A battle for the soul

April 09, 2021

“Whenever you find yourself doubting how far you can go, just remember how far you have come. Remember everything you have faced, all the battles you have won, and all the fears you have...

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“Whenever you find yourself doubting how far you can go, just remember how far you have come. Remember everything you have faced, all the battles you have won, and all the fears you have overcome.”

Pakistan has been entrapped in a battle zone for a long time and there appears little prospect that we shall be able to exit it anytime soon. There are multiple factors that have contributed to this brazen state, but none more painful than the ones which have been contrived by people whose personal interests have dictated the rampage.

These people come with a variety of interests, all deeply dug in, but none that would bring relief for the country. Through decades, successive ruling elites have structured safety cushions to absorb the toxic malevolence they kept unleashing upon the country. These unceremonious acts spanned multiple annals: scheming to hoist family fiefdoms to keep the state hostage through generations, securing financial interests at cost to the national exchequer, introducing a culture of rampant and remorseless corruption, piecing together cartels to lay siege of the market, and disempowering and politicising state institutions to render them subservient to the will and fancies of individuals residing in the corridors of power. The cumulative effect of these came forth in the shape of a dysfunctional state where the culture of corruption prospered with this sprawling tribe of inveterate criminals resorting to employing hideous means to keep it captive.

The Imran Khan phenomenon dawned when the country had sunk deep into this pit of despair. It had compromised its sovereignty, was running low on self-esteem, was lost and gradually caving in under the burden of increasing debt. On top of that, there was the challenge of agitation launched by the political adversaries who were afraid of the prospect of accountability as a cornerstone of the PTI manifesto. As a well-thought-out stratagem, they refused to accept the election outcome from the very beginning blaming the establishment for having tampered with results. They were also confident that they would be able to negotiate a compromise, thus facilitating their passage into a comfort zone to sit back and wait for their days in power – yet again.

But there were shocks in store for them. By no stretch of imagination could Imran Khan fit into the traditional mould of politicians. He was different, with an ambitious agenda to retrieve the country from the brink. In the process, he was also prepared to face up to any impediments thrown in his way by the combined juggernaut of the beneficiary elite which had prospered by feeding off the impoverished millions, a large percentage of them perishing before the consequent onslaught of depleting opportunities. It was not just the body of the state that had been bloodied and ravaged; it was a deeply bruised soul which had to be healed and nurtured to health.

After the initial phase of hurling abuse on the person of Imran Khan, the gang of the beneficiary elite decided that they should put their act together on the platform of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) to see the back of the prime minister and his policy of accountability. On the one hand, they upped the ante of abuse against the government and, on the other, extended their palms in supplication for reprieve aka NRO. It was not meant to work. It did not work.

But, with time, the edifice of the PDM started crumbling under the increasing weight of its internal contradictions with one group of parties issuing show-cause notices to the other. This was backed by a litany of mutual abuse and invective. So, instead of dismantling the government, it was their own edifice that disintegrated with some parties deserting the ship. It was a befitting culmination of an agitation that had begun with ill intent as its dominant driver.

The self-inflicted crippling of the opposition has been a gain for the government. But this could be short-lived as the problem of inflation continues to hit people badly. They need immediate relief. It has been the government’s intention to provide this, but it remains hostage in the hands of cartels which are mostly patronised by members of the traditional beneficiary elite with political stakes. With a number of steps that the government has already taken, their hold may have weakened and they may be gasping for breath, but their sustenance is guaranteed till they have run the full course of law to be effectively punished. That may be a while yet. In the meantime, they continue to exploit the gaping caveats knowingly left in the legal system, thus postponing the eventuality of the long arm of law finally getting a hold of them. The government must make full use of this space. It must sacrifice rank mediocrity and move quickly to put together a team comprising the very best in terms of integrity, competence and performance. The manner in which things have been handled in the past may not be an option any longer. Change is needed both in terms of strategy and the people assigned the key task of implementing it. Its key functionaries should be fully empowered and committed to promoting the success stories and flagship projects of the government.

This is no ordinary battle. This battle is for the soul of the country. It has more to do with conviction that springs from deep inside. It is this conviction which has been the hallmark of the Imran Khan Success Story. It is the same conviction which will guide him to breed compassion and empathy, eliminate discrimination and heal the soul of the country to be at peace.

The writer is the special assistant to the PM on information, a political and security strategist, and the founder of the Regional Peace Institute.

Twitter: RaoofHasan

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