What a clever big country!
If you worked in the financial sector in the 1980s, odds-on you were classified as either a YUPPIE (Young Upwardly-Mobile Professional), a DINKY (Dual Income No Kids Yet) or a LOMBARD (Lots Of Money But A Right Richard Nixon).
As I fell short on at least one letter of each of those acronyms I escaped classification, but that did not mean that I did not have to occasionally endure those trademark Sunday Brunches. Habitually up with the lark, I had invariably already partaken of my bowl of weetabix topped with a sliced banana by the time I faced the crystal glasses and cold, nauseating gazpacho soup.
I could cope with the pretentious conversation as well as the ubiquitous brushed cowhide Filofaxes that everybody organized their busy lives with. Where I drew the line was when the ever-present pet dog lost its place to the ever-present pet toddler. Assailed with the achievements of these budding John Pierpont Morgans, the ultimate ignominy came one day when (I don’t think it was at Brunch – perhaps a candle-lit dinner) one little fellow plonked himself down on his potty in the middle of the salon. Minutes later, his gushingly proud mother showed round the contents to the gathered assembly, encouraging us to swoon over her child protegé for, amazingly, succeeding in not soiling his clothes or the carpet (and “swoon” we definitely did).
One of the big news items last week was the premature claim that Pakistan has finally been potty-trained. For the first time since midnight on August 15th 1947 a Pakistani democratically elected government made it to the finishing line of a 5 year term, and the Prime Minister was gushing with sanctimonious pride. What is more, the world press were joining in the celebrations making encouraging noises. It was not important that two months ago the Supreme Court had instructed that the prime minister be arrested for corruption and, after being ignored, had reluctantly backed down. It did not matter that he had only become prime minister in June last year after his predecessor was judicially disbarred for continually ignoring the Supreme Court’s instructions to ask the Swiss authorities to reopen an investigation into the President on possible corruption charges. There was no mention that the President himself is the bereaved husband of a former prime minister who was silenced for ever in the run-up to those last elections, not to mention being the son-in-law of a former president who ended up at the end of a hangman’s rope.
Then there are all those small embarrassments of the last five years like the Americans unexpectedly finding the World’s Public Enemy No 1 (clearly not Pakistan’s Public Enemy No 1) down the road from the capital. And what about that poor, mentally challenged Christian girl who was framed under the Blasphemy Law (though, thank heavens, the same world press that are now hooting encouragement got hold of the story and the authorities were forced to act to save her).
Pakistan is hot on law and order. Take the Blasphemy Law. It carries the death penalty. Meanwhile, the authorities announced last month that any wealthy individuals known to be guilty of Tax Evasion will be subject to extreme punishment – they will not be allowed to travel abroad. Furthermore, in order to up the number of current taxpayers from 800,000 out of a population of 180,000,000 a tax amnesty is in the works requiring payment of around a measly 1% of the value of previously undeclared assets. Following that, the Electoral Commission announced that individuals will not be allowed to stand for election to the new parliament unless they file tax returns for the last three years as well as other tell-tale information for public inspection. According to one Pakistani newspaper, 70% of the members of the outgoing parliament have never filed for any taxes (you have to hand it to them for chutzpah). In fairness, it is much easier for a system rotten to the core with corruption to target insults to Islam rather than tax evasion.
Despite last week’s milestone, Pakistan clearly still has a long way to go. At a dinner party in London around the turn of the century, the late Daniel Bernard – French Ambassador (who else?) to the Court of St James – referred very unfairly to my adopted home as “that sh***y little country”. I wonder how he might have referred to the considerably larger Pakistan. While the news trumpeted by the prime minister is indeed encouraging, it will be a long time before it will be able to lay claim to being fully potty-trained. In the meantime, the more mature countries of the world will presumably continue to ooh and aah every time it makes a little progress and continue to hold their noses every time it doesn’t.