Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Kleptocrats

Lahore Railway Station
Here a quote from a Times piece entitled “After Decades of Neglect, Pakistan Rusts In Its Tracks” (NYT, 5/18/13): “For all the wonders offered by a train journey across Pakistan — a country of jaw-dropping landscapes, steeped in a rich history and filled with unexpected pleasures — it also presents some deeply troubling images. At every major stop on the long line from Peshawar, in the northwest, to the turbulent port city of Karachi, lie reminders of why the country is a worry to its people, and to the wider world: natural disasters and entrenched insurgencies, abject poverty and feudal kleptocrats, and an economy near meltdown.” Kleptocrat is a wonderfully evocative word and back as far as 2003, the Times was documenting the kleptocracies of Sani Abacha of Nigeria, Charles Taylor of Liberia, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Mobutu Sese Soku of Zaire (“Chasing the Kleptocrats,” NYT, 9/29/03). In the article about Pakistan the decline of the once impeccable and often elegant railways is described as a way of documenting the decline of a proud infrastructure. But without being sacreligious towards the tenets of liberation ideology, one can’t help but asking if the days of the great Pakistani railroad over 150 years before—in the heart of the Raj— were any worse for the Pakistani people, and if not somewhat better than what they suffer from today. Such responses to colonialism are a little like playing dumb, like looking at a Jackson Pollock and saying “I could do that too,”—which is often the uninformed response to abstract expressionism. However one can’t help noting that one form of servitude has been substituted for another, with a whole new generation of kleptocrats, exhibiting a homegrown corruption as invidious as that displayed by colonialist spoilers.  A good part of the populace are still oppressed and impoverished and the only difference is that now they can’t even get anywhere to escape.

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