important, existential questions. Apt to ask them at the start of the new year. But I have a better one: What’s the point?

Every year we say goodbye to the old one, celebrate, and resolve to bring about life-altering changes in the next. Changes come but not per our plans. For instance, emerging from the Covid-related fears and restrictions, did you imagine that Putin, the man widely credited with the post-Yeltsin revival of Russia, would wage war against Ukraine, and the ripple effects would so thoroughly skew our distant, mortal lives? So as Ghalib had said:

Rau Mein Hai Rakhsh-e-Umr Kahan Dekhiye Thamey

Ne Haath Baag Par Hain Na Pa Hain Rakab Mein!

(With feet off the stirrups, and the reins hanging free,

The steed of life gallops on; where it halts, let us see)

Another example. At the start of 2022, could you foresee that Imran Khan’s rule, which had survived the dire predictions of its worst detractors for almost four years, would come to such an abrupt and unceremonious end? Or that it would leave behind scorched earth?

Another. That the spectre of terrorism would raise its ugly head again? And blatantly so. With the fruits of a twenty-year-long struggle squandered in just about six months. And that the TTP’s apologists would crawl out of the most unexpected parts of the woodwork. People who never tire of telling you that it is not black and white but very, very complicated. Yeah, the same kind who does not relent for a second in declaring you the enemy of the republic. This country lost eighty thousand souls at the TTP’s hands and similar monsters. But we can still find time to rationalise the ugly tree of radicalism on which the poisonous fruit called TTP grew. There is no cheap thrill in remembering and honouring the sacrifices of the fallen eighty thousand. The latter can open up a universe of punditry. So what if it is counterintuitive? It is so profitable.

Fourth example: the economy. Everyone knows what needs to be done. Everyone knew what needed to be done at the start of 2022. But we keep changing doctors. How many finance ministers have we changed in the past six years alone? Had I not found a way to handle and manage my paranoia, I would have said that whenever a finance minister came close to figuring out a solution, he was sacked. Result? Marz barhta gaya joon joon dava ki (the ailment grew exponentially with every medicine administered). What saddens me the most, however, is how each finance minister was removed from the government. You thought India was unkind in its treatment of Raghuram Rajan and Arvind Subramanian. Wait till you hear stories of the way technocrats were hired and replaced by our finance ministry and state bank.

Jo koi chahnay wala tawaf ko niklay

Nazar chura kay chalay, jism-o-jaan bacha kay chalay

(And if a devotee yearns to go on pilgrimage,

Then he must walk, with eyes lowered & body crouched in fear)

So, what is the point, dear reader, of painstakingly evaluating the outcomes of the past year and recommending or predicting what ought to happen in the next?

But then, as is customary, when our media is not satisfied with the net outcome of our punditry, seers, palmists, astrologers, and card readers are invited to the shows. In itself a fitting epitaph of yet another dead year which reminded us how superstitious we are. These supernaturalists throw everything at the wall, and every year something sticks. That’s the brilliance of this scheme. If you get enough individuals under one roof and they all make predictions, some are bound to be correct, even if accidentally.

I have no patience for such predictions. But there is enough data to make some broad assumptions. Like barring any black swan incident, general elections will be held later this year which will produce a hung parliament at the Centre. This year will also see the PPP and the ANP significantly gaining ground. The state and society will redouble their efforts to combat terrorism. But if you expect the Taliban apologists to care more about Pakistan than their ideological masters, don’t hold your breath. The insurgency in Balochistan may gradually start losing steam as consensus emerges that the matter has to be settled amicably and politically. Yet those partaking in terrorist activities can expect a befitting response.

In our neighbourhood, I don’t see any answer to the paradox that is the Afghan government. Not this year. But don’t expect the fans of the Afghan government to change their tune. Our blood is the cost of their blind faith. Some of us will die, and their faith will grow stronger. They are the righteous ones, we, mardood e haram (barred out of sacred place). With China and Iran, you can expect even stronger relations. Expect at least moderate breakthroughs in the relationship with India. But there is also some room for not-very-moderate achievements.

The Pakistan Army will continue strengthening its resolve to remain apolitical and unbiased. It won’t be easy. It won’t come cheap. But when there is a will, there’s a way. The recent transition in the armed forces is a generational one. The transformation in threat perception and outlook is a remarkable one. If this happens, the country will be the next beneficiary.

After struggling in the opening months, the economy will gain some stability. This fiscal year has proven to be difficult so far. It won’t be a cakewalk, but it will get better. The next fiscal year will be much better. Be sceptical of the pessimistic predictions about the global economic outlook. The global economy is expected to perform better than expected, especially if you are not obsessed with presenting exceptions as rules and fiction as fact.

The Pakistani judiciary will need to overcome its crisis of identity. While it sounds prudent that the honourable justices pay no heed to the media, especially the social media landscape, it is unlikely to happen. And this may only add to the crisis.

The parliament has invented new ways to make itself dysfunctional. There is little evidence that it will change that pattern before the next elections. Also, despite all this, the talk about the country heading towards a presidential system is just talk. Make nothing of it.

The most breathtaking transformation that is likely to happen is in the reconfiguration of the country’s intelligence apparatus. Nothing exogenous. The change is coming from within.

So, despite deliberately trying to be sarcastic, bitter, and nihilistic at the start, dear reader, you might have noticed by now that the incorrigible optimist in me remains undefeated.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2022.


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