The story of Mian Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification has been analysed from different legal and political angles – with some determined to prove him guilty, while others busy defending him.
There is also a debate over Article 62-1 (f) of the constitution, and whether uncollected income can be termed an asset or not. There have also been questions related to democracy, army control, judicial decisions and some grand conspiracy theories.
But there is another debate, a primary one at that, which needs to be held here but which has unfortunately not been touched upon by anyone. With levels of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and poor healthcare conditions reaching an all-time high, workers and peasants in Pakistan have no platform from which to fight for their rights. The gap between the haves and have-nots is exponentially increasing as CEOs draw seven-digit salaries while workers fail to secure even the minimum wage of Rs15,000.
Had this been the 1960s or 1970s there would have been a cry for revolution, socialism, class struggle and equality. But with the emergence of the neoliberal narrative, all of the country’s ills have been associated with corruption, weak governance and lack of transparency. Corruption, a part and parcel of corporatism and the neoliberal economy, is also the easiest scapegoat for the elite.
This neo-liberal term, popular particularly among the urban youth of Pakistan, is often used by leaders of the first world for leaders of the third world, not only to hide but protect their imperialism. For them only corruption – not economic exploitation, colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperial wars – are reasons why the developing world faces backwardness, extremism and terrorism.
Contrary to claims of challenging the status quo, the corruption narrative being championed by Imran Khan right now is, in fact, the biggest saviour of the status quo, not just in the local but also in the international context. What impact would the ouster of Nawaz Sharif have on socio-economic relations, order and structure in the country?
With Tareen on Imran Khan’s left and Qureshi on his right, the capitalist and feudal classes will continue to dominate the political landscape of the country if his party came into power. Like the PML-N, the PTI is also a strong proponent of privatisation and foreign investment, so there would be no changes there. And if we talk in terms of health and education, one would fail to find any significant difference between KP and Punjab.
Similarly, coming from the larger province and sharing the same vision of centralism like Nawaz Sharif, the ‘Captain’ will not be able to resolve the perceived or real discrimination being felt by the smaller provinces and ethnic groups in the country. Forming political alliances with the JI and ASWJ and accepting individuals like Irfanullah Marwat and Mian Mithu in his party, it is getting clearer by the day that the PTI is just more old wine in yet another new bottle. Interestingly, Nawaz Sharif had also championed the same narrative to oust Benazir Bhutto, but after eventually getting trapped by the establishment he replaced it with another neoliberal narrative – that of development. The current fight between these two narratives is essentially nothing but a fight between two groups – the ruling government and the opposition (the PTI) – of the ruling class.
The one in power is enjoying all the perks and has a definite dispute over sharing them with the other group. So the other group, desperate for power, seeks an alliance with state institutions to orchestrate this drama of corruption. This tactic of political parties joining hands with the powers that be to topple an elected government to gain power has been in play for far too long for a sane person to understand that the status quo is not going anywhere. The only thing that will ‘change’ will be the strength of Pakistan’s already strongest institution and of electables renewing their loyalties. A few years later when this charged-up youth will wake up to the reality that the ‘revolution will not be televised’ they will find refuge in pessimism and get on with their lives. If the system continues for another 15 to 20 years another batch of youth, without any knowledge of prior history, will be championing the anti-corruption slogan under another Imran Khan, most likely against the current Imran Khan.
While the youth’s enthusiasm is inherently stemming from the inequality and class exploitation ingrained in the capitalist and feudal system, the political awareness needed to identify that is unfortunately missing. As a result, instead of fighting the class structure, they feel eradicating corruption and overhauling the system will solve their problems. Sometimes the system finds political leaders like Bhutto to pit against Mujeeb, Nawaz against Benazir and Imran against Nawaz to satisfy this thirst of young minds. On other occasions, saviours from other institutions fool the masses. This political seesaw has time and again sidelined the vacuum that can nurture real politics, that of challenging the exploitative system.
After the Lawyers Movement and the subsequent impeachment of Musharraf, there was a vacuum while the youth brimmed with political optimism. To some extent it also helped the Left to re-emerge, but the youth fell for Imran Khan’s celebrity status and his acceptance in both the power corridors as well as the media. While the current path of conservatism suggests that it would be difficult for the PTI to retain this youth for long, the question is whether these growing minds will be able to find a real platform to challenge the status quo – or is the country heading towards another ‘overhaul’?
The writer is an educationist and former central organiser of the National Students Federation (NSF).