For PTI, the centre cannot hold

November 18,2018

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One often wonders if the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, after it is firmly at the helm, plans to keep the temperature high to generate anxiety and anger at the popular level. That may be the reason why, for instance, a rather quarrelsome Fawad Chaudhry has been unleashed on the opposition.

We had this sorry spectacle in the Senate this week. And in the meantime, other PTI warriors like Punjab’s Fayyazul Hasan Chauhan have remained in action. There are a number of other ministers who are easily prompted to lapse into an attack on both the leaders and the performance of the previous government.

It is true that the PTI government has yet to complete its first 100 days and it is not moving in high gear with any confidence about what governance is all about. But the manner in which the party’s leaders run down their political adversaries would show that this in itself is what they think they are supposed to be doing. As critics have been saying, it seems hard for them to grasp the reality that they in power and not perched on a container, surrounded by charged protesters.

Without any doubt, this conduct has the approval of the party leadership, as reflected by the choice of some of their ministers in the centre and in Punjab.

Is Imran Khan aiming for a new form of politics that, in his view, thrives on anxiety and uncertainty? Is he adopting a new revolutionary approach to cope with an environment of high tension? Is it some kind of playing to the gallery in remembrance of his ‘dharna’ days?

He now seems to be ready to show that he is capable of some creative and philosophical interpretations of how a leader can bring about ‘tabdeeli’ and create a new reality. Talking to a group of senior journalists in Islamabad on Friday, he defended himself against the opposition’s indictment of his frequent U-turns. He is reported to have argued that a leader who does not take U-turns is not a true leader. The point is that the leader must take decisions according to changing circumstances.

Though this explanation has come rather late because the ‘U-turn Khan’ nick-name is not that recent, it is intriguing that Imran Khan has named Napoleon and Hitler as two leaders who, he suggested, had suffered heavy losses by not taking timely U-turns. Does he look up to these leaders – or why did these names pop up suddenly in his imagination?

Napoleon, of course, is shining star on the horizon of leadership, despite his Waterloo. We know that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was fascinated by Napoleon and collected his biographies. Imran, we trust, is an admirer of Z A Bhutto – just as any emerging leader in Pakistan is likely to be. But why Hitler? Was it a Freudian slip or something? Besides, what U-turns not taken had made the difference for Napoleon and Hitler?

In any case, Imran Khan wants us to believe that he has a sense of history and that he has a good grip on the situation, howsoever complex and intractable it might be. So, the moves he is making on the political chessboard are meant to be well considered. If this is reassuring in any sense, we need to find some purpose in the noises that PTI leaders like Fawad Chaudhry are making and in the environment of uncertainty and disarray that these noises have fostered.

There is another point here, semantically speaking. A leader must surely have the courage to change his opinion or strategy when facts change and a new situation emerges. But a U-turn has another implication. It suggests a reversal of one’s direction and a kind of ideological surrender. For the PTI, the easier interpretation would be a broken promise. Imran Khan’s adversaries will be ready with many examples of promises not kept.

Alas, there is also a lot of unintended confusion with reference to Imran Khan’s policy decisions. It creates the impression that things may be getting out of control. Or, perhaps, there is no sense of direction. The most obvious illustration of this problem is how Imran Khan had vowed to established the writ of the state when protests began over Asia Bibi’s acquittal by the Supreme Court, earning the ready applause of enlightened citizenry. But his government was willing to surrender to the bigots.

One reason why the PTI’s persistent political aggression is bound to have an adverse impact on the overall situation is that our society is already afflicted with extremism, intolerance and a terrifying lack of civility. Add to this the gruesome incidents of violence and violations of human rights that occur with intolerable frequency.

In this context, the entire episode of the kidnapping, torture and murder of SP Tahir Khan Dawar is a negation of the government’s resolve to maintain law and order and protect the lives and property of citizens. Tahir Dawar was kidnapped from Islamabad on October 26 and it is incredible that the crime received little coverage in the media. So much so that the special assistant to the prime minister told a foreign radio channel two days after the kidnapping that Tahir Khan was safe in his house.

Finally, Dawar’s body was discovered in Afghanistan. He had been tortured and then killed. There are some sordid details of how his body was handed over to the Pakistani officials at the Torkham border on Thursday. I am not able to tell the entire story because of many complications and the dark patches that cannot be explained.

But the most glaring fact is that the government was found wanting in its response to a crime that has vast implications at so many levels. Some very crucial questions are raised. It is instructive that Imran Khan himself is the interior minister; and State Minister for Interior Shehryar Afridi seemed totally baffled by what had happened.

Actually, we did not need to be reminded by this heartrending tragedy that we live in perilous times. However, the government we have is not inclined to arrest this slide into a deeper discontent because it is itself promoting conflict and tension. It does not realise the importance of peace, order and tranquillity.

Incidentally, in the tussle between the Senate chairman and Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, who had refused to apologise for his behaviour and was banned from attending the ongoing session, Imran Khan is reported by some to have taken Fawad Chaudhry’s side. It amounts to saying: “Carry on, Fawad, the party is with you”.

The writer is a senior journalist.



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