Andrew Buncombe: Leaders play silly games while the nation burns

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The Independent Online

Sometimes with Pakistan it is difficult to know whether to laugh or cry. When police went to arrest Athar Minallah, a senior lawyer, yesterday he managed to lock himself in his car and telephone his media friends. Soon there was such a scrum of journalists that Pakistan's interior minister was forced to personally come to the scene and let Mr Minallah free. "They arrested me but they did not have the professional ability to do it," said Mr Minallah, half smiling, half bemused.

There are exceptions but the business of politics in Pakistan often feels like a game played by the elite, a world away from the experiences of ordinary people. And even when politics is being repressed, it can feel like those involved are following a pre-arranged script. Activists are rounded up and released a few days later, key figures rush into hiding, and everyone else goes on with their lives. When Benazir Bhutto was under house arrest in 2007, groups of supporters would march to police lines, catch the attention of television crews and then walk off to be arrested, knowing they'd be let go a few hours later, out of sight of the cameras.

Pakistan cannot afford these games. Beset by problems so obvious they barely need repeating – a growing threat from extremists, a failing economy, a diplomatic stand-off with India, the possible intervention of the military – Pakistan ought to have no place for further turmoil triggered by unnecessary political infighting.

Yet since Asif Ali Zardari and his Pakistan People's Party came to power last year with a weight of goodwill, they have failed to make the country's interests a priority above the short-term benefits of the party. Thirteen months after the election, the goodwill has faded and people want action, not games.