Jokes go where pundits fear to tread

November 25, 2008

One of the most common questions I get asked by Pakistani acquaintances is: “Where is this country going?”

After watching the tumultuous events of the past couple of years, and knowing that 12 months ago the idea of Asif Ali Zardari becoming president figured nowhere on my list of  scenarios, I’ve learned to hedge.

“It will probably get worse before it gets better” always seems like a safe response in Pakistan, as it seldom seems to get better for long.

More imaginative Pakistanis however compiled their vision of the future in 2020 with a mock-up front page of Dawn that’s been circulated through e-mail.

The headlines were, of course, humorous, though there is probably an uneasy feeling among many people that perhaps the jokes could come true.

Working from the top down:
    Petrol Prices Hiked – 440Rs/Ltr
    President Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has removed his uniform
    President Ashfaq to visit neighbouring country Balochland
    Seminar on the 9th Death anniversary of Sharif Brothers &
    Pakistan Rupee hits record low, crosses 178 per dollar
    Geo TV is back after 12 year ban
    Will Osama be captured?
    Pakistan Lost The Series against Hong Kong
    Shoaib completed his 12 year ban
    Imran still not satisfied
    Meera’s 25th Birthday

Okay, well you have to be Pakistani, or Indian, to understand some of those jokes.

But, I think anyone can grasp the biggest fears underlying this naughty piece of black humour, namely; the return of the military, the break-up of the country, the economic decline, the refusal of the war on terrorism to go away, and the national cricket team being as hapless as ever in 12 years time.

Loose talk of a failed state breaking apart has been bouncing around now for almost a decade. But clearly things have got worse.

I was put in mind of this by a couple of articles by New York Times writers that appeared over the weekend.

Redrawn map makes Pakistan uneasy” by Jane Perlez led off on a particularly extreme conspiracy theory, “based on a map first circulated in a theoretical exercise in some U.S. neo-conservative circles” that the United States has a secret agenda to break up Pakistan.

And “The Pakistan Test” by Nicholas D. Kristof. It’s not about cricket. Kristof reckons Pakistan will be “Barack Obama’s most difficult international test in the next year”. You have to wonder why he’s says “next year”?

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, in an interview with Associated Press of Pakistan over the weekend, also said 2009 was a crucial year for Pakistan.

What’s going to happen?

Every December I ask myself what nightmares the coming year could bring. Assassinations and something to do with Osama bin Laden usually make the list. But maybe 2009 will surprise us with something good — a great leap forward in the Indo-Pak peace process, maybe. Maybe not.

There are clearly plenty of scenarios out there that I’ve missed. What can they be? This is not a joke.


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