It was early 2008 when the Pakistan Peoples Party came into power and long-time politician Yousaf Gilani was named Prime Minister. There was change in the air. Emotions were intensified. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto and hatred for General Pervez Musharraf had energized the Pakistani populace.
There were high expectations for the new regime. It was Pakistan's moment of "Hope and Change."
Several months after the elections the Prime Minister visited the States. U.S. officials, journalists and the Pakistani diaspora greeted the new leader, wanting to hear what he had to say.
Critics were skeptical.
The trip did not go as well as planned. The Prime Minister's attempts to deliver coherent speeches were a total disaster. Gilani's appearance at a talk sponsored by the Middle East Institute and the Council on Foreign Relations was particularly embarrassing. He gave the strong impression that he had been over-prepared by his handlers to answer all questions posed with the same handful of stock replies, irritating and puzzling the crowd. When the PM decided to deviate from his talking points and improvise, the result was most unfortunate. As former Daily Times columnist Khalid Hassan described:
Gilani...also stated that the government is negotiating with those insurgents who have surrendered. Why was it any longer necessary to negotiate with those he had already surrendered, he did not explain. To another question, Gilani said, "The US knows more about Pakistan than I do". To the question about rampant anti-Americanism in Pakistan, Gilani replied that the last government had no political support and used force. He said the US had backed the military. Asked what the US could do to help resolve Kashmir, the prime minister declared, "The US can do what it wants".
Critics thought he'd improve. He didn't.
Gilani uttered a rather bizarre statement at a dinner gathering hosted by the Pakistani diaspora. He went up to the podium and announced quite proudly that his kids do not know Pakistan's national anthem; thus, his first order was to open every state event by playing it.
It probably was his way of being patriotic, but given that the man served as the Speaker of the National Assembly for years, his admission about his children's knowledge gap was quite odd.
Critics, once again, held out hope.
As months passed, Gilani's eagerness to compromise politically and his unclear stand on counterterrorism efforts internationally portrayed him as a spineless opportunist. Instead of siding with the people who voted him in he chose to stay in power at any cost. He acted as if he was not elected by the people but selected by the power circles to run the country.
Critics continued to cut him slack.
His address to the Parliament on the bin Laden raid was seen as a cover to save his own skin. Gilani went on the attack, saying that accusations that the government and the ISI were "in cahoots" with al-Qaeda were "absurd," as was the accusation of incompetence. One would ask, if it's not complicity or incompetence, what's left? He also huffed about unilateral actions and their possibly dire consequences on the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan. There was no explanation for why bin Laden was able to live securely within his country's borders for six years. Of course there was no apology.
Critics observed silently.
Up until now, Gilani's behavior could be written off as poorly performed political theater. But his stance on the killing of a young boy by paramilitary forces in broad daylight a few days ago in Karachi was the last straw. The shooting of the teenager, which was caught on camera, was broadcast repeatedly on Pakistani news channels. The sight of the young man begging for his life shocked and outraged the country.
Gilani's response? Instead of taking a strong stand, as demanded by his voters and his own party, he chose instead to attack the opposition by uttering what can charitably be described as a most naive statement. "It is wrong to blame all people in uniform just because of some," Gilani said. He reminded lawmakers that "under Article 63 of the constitution, abusive language could not be used against superior judiciary and armed forces." He shamelessly warned everyone that "we should remain within our limits". In other words, don't let a few bad apples spoil your impression of the barrel, and by no means insult the barrel.
That was the last straw. Critics lost it.
Gilani did not provide any specifics on what those "limits" he referred to were. Not condemning the rough and aggressive act of paramilitary forces towards civilians?
So how to interpret the trouble the Prime Minister's son finds himself in - an example of a child of privilege gone rogue or a sign of endemic governmental wrongdoing? Abdul Qadir Gilani is accused of enriching himself with money embezzled from people traveling to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj. Investigators are curious to know where he got the money to buy his bullet proof Jeep, said to cost upwards of Rs 15 million and imported from Dubai. When Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency issued a notice to Abdul Qadir to record his statement before the team looking into the scandal, the FIA director was removed from the panel.
Should Abdul Qadir be reprimanded as an individual, or should the whole government be held liable for creating an atmosphere where shameless thievery take place?
The Prime Minister's cowardice is an individual shortcoming. The Parliament can't be blamed for his fecklessness. But only a corrupt system would buoy this sort of man to such a high position.
The six Rangers who were involved in the Karachi shooting were not just individuals. They represented the corruption and internal rot of the institution that allowed them to exercise the power ruthlessly against the people.
If Gilani wanted to come across as a true leader rather than a craven lackey, he would have taken the side of the people who trekked to the polls and put his party into power.
Gilani has proved himself to be the powerful security establishment's go-to pawn in Parliament, but dumber than expected.
As for the fate of the people of Pakistan, the Marquis de Sade put it best: "The dark deference of fear and slavery will keep the dogs obedient to the whip, as long as this roof shuts out the sky."