The greatest merit in Pakistan is political influence. You can get anything under the sun (even the sun itself) if you have the right sort of political influence. The masses lament that most of the Pakistanis don't get what they richly deserve whereas some Pakistanis abundantly get what they don't deserve at all. The lamentation is the result of the masses' utter ignorance of the reality. The masses must know that if the masters of power did not use their power for getting undeserved benefits, the power would feel insulted. And they would have to pay dearly for the insult. Musharraf, as president, consistently told his administrators to deal with the national affairs purely on merit. He was absolutely right. He loved merit. He loved merit because he himself became president on merit. Since he himself got his presidency on merit, naturally he wanted to have a prime minister also on merit. He discovered a man whose greatest merit was that he had no experience of political affairs at the highest level. This 'merit' did irreparable damage both to himself and his master. Some of our MNAs and MPAs never open their mouths during the assembly debates. Their silence is their greatest merit. An English proverb says: "Silence is gold." Perhaps our silent members have been inspired by the proverb. No doubt at all that silence indeed is gold. Our silent members are paid as handsomely as the most vociferous ones. Which has more merit: silence or non-silence? Let's not ask silly questions. The silent members are honest. Honesty is their merit. They say nothing because they have nothing to say. The members who say much say much because 'muchness' is their merit. Musharraf was not the only president who got his presidency on merit. Before him, there had been some other presidents who also got their presidency on merit. They had a common merit. It was he gun. Unfortunately, in Pakistan the gun has enjoyed greater merit than the ballot-box. Political elections in Pakistan are horrifically expensive affairs. A contestant who spends more money as compared with his rival has a greater merit to be a victor. Thus next to the gun, money is the greatest merit in our political affairs. In our administrative affairs, discretion plays a vital role. The rulers have special powers known as discretionary powers. Discretion is an inexorable enemy of merit. Discretion can transmute the most meritless persons into the most meritful ones. For example, the government, using its discretionary powers, can allot any part of Pakistan to anyone for residential or commercial purposes. Talking of merit where discretion rules arbitrarily is like talking of justice in the Devil's realm. If we really desire that real merit should be the supreme ruler then we must burn discretion alive and preserve the ashes in a museum for the enlightenment of the future generations. There was a country where the rulers had the discretion to live in palaces or ordinary houses. Their discretionary powers forced them to go for palaces. They also had the discretion to move about in ordinary vehicles or most expensive luxury cars. Their discretionary powers forced them to go for cars. They also had the discretion to live on ordinary food or feed themselves in fifty-star hotels. Their discretionary powers forced them to go for the hotels. Almost the entire resources of the country were consumed by the discretionary powers. Virtually, nothing was left for the masses. The masses protested. The rulers thundered: "Don't blame us. And don't forget that our discretion is not our own creation. We have inherited it from our predecessors. It is our national tradition. It is our national obligations to practise it. The more we practise it, the more we honour it." Can real merit survive where discretion reigns supreme? There is no merit like honesty. Unfortunately, we are generally dishonest. We are not dishonest because we love dishonesty. We are dishonest because dishonesty pays here. In the West people are generally honest. They are not honest because they love honesty. They are honest because honesty pays there. Make honesty pay, the people would become honest overnight. If you don't have merit, don't bother. You can buy merit. It is on sale. But it is not on sale in open markets. It is on sale in secret markets. People who neither have merit on their own nor can they buy it are eternally doomed. Generally, our democracies have been utter fiascos. The reason is that the ordinary voter doesn't have the foggiest idea what the elections really signify. It means that he lacks the merit to be a competent voter. Since he lacks the merit and yet he votes, he makes a fool of himself. The elected rulers appreciate this foolishness and make full sue of it. The writer is an academic