Whither and wherefore?

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani  

                 THE PTI and its support system are drawing us into dangerous waters. Why? Is it conscious or unwitting? With regard to the PTI leader who is also Pakistan’s prime minister one can say it’s an outcome of mulishness; conceit and arrogant contempt. He may not be able to help himself. But why then should others be helping him persist if it is not possible to tutor him?

         What exactly has the PTI government done to right the mess in governance since taking charge of federal office and the responsibilities of government? Quarrel anew– when taking time off re-runs of old raves and rants. It regularly tells us what it intends to do in various spheres; but provides even less than a broad outline. And it possibly holds a Pakistan Government time-frequency record in instituting commissions and ordering reports and inquiries. The more relevant offences and infringements may regrettably date to its own mandated tenure; but to get to the root as it were, a comprehensive scope can stretch to explore things that took place years ago. Common sense might say their ill-effects have long since been absorbed, digested, or by now decomposed: What is there left to disinter? But there is a viable logical counter-argument that a conscientious inquirer should omit nothing and start from the beginning. Thus, any inquiry’s progress becomes open to both prolongation or acceleration, though all offenders will assuredly be brought to book without fear or favour—Ignore the malice towards none bit.

         The PTI’s administrative method is far from the parliamentary federal mode as understood by Pakistan’s electorate whether jahil or moderately enlightened. The unelected are entrusted with powerful public status and confidential access. PM Imran Khan chooses his pets; his sycophants choose him. Rather than utilize parliament to debate issues and understand perspectives with a view to legislation, the PM has made use of the presidential ordinance into a party convenience.  Things the government would rather not have ‘loosely’ discussed can go sub judice—such as challenges to the standing of Justice Faez Esa—otherwise set to become the CJP in good time for some time.  The impugned judge stands out in the public mind in connection with A’sia Bibi’s release and for cogent comment on the Faizabad dharna: Which reassured the unbigoted non-violent democratically minded, but offended the blasphemy brigade as well as those who are not averse to tilting the scales of justice when balancing civil-military power equations.

         The PTI’s plagiarizing the BISP under the Ehsaas logo fooled no one, but the compassionate efficacy of the scheme is unaffected and one can allow claims implementation has been enhanced. The Tiger force patent remains—fortunately—at the cub stage. Covid 19 occasioned it, but in that urgent context why downplay or shove aside, rather than enhance, diverse locally known operative structures? The prospect of youthful somewhat raw enthusiasts licensed to tell the population what they can do, where they can go, and enforce their judgment, is chilling. The PM talks much of Hitler, surely he has heard of the evolution of Nazi youth? He has voiced envy of the efficacy of one-party rule and centralized government. But that is to ignore the anima of the Subcontinent’s freedom struggle and the emergence of Pakistan as a predominantly Muslim ethnically diverse state, demanding self-government as well as escape from the post-colonial dominion of an exclusively-minded majority.

That inspirational spirit dies hard in any peoples. And when attempts have been made within Pakistan to ignore or quell it they have proved nationally corrosive. The representational democratic process has often played false and been exploitative, but non-traumatic amelioration is inbuilt through democratic electoral reference and universal adult franchise. Using regime-constructed definitions and interpretations of patriotism, national ideology and fidelity to ‘Islam’ as cover for political and social coercion and religious discrimination emasculates those very precepts and erodes the foundations of the country.

General Zia used Islamization. General Musharraf too sought personal political endorsement in his referendum in the guise of Islamic furtherance. The PTI’s almost proprietorial references to its leader’s cited ideal of the city state of Medina; its expansive use of religious vocabulary in political discourse and evaluative public comment; can foster equation of critiques of its standard bearer’s political vision with a lack of due homage and commitment to religious norms and mores—if not downright ‘heretical’ secularity. Mumtaz Qadri clones, characterizing a prevalence of the Faizabad dharna/Lal Masjid mindset, could become acceptable—or in time the only approved—political orientation. How may the western hemisphere react to such attitudes in what we ourselves call a pivotal regional Islamic state?

Local opposition and resistance to sectarian extremism or predominance can occasion widespread internal strife. Is the present government’s only apprehension of these possibilities the prospect that they could precipitate an emergency it could use for centralized paramilitary controls? The PTI factor in Sindh is mumbling conditions warrant the governor’s declaring an emergency. A Bonapartist can seem a blessing if not a necessity should civil law and order lapse into a prolonged disarray. Perspicacious anchors and experts nod wise heads as to ‘changing the system’. Discontent and agitation for early elections could be diverted to seeking that route.  What some bewail as the opposition’s nonplus indicates its heightened maturity and national commitment. But how long can that quietus be maintained without becoming a vacuum when governance is amiss?

Indeed, even democracy enthusiasts fight to suppress a feeling that democratic alternatives are void. The PPP and the PML(N) have been in and out and are certified wanting. The PTI third alternative has shown its flimsiness. The electorate may crave electoral democracy but there is no one worth the vote. This is an enfeebling fallacy that is deliberately and subtly circulated: but to what end? This kind of defeatism could defeat the state itself.

But what to do about the PM’s sustained deliberate aggravation of inter-provincial as well as intra-provincial party differences? His words and actions fan these—as the recent visit to Sindh illustrates. Playing on urban and rural differences and particularizing Sindh’s civic deficiencies (which failings as highlighted are sadly common to all of Pakistan) is merely destructive. Even if there may be petty party gains locally in deliberately bypassing, slighting and embarrassing the PPP government, responsible governance at the federal centre should not make things harder to manage in or for constituent provinces. Prolonging insensate tug o’ wars over control of the economic hub and port could snap the rope at both ends. It is consolatory that the PSP’s Mustafa Kemal, whose political stance makes a sound establishment weathervane, is critiquing rather than endorsing PTI-GDA provincial politics. Call him Bilawal; Bilawal Bhutto; Bilawal Zardari Bhutto; Bilawal Zardari as you please: the man is right when he says it would be a mistake to carry on goading his party’s people’s power. However bitter the disappointments of their tenure, the two mainstream parties have only lost what computer software dubs virtual reality. On the ground they are real. The PTI, for its own survival as well as the federation’s, must engage with other representative elements in the country rather than vilify them. As it stands now, the PTI is stamping on all the old fault lines of provincial and ethnic grievances that erupted and minted Bangladesh.