Elephant in the Room

IRSHAD SALIM — Pakistan’s Privatization team reportedly met on Thursday to discuss plan to sell the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan, New York. The landmark property is owned by the country’s national carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) which over decades has accumulated a whopping figure in cumulative losses.

Decades of political parties’ game of musical chair made the once “great people to fly with” outfit a Ferris wheel for employment and and a cart for pork barrel deals for exchanges across party lines deeming it to be a cash cow and a handout bucket at the same time.

The chicken finally came home to roost recently with back-to-back events: a plane crash that killed 97 out of 99 onboard, and the report which besides other malfunctions, pointed out nearly 40 percent pilots carrying fake degrees or irregular documents. Its engineering department remains in the cross-hair, an insider says.

The country’s two largest parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) whose bastion of power is Sindh –PIA is headquartered there, and the Pakistan Muslim League (N) whose center of power is Punjab –the county’s largest province, have tried their hands at ways and means either to duck the issue or handle it without becoming a hot potato.

Their priorities had remained crossing their path to power, as the musical chair game between them went on and off. Came the third force in 2018: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) led by cricket legend Imran Khan and supported by youth, women and overseas Pakistanis et al.

Khan was declared a “demolition man” by those who wanted him to be. The polls made him the Prime minister much to the dismay of old dyed wool musketeers. Grim reapers dubbed him “selected prime minister”.

Bottom line is that the status quo backed by a formidable array of trojan horses squat within the fort in the land of the pure (the name Pakistan means so) and as the world turns.

To use the proverbial phrase, Khan is the elephant in the room. Saying no to let corruption criss-cross State’s predictable revenue streams, and letting misgovernance in bureaucracy and state organizations be the paperweight on every decision-making can’t sync with the new normal on the horizon. Even if it means standing tall at the cost of a spiraling economy due to the pandemic. That Khan continues to be like the Ever Ready battery commercial’s “Drummer Boy” of the seventies (70s) is Trudeau-like.

ALSO READ: A Sixer or a Bouncer From Khan

This audacity of his has many beneficiaries of the status quo miffed and has made a lot many unnerved including his electables, elected ministers, advisors –giving media and opinionmakers fodder to dub him a rookie in politics. That he is for sure. But not a hustler (to use a Brooklyn jargon).

That he has the broken nose community not supportive of him is his Achilles Heel and understandable. It’s a bitter pill to swallow. Tipu Sultan remember?

So as the new “Sheriff in Town” riding his horse in the neighborhood, he is no Knight with the shining armor. He’s at best a lone ranger. At worst, an elephant in the room for his critics and foes.

The parallax effect is hurting treetop viewers though, mostly it’s bothering the sunset generation. The sunrise generation — Pakistan has more than 60 percent youth –kind of remains ideologically inclined with him but this is splitting the decorum of the family dinner table –reminiscent of such situations on the Little House on the Prairie TV serial.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has opposed the move to sell Roosevelt, terming it ill-timed. Its parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman says “Is this the time to sell Roosevelt Hotel, when due to the pandemic property prices have come down significantly and it will result in a loss to Pakistan as we will not get the right price.”

A hot potato again?

“The property is worth billions and it was making profit when I was serving as ambassador to the US,” Ms. Rehman said.

I’m glad the honorable lady sees merit in the principled stand –sell the Roosevelt, but wait, the timing is not good, could fetch better price later. That’s the quantum part of the stand though. The country needs to pay bills –piles of loans, bad loans, and cash advances the successive governments have taken (may or may not have done so in bad faith) have us all jackknifed like two tractor-trailers that usually end up on the interstate. One trailer is the huge payload of debt the state has been carrying and the other is like a huge tourist caravan (like PIA, PakSteel) on “See America” trip!

Horrible scene it is.

Can’t run a home or the federation like this: On credit cards while shaking hands with mascots. Cash counts Khan Sahib. On a lighter note, take a look at this:

3 in 1

The writer is Islamabad based. The term ‘elephant in the room’ characterizing Khan was used by a defense analyst in 2018.