Ardeshir Cowasjee is the doyen of Pakistani opinion-makers having been around forever as the leading light of Dawn. For many years now, with great regularity, Mr. Cowasjee has been making a seemingly provocative statement on behalf of Mr. Jinnah. For some reason, this statement has sparked no discussion whatsoever.
Here is one version of the statement as expressed in his column of May 25, 2008:
“That man of great perception (there were no others to follow him) our founder and maker, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, once prophesied shortly after the making of his country, realising the calibre of men and women around and about him, that each successive government of Pakistan would be worse than its preceding one. This prediction, made 60 years ago, has been eerily correct, and continues to be so.”
Every time I have read this statement I have been plagued with doubts. Does Mr. Cowasjee really mean what he says or is he just trying to be provocative? How can Mohammad Ali Jinnah be a man of great perception if he realized only after the making of his country that the caliber of the men and women around him was such that each successive government of Pakistan would be worse than the preceding one?
Perhaps no one has picked up the argument because there is no way of knowing if the attribution to Mr. Jinnah is true or not. But either way, the statement is quite damaging to the reputation of Mr. Jinnah. If he led his troops into the battle knowing the poor caliber of his officer corps, it could be considered an act of irresponsible adventurism. If he did so believing the contrary, it was fatal error of judgment.
It was for the first time that I noticed the latter interpretation in Mr. Cowasjee’s column of July 20, 2008:
“To repeat, and repeat, also ad nauseam, Jinnah once predicted, undoubtedly with sadness in his heart and a self-admittance that he had not got it all right, that each successive government of Pakistan would be worse than the preceding one.”
From a man of great perception, Mr. Jinnah is portrayed now, for the first time, as one admitting that possibly “he had not got it all right.” Perhaps Mr. Cowasjee wanted someone in this massively populated country to reach that conclusion on his own and raise it as an issue to be discussed much like it would have been in any other country. Perhaps he is now convinced no one ever will and has decided to say so himself.
There could, of course, be a third possibility. It could well be that Mr. Cowasjee is wrong, that Mr. Jinnah never said any such thing, and that the “caliber of the men and women around him,” while not up to his own standard, was not all that bad on the average. It could well be that there is some completely different explanation for the subsequent decline in the quality of leadership.
This kind of a sharp decline is not unknown in history. One can take the 300-year Mughal rule as an example. Everyone knows the names of the six emperors who reigned during the first 150 years. It would be difficult to recall the name of any one of the almost two-dozen kings who sat on the throne during the last 150 years. Only the diehard fans of classical music would know Mohammad Shah (Rangile) and lovers of Urdu poetry would recall Bahadur Shah (Zafar), both with immense gratitude for the heritage they have left us.
Whatever the reason, and we should certainly search for an explanation, there is little doubt that the slide in the quality of leadership in Pakistan has been precipitous. It has been a very steep decline from a brilliant barrister with an international reputation who might have made one fatal mistake to most of those who have followed till what we now have is a veritable shipload of fools unable to get a single thing right.
Pakistan has turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory achieved at huge human cost to many who had to move to new homes, to most who became the ‘other’ where they stayed on, to those who had to suffer yet another partition, and to all who never made it or got caught in the continued cross-fire in Kashmir. To what point? To be inherited by a cast of bumblers who promptly began to run it aground, sunder it in many pieces, starve its people, and turn all the lights out?
The ship is headed for the rocks. We know that the leadership has failed; even to call it a leadership is a travesty. And there is not even a silver lining unlike the brilliant cultural renaissance, the age of Ghalib, that accompanied the decline of the Mughal’s but would outlive all its follies. Our present decline is arid and grotesque and painful. Mr. Cowasjee would do us a service if, instead of telling us the obvious, he would enlighten us on what went wrong. And why? And when? And what is to be done?