All week long, Pakistan’s electronic media and Twitter were abuzz with two slogans and their aftermath. Without much ado, one incident turned into a colossal spectacle in less than twenty-four hours. That is the thing about the wrong slogans at the right place. And that is the thing about Pakistan. Small events have a way of enlarging themselves into massive dramas of Mexican soap opera-ish decibels and emotions and hamming.
IG of police “bullied”, the “deep state” acting in cahoots with the civilian government to harm the opposition, the opposition leadership’s pontification about the sanctity of “chaddar aur char-deewari” (veil and [sanctity of] four walls [of home]), and government pooh-poohing every claim of the opposition. Business as usual, and life and noise go on.
Amidst that din of Machiavellian politics came Prime Minister Imran Khan’s interview on ARY News on Friday evening. The opposition, and their supporters on Twitter, many of whom work for or used to work for various newspapers and TV channels, and analysts and self-proclaimed intellectuals, dissed the interview, the interviewee, and the interviewers. The predictability of that reaction is duller than the sight of sand in a desert. I find interviews of heads of states a mere repetition of the oft-stated rhetoric and empty promises. The unoriginality of answers is as guaranteed as the day changing colours. But then during a post-midnight scroll down my Twitter timeline I came across a clip posted by PTI’s official handle.
It was Imran Khan being…Imran Khan. Speaking from the heart, speaking artlessly, speaking with an honesty that lights up his crinkled eyes, animates the movement of his rosary encircled left hand, and enhances the simplicity of his analogies, Khan was once again the leader millions rooted for to become the change Pakistan so desperately needed in 2018 and voted him into power. Khan commenting on the plight of people facing the current staggering inflation said:
“Unfortunately, when people are in pain, their sabr (patience) ends too. Pain is inevitable. I’ll explain [it] in simple language to the nation. There is a home. In the home two, three family members gamble, drink, waste money. They leave the home in debts. The family members left behind, what do they do? If they are going to fix the home, there are only two ways [to do that] since Allah has created this world: lower your expenses and increase your income. Think of ways to increase the income and keep lowering your expenses in order to avoid taking loans. In any case no one is ready to give [you] a loan. Now the inhabitants of that home are sitting [in a bind]. Sometimes, the rent collector arrives, someone says you haven’t paid for groceries, sometimes it is the unpaid school fee. The [people living in that] home face a hard time.
Now if at that time you take a microphone to the people of that home to ask them about the performance of those taking care of their issues, of course, they’re going to say they’re facing death, facing destruction. From eating chicken, they have come down to eating dal, from two rotis to one. This is what happens when the home is buried in loans.”
Khan went on to explain how his government inherited a treasury buried in debts, an abysmal current account deficit, and the steps taken to repay those loans.
Not many people will talk about Khan’s unaltering profound empathy when he talks about the suffering millions of Pakistan. Not many naysayers will see beyond the unimaginative, soft questions of the almost deferential interviewers to understand the immense pain Khan feels for every family facing the darkness of inflation, every young person seeking in vain a viable job, every heartbroken poor looking for ways to give his undernourished children three meals a day. Not many watching him talk will note that Khan cares for the wellbeing of each and every Pakistan. Deeply, consistently.
After every speech of Khan and after every interview of Khan, beyond the expected plaudits of his party leaders, cabinet members, and party supporters, the most noticeable thing on Twitter and TV channels is the focus on Khan’s hard, unchanging stance vis-à-vis the cases of corruption and misuse of authority. What is discussed, breathlessly, is Khan’s “obsession” about not giving an NRO–the official unofficial pardon–and reiterating ad nauseam that he will punish all those who looted the country’s treasury. Everything else Khan says is of zero significance to the combined opposition, recently emerged in the form of Pakistan Democratic Movement, and their supporters on TV and on Twitter and in dimly lit living rooms and on WhatsApp groups across Pakistan.
All the efforts that Prime Minister Khan and his government are making for resolving of minor and major national concerns, and their hours-long work every day, without a break, to figure out ways of eradication of issues, micro and macro, is reduced to three headlines, in varied forms, in different degrees of shrillness and uniformity: Imran Khan’s government is a failure. Imran Khan talks about nothing but corruption. Imran Khan’s government is doing nothing but plotting ways to push the opposition against something higher and thicker than the Games of Thrones wall.
The strategy seems to be working well. People hear these politicians on TV, and they believe them. Opposition is always more credible when the incumbent government seems to be struggling to get things under control, is flailing in various domains, appears to be struggling to clearly enunciate its message, the communication skills of almost all its spokespersons barring a couple are weaker than the emotional rhetoric of the opposition, and most of its press conferences focus on issues that are of little or no relevance to the regular Pakistani.
Amidst the quibbling of a representative of government, two opposition leaders, one mostly partisan anchor-person, the circus disguised as a debate every night ends in…nothing. The audience hears nothing but blame and more blame and counter blame. In their homes where they suffer in silence, in redundant tears, in constant prayers, they seldom hear what the government is doing. They mostly remain unaware of what Imran Khan and his government are doing for them.
What the suffering millions do not hear in raucous TV shows and linear press conferences that in just one week –October 19-October 23–the Prime Minister’s Office and his ministers announced:
“Prime Minister said, ‘I am the one who is most deeply pained by the issue of inflation. I will not tolerate any lapse in the way of providing relief to the people’.”
“Prime Minister has instructed all district officers to take strict actions against hoarders and profiteers. Abundant availability of basic items on prefixed prices must be ensured.”
“Prime Minister said that the purchase of wheat and other essentials must be ensured through proper planning in order to avoid a situation of shortage and inflation. Using modern technology, agriculturists must be provided facilities to increase production.”
“In the next few days, two hundred thousand tonne sugar will be imported [to solve the issue of unavailability of sugar].”
“For the first time in Pakistan’s history, government is constructing houses for the underprivileged and [low] salaried people.”
“Prime Minister has instructed banks to ensure easy availability of loans [for construction of houses] to underprivileged people in a manner that takes into special consideration their self-respect [dignity].”
“Prime Minister said that the government is doing its best to enhance the range of the National Health Card so that more people are able to utilise the facility.”
“In his first address to the nation, Prime Minister Imran Khan discussed stunted growth which affects 4/10 Pakistani children. Two years on, a comprehensive programme, Nashonuma under Ehsaas Pakistan, to fight stunting and malnutrition has been launched in nine districts.”
“In the past 24 hours [Oct 22], no locusts have been reported in KP, Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. Anti-locust survey operations are in progress. In the last 24 hours, 137,525 hectares have been surveyed. In the last six months, 1,13,4488 hectares have been treated.”
“A fishermen welfare fund will be established for welfare schemes of local fishermen.”
“First time in 50 years, two big dams are being constructed.”
“Current account was in surplus of $73 million during Sept, bringing surplus for 1st quarter to $792 million compared to deficit of $1,492 million during same time last year. Exports grew 29 percent and remittances grew 9 percent over previous month.”
“Pre-corona data on economic KPIs shows that almost all economic indicators had a positive trajectory. Then we [Khan’s government] tackled Corona and now again things are improving.”
“Pakistan has achieved impressive progress on its FATF action plan. 21 out of 27 action items now stand cleared. Remaining 6 rated as partially complete. Within a year, we progressed from 5/27 to 21/27 completed items. FATF acknowledged that any blacklisting is off the table now.”
It may not be enough, it may not always be the best idea, it may not sometimes work. But one step at a time, one day at a time, implementation of one initiative at a time, Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government are doing their best to fulfil their promise of a naya Pakistan that is for all who call it home.