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October 17, 2017



Time for the PM and COAS to really lead

Time for the PM and COAS to really lead

It is a question many people are asking. The economy is growing at over five percent a year, infrastructure is getting built faster than you can say China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and most of all, the terrorists that sought to destroy Pakistan are on the run. These should have been good times for Pakistan. Yet somehow, the apocalypse is imminent. How did we end up here?

For starters, we have honed a national discourse in which binaries are cardinal. If you criticise Nawaz Sharif, you are an ISI stooge. If you criticise the army, you are on the RAW payroll. If you criticise Imran Khan, you are a thief, a liar, and a scoundrel. If you criticise Captain Safdar, you are an Ahmadi. If you criticise the PPP, you hate Sindhis. If you criticise the ANP, you hate Pakhtuns. If you criticise the MQM, you hate Mohajirs. If you criticise the habitual disappearance of activists, you are an insurgent. If you criticise Saudi Arabia, you work for Iran. If you criticise Iran, you work for Saudi Arabia.

The list is long and undistinguished. It doesn’t matter what issue you seek to dig into, you will eventually find yourself contending with the need to clarify one or another of your credentials in order to legitimately engage with the topic.

When you are programmed to see the world in binaries, it is impossible to have a wide spectrum view of reality. The economy has grown in substantial ways in the last four years, and denying credit for this growth to Ishaq Dar and the PML-N is ridiculous. Also ridiculous? To claim that the growth is like divine scripture and cannot be discussed, or analysed, or questioned. Is the growth predicated on consumption? Looks like it. Is consumption-oriented growth expensive because it crowds out other important components of economic behaviour, like savings or investments? Probably. Does the insistence on a low exchange rate damage the economy? Possibly. Is debt growing? Definitely. Is it sustainable? Possibly.

The world is already chock-full of uncertainty. Will she say yes? Will the traffic on the way to work be a nightmare? Can I speed up now and make the green light at the next signal? Is that cop thirsty? Should I give this transgender beggar some money, or am I just enabling dependence? Will the boss get mad when he finds out? Is this haram? Are they going to laugh at me?

Every moment of every day we contend with doubt and uncertainty. In the past, we had to process all of this with tools that were tangible and within physical grasp. Even the other worldly stuff required hands-on engagement. If you wanted to get more details on the process of a divorce, you had to find a religious scholar, an elder, maybe a lawyer. Today, you Google it. But if you are really mad, maybe you post something on Facebook before you do. Maybe you direct message someone about how you really feel. Maybe those social media engagements produce something good. Chances are, if you posted angry, or sad, the impact is likely not good.

In all this uncertainty, we are seeking firm ground. We want to engage with facts that are clear, and absent of convolution or confusion. We want clarity. We want firmness. We want absolute answers.

So is the economy tanking? Of course it is. What else can one expect from Raiwindistas? They sold the dead bodies of Kashmiri youth for their palaces in London! The UNGA speech last year in which the Don of Raiwind spoke about Burhan Wani for nearly a quarter of his speech? Well, that was just a smokescreen. How about the troublemaker from Sialkot and his jaw-breaking responses to questions from American journalists? Also just a ruse. We know the truth. Behind closed doors, all the PML-N has done for three decades is destroy Pakistan.

To reasonable eyes, these kinds of narratives seem ridiculous. But reasonable people should step outside the bubbles they occupy and smell what’s cooking. It stinks to high hell.

Commentators often warn of the oncoming challenge of fake news and manipulated narratives. The joke is on us. The revolution already happened. We are living the dystopian future that we keep predicting without even knowing it. Its primary victims are also its perpetrators. The battle at home for the narrative has produced multi-layered alternative realities that are creating more uncertainty, whilst we all grasp for the nearest comforting factoid.

Who pushed whom over? Was it the dharna that triggered a somnambulant and obdurate PM’s Office? Or was it the Ufa statement that did the trick at the GHQ – leaving out Kashmir as it did? The Ahmadi dynamic. That’s a tricky one. Was Safdar starting something? Or was he finishing it? And on the slippery slope, as we slide down in hyper-loop speed, will it matter?

How did we end up here?

Was it good for national security for Whatsapp groups to enact large scale attacks on an elected prime minister’s patriotism? Did the hashtag #ModiKaYaar make Pakistan safer?

Did Dawn leaks strengthen democracy? After that sequence, are we likelier to have a more responsive hearing in Aabpara to appeals for sanity on the LeT/JuD/FIF front?

Are the battles between Khawaja Asif and Shireen Mazari on the floor of the National Assembly going to help the people of Sialkot or Rajanpur? Is Imran Khan’s focus on corruption – sharpened on the dime of wealthy people of questionable integrity – really about clearing out the system of dirty money? Is Pervaiz Rasheed’s obsession with the military good for Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s career as a politician?

Did the withdrawal of the insubordinate, disrespectful and unnecessary #rejected tweet really damage the morale of our troops? And if it did, who is responsible for cultivating a national schema in which accepting mistakes becomes a matter of honour for arms of the state?

Is it helpful to the PML-N to constantly take credit for improved peace and security across the country since 2014, whilst it has been soldiers and spies (and policemen) who have been getting blown up, ripped into pieces, sent home in coffins, and maimed, and crippled?

Was it the military that produced the Panama Papers? Or the judiciary? Or Imran Khan? Was it the military that forced the Sharif family to have an incoherent and inconsistent case before the courts? Did the deep state arrange a visit from Sajjan Jindal at a critical time during the Panama case?

Are Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz a bigger threat to Pakistan’s future than the Haqqani Network?

Did the GHQ force the PML-N to conduct foreign affairs as an afterthought? Did an army colonel force the PML-N to appoint second-rate officers to first rate jobs in the Foreign Office and at our missions abroad? Was it the army that produced the enduring embarrassment of a readout of the first Trump-Sharif phone call?

Has the PML-N put a gun to the head of the ISPR and insisted that it respond to every provocation, real and perceived? Is the continued back and forth between politicians and the military good for the country? For the country’s security?

Who forced whose hand? Who pushed whom? Where did it begin?

Various constituents can continue to try to answer these questions publicly, and continue the free-for-all that the discourse is becoming. Or PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and COAS Qamar Javed Bajwa can sit down and establish some order in the republic. COAS Bajwa is not there as his own person, he is there as COAS, as a representative of the armed forces, and a servant of the state. PM Abbasi is not there as his own person, he is there as PM, as a representative of the largest political party in the country, and a servant of the people.

These two men may not have sought the spotlight. But Allah has put them in it. They owe this country a robust and unrelenting effort to arrest the proliferation of divisive questions.

The writer is an analyst and commentator.