These are interesting times in Pakistan. There is a giddy round of constant entertainment in the form of high profile arrests, a reformist setup and the rosy-hued civilian-military honeymoon the whole country is basking in.
Unfortunately, as is wont of all honeymoons, these end and reality and egos can shatter the glass ceilings of any perfect setup.
Reality is almost always hard-nosed and grim, and those basking in illusions sweeter than saccharine should realise that sooner rather than later."
The only thing that remains is integrity, which is critical for the perpetuity of any ideals, or survival in the cesspool we call politics. And while integrity and politics are often not in tandem, these together could ultimately serve a higher cause, both of survival and perpetuity of ideals.
But first, let us recoup and review the seismic or ordinary (based on one’s perception) recent event - the arrest of Pakistan’s opposition leader and former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif days before the coming by-elections. The timing of this could not have been worse. It could have definitely been scheduled till after the elections and thus dispelled the opposition’s claims of misuse of force and victimisation attempts to affect the outcome or the morale of Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, PML-N.
It was hardly likely that Shahbaz would have turned absconder and slipped out of the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) grasp. The NAB, which is now beginning to resemble the inquisition, for some, has so far obtained a reputation of biased persecution, especially, in arresting Shahbaz for corruption and misuse of authority as the chief minister in two cases without solid evidence justifying arrest and allowing him any recourse to answer charges against him.
The hasty arrest is bound to backfire on Prime Minister Imran Khan. What is worse is that such measures do not bode well for political stability or inspiring confidence in democracy and judicious accountability.
The way arrests were undertaken of Sharif now and his brother, the former premier Nawaz Sharif, and his daughter, Maryam, before the general elections in July this year has confirmed for those on the other side of the fence that a troika comprising the military, judiciary and PTI is out for vendetta.
Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz
The alleged massive and systematic rigging eclipsing the 2018 election ferociously divided opinion and polarised society. Similarly, the challenges being thrown to the established political and social system has ignited a tussle between the old guard and the new aspirants for power.
Is 'naya' Pakistan on its way yet?
For now, Pakistan’s naya (new) image is being cultivated as a game changing moment of its existence. Fed up by allegedly corrupt regimes, the people voted in Imran Khan-led populist party, the PTI, in July this year and lo behold, we had a reinvigorated country raring to go about its reformist agenda. Populist sentiments buoyed by over-enthusiastic and blinkered PTI supporters on twitter hailed these superfluous measures introduced by the premier himself, whose zeal and tenacity must be admired.
But therein lies the bite. Targeting elite structures and the old-world order is in itself debatable as the PTI’s top guard, besides a handful of socialist-minded office holders, themselves belong to Pakistan’s entrenched elite. It is thus highly ironic though that the new power structure emerging is being carried on the shoulders of the same elite it rallied against.
The opening of state houses, including governor houses to the public and decisions pertaining the conversion of the Prime Minister house into a world class university - which incidentally would again have children and youth from moneyed backgrounds studying there - is simply hogwash.
The economy is adrift, literally, with the finance minister increasingly displaying ineptitude at being able to steer his way out in any direction. The only policy changes one glimpses are those pertaining taxation, which are retracted and reissued to and fro. What is seriously upsetting is the lack of effort to build confidence amongst the business community. Also, the lack of interest in the agricultural economy, the country’s mainstay, simply underlines the new government’s lack of comprehension in understanding its immense potential. What Pakistan’s agricultural sector desperately needs is technology and resources to harness its true worth.
But these are early days and Khan’s government has a lot to learn. It is only hoped that it would rise above vengeance and pettiness and value integrity. After all, PTI was voted in for its idealism, a promise to end corruption and to enable Pakistan to stand tall in the comity of nations for its values. May we please see those values enshrined in policy and behaviour at home first?
Is this the beginning of yet another end of those ideals?
This is the first in a series of columns from Faryal Leghari.