A long time ago, I passed through an experience that remains etched in my memory and which has helped shape my dealings with people during a professional career spread over more than three decades and into retirement. It all began, when a decision was taken to carry out repair and renovation of our family home, somewhere in the mid-nineteen fifties. The contractor selected for the job had a good reputation and was known for timely delivery. This was due to the fact that he had a number of deputies for round-the-clock presence on construction sites. It was during a routine inspection of the work that the individual responsible for our project, agitatedly approached my grandfather to say that he had decided to quit his job. When asked as to why was he taking such a big step, he reluctantly unburdened his conscience.

It turned out that his employer had over a period of time been dishonest in purchases, billing and quality. The deputy had been a willing partner in this activity until a few days ago, when he had attended the funeral of a very close friend. As the body was being lowered into the ground, he had been overcome with an acute sense of inexplicable terror, which gripped him all the way back to his home. He had spent a sleepless night introspecting and next morning had decided that he would cease to be a party to any act of dishonesty and corruption.

This story reminded me of Alexander the Great, whose last wish was that he should be interred with both hands in plain view. Here was a powerful monarch, who built an empire and yet was savvy enough to realise that he would leave this world empty-handed. Regretfully enough, those that rule the ‘Land of the Pure’ have naively turned a blind eye to reality and their final destination, where they will go leaving all their worldly wealth behind and where, in the final tally, only the good that they did will matter. One of these acts of ‘goodness’ is penance – a trait that stands at an acute premium as far as our political leadership is concerned.

Penance is an act of moral self-accountability and is first and foremost applicable to those holding public office. That is the reason why disclosures of tax evasion, money laundering and flight of capital, made in documents such as the Panama Papers warrant accountability beginning with the highest executive office in the land. It is for this reason alone that those who are ‘more loyal to the king than the king himself’ on and off the media, are now looked upon with disdain by a large segment of society. I have stated the above after witnessing the public mood at a ‘dhaba’ in Rawalpindi, where the television channel featuring these ‘loyalists’ was changed at vociferous public demand.

Alarmingly enough, we now stand at a decisive point in our national history, where a wrong, untimely or un-pragmatic move will have devastating effects on the future. I am not a prophet of doom, but as someone, who puts popular pulse on paper, I am bound to state what I think is the truth. Politics everywhere is dirty business and in Pakistan it is perhaps the dirtiest. There is also no denying the fact that relinquishing power in the face of a moral need to do so, is something that is missing from our political character. We are passing our days in an environment where governance is dictated by personal greed and held hostage by discontent, violence and crime. And we wait and suffer for someone with courage, honesty and vision to lead us out of the mess we have mired ourselves in. This is a situation which reminds me of a passage in a book I read long ago – “when knowledge begins to be sold and decision making becomes hostage to personal expediency, know then nothing but darkness awaits to engulf you as a nation”.