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Reading men (and women)

The writer is a defence analyst who retired as an air vice-marshal in the Pakistan Air Force
If ever there is a form of existence that has taught me more about life and its manifestations, it has been simply observing and reading men dealing with life’s vicissitudes. There are essentially two kinds in my grammar of things: those that go with the flow, and the few who will tend to venture out every now and then, create a spark that could either ignite the spirit to new vistas or simply burn down whatever was already there. It is the second type of man that has held my interest through the years. God knows, I have saved a few in my life from ignominious end to what I knew could be exceptional careers if ever a moment arrived when something out of the ordinary was needed. It may have been exceptionally long-term hedging, but without it can you ever have a Malik Riaz rise from the ashes of ordinariness?

Here are a few examples that we all are familiar with: My most favourite from the great land of Americas are the Clintons — and I say this in all seriousness. America hasn’t had a sharper president in recent years. He dealt with the most difficult global issues plaguing his time in office with a classy ease. Whether it was war, or the international stage to forge peace, or to envision ‘globalisation’ which would underwrite the future of the world, he waltzed his way through with that great elegance of his. And yet, yet, there was time for fun. Whitewater, the Health policy woes, the shutdown of the government, the threat of his impeachment, were all taken in stride. His comfort level was such with his surroundings that even a moment’s escapade, be it in the adjacent pantry to the Oval Office or the search to find his quarry in a tumult, gave him that opportunity to explore and venture beyond the routine. In fact, the closing down of the government gave him even greater time for other engagements. Full marks for creativity. Look at his voluminous biography; is there another in recent times, from 40 to 44, that can present itself with such great depth; and simple intellectual brilliance? I am certain he would have led America brilliantly in another World War. He would have surely been on my side if I ever had anything to do with him.

Hillary is another type; consummately intelligent, but too organised for my flavour. She had the good sense to keep the errant Bill around for better times. She is ‘planned’ — in a good way; and, knows her ‘smart’ from the rest. She may be tiring a bit now, but wow, what a couple. Explosive, in all manners of saying. But put them against Articles 62 and 63 of our Constitution, and they don’t make it. Good, they weren’t born in Pakistan.

I will leave Barack Obama out. He is work in progress and given what he had at inauguration of 2009, a possibility to begin with a clean slate, he chose to retain the filthy one that Bush, the squanderer, left. No, I wouldn’t have noticed him in the middle of a mob unless, of course, he had to make the speech at a convention. My other problem with him — he is compulsively over-rehearsed, even with his self-written speeches; there are no moments of a ‘city on the hill’. May be he will be back and maybe that is good for America given their current crop of options, but nay, he couldn’t lead America in a World War. Heck, he can’t extract America out of one in Afghanistan.

Of the recent Indian lot, only Vajpayee ji was the right kind. Most other Indians, I have met are the type that I have always expected them to be: staid, serious — too serious, a little unsure, perhaps a bit insecure, wary and apprehensive, untrusting; simply unwilling to hang out for longer than a drink; much more the regular types. Vajpayee was different and that is why he ventured out to Pakistan. By Indian standards, he was reckless; almost agreed to putting to rest the mockery that rules India and Pakistan. But then, he hit the proverbial ‘wall’ of the Indian Establishment with some help from Musharraf, and things never changed. Nehru, again, was the right kind. Sure, suave, sophisticated, with a well functioning mind which was clear and well directed too. In India, as in Pakistan, mostly systems have governed, not men and that shows in a lack of any ‘spark’ or enterprise in their societies and especially within their establishment structures. Exception should be made for Bhutto and Benazir.

But why do I take this road at all? Thanks to Malik Riaz and his nemesis, Arsalan Iftikhar, Pakistan is in the midst of another ‘gate’. I will leave young Arsalan to his father and let them sort matters out between them, but I find Malik Riaz fascinating. He is what he says he is; make of it what you want. Show me the one who may have earned his riches by staying on the straight and narrow. But is there another who has brought and put in place twenty-first century living within the reach of ordinary Pakistanis. He, to my mind, is a creator of sorts and brings dreams to reality. In doing so, the ordinary people have only gotten better. Others hold onto their precious swathes of real estate, he converts ordinary land into real estate. Real estate is precious only when it is used; unused, it remains only potentially precious. How he may get it is another story and needs to be ruthlessly regulated. Among all the rascals that man this land of ours, he is a productive rascal. No question, he must pay for his latest and other crimes, if proven. As must others who begun to get in as the net widens.

Here is the recommended list of punishments that the courts may consider: charge him to make up for the power shortages that debilitate Pakistan today; he should introduce and develop hygienic housing for our village folk in villages that surround major cities; a part of his wealth should be used to set up technology towns in parts of Pakistan where the bulging youth population should find its future. Were he to do this under the watchful eye of the Superior Courts, we would wish him even greater wealth and riches. He needs to be preserved, gainfully employed with his enterprise and not wasted. Any takers.

Express Tribune