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October 29, 2018

Crazy cross-purposes


October 29, 2018

Two months into power and the Imran Khan government has already given a new meaning to the term ‘cross purposes’. Generally implying ‘two stands that contradict each other’, the term translated in the realm of our national politics signifies a clash of strategic aims accompanied by the bovine hope that the collision would somehow produce the best possible outcome.

Nothing that the government does is in sync with its stated goals of stabilising the country internally, generating sustained economic activity and producing national cohesion through strong institutions that work within the ambit of laws based on consensus.

Consider how the government is rampaging about the streets of an already frustrated public opinion on the issue of accountability. While there is no denying the fact that the current administrative system along with political and security networks are all up for a serious anti-corruption drive, this great goal is now hostage to nonsensical rhetoric that defines the government’s approach towards the issue.

Prime Minister Khan’s address to the nation last Wednesday showed inanity at work when he threatened his political opponents with dire accountability and vowed for the umpteenth time that he would not give anyone amnesty (Who is asking for that, asks the opposition). His threats top up the unrelenting diatribe that his party has started against all political opponents – minus of course those who have left the other side of the political divide and decided to join PTI ranks.

The narrative of ‘everyone is corrupt except us’ and ‘we will not spare you’ is then backed by numbers that ministers (the information minister, in this case) hurl around freely – regarding those they say are likely to be jailed soon. It is 200, 100, 50 etc. According to reported conversations that media owners had with Prime Minister Khan recently, to him a majority of those in the opposition ranks are criminals.

This mass scale political hysteria about the likely chasing of political opponents to their ‘graves’ in the name of accountability is bred and fed from the very top. It has now been turned into a sort of a national legend. We don’t know its real worth but what we do know is that this makes much of parliament and at least two assemblies (in Sindh and Punjab) politically embroiled in deep controversy. There is no hope of any serious legislative agenda based on consensus passing through the National Assembly or the Punjab Assembly nor is it unreasonable to assume that relations between the centre and Sindh will remain bitter and blocked, hostage to mutual recrimination.

No national consensus is possible without national accommodation and the more the federal government insists on portraying its opponents in dirty colours, the harder will become their resolve to fight it out. Unless someone believes that everyone other than PTI politicians should be thrown in the Indian Ocean and left to drown, expansion of political conflict is not the way to create an environment that is attractive to the foreign investor and inspires hope in the hearts of the domestic entrepreneur.

The PTI government started off with the Sharif family on the radar of its contemptuous media handling; two months into power, it has lined up the entire opposition in the firing range of raging hate and threats. That is a remarkable achievement in brewing widespread trouble just when the country needs breathing space and serious debate. What makes this self-generated storm around accountability all the more dangerous is its publicity across the nation that has divided the people evermore, locking them into perpetual arguments about who is right and who is wrong.

There is no one definition of corruption that anyone agrees on but listen to the chatter on social media and it becomes clear that most of those holding opinions about each other’s leaders believe that everyone is corrupt – some more and some less but everyone has their hands in the till. This flimsy assessment that blackens the name of the entire political elite of the country makes democracy look like a farce and its electoral process a fraud upon the people.

This unsparing condemnation does not make exceptions on the basis of party affiliation. The legend of corruption is no longer about the opposition only. Thanks to social media and word-of-mouth gossip-mongering, the national mood is sour about all elected members of the political fraternity, the PTI included. Fake figures (again generated by self-appointed experts and political leaders, with the PTI taking the lead) have cemented the perception that democracy is actually a way to dupe the nation. We have heard about the 10-billion dollar money laundering that allegedly takes place in Pakistan every year and yet there is no study or document that can be cited to prove that the figure is genuine.

We have heard of 200 billion dollars worth of money (again supposedly illegitimately acquired and hidden) in offshore accounts and yet there is no evidence to prove that this figure has any basis in fact or researched evidence. We have heard that those whose assets (real estate or hard cash) lie abroad are part of a corrupt mafia without anyone bothering to find out first whether these assets abroad are indeed made through dark financial deeds. The same is the case with the country’s debt profile figures that are quoted to argue that Pakistan has been burdened and buried by elected governments.

No one wants to surgically analyse where the debt money actually went (it went into defence spending among other long-term needs, for instance) and instead believe, contrary to facts, that Pakistan is in debt because it has been looted. Unfortunately, these mythical figures that someone like PM Imran uses as his favourite citations are now part and parcel of a growing public belief that Pakistan has been bled white by politicians and that ten years ago (the timeframe that the PTI uses to define Pakistan’s worst problems) this country was milk and honey.

In essence, what the public has been made to believe is that the Musharraf years were the best in the recent past of the country because all hell broke loose when the PPP and PML-N came to power. This popularises a familiar case against free liberal electoral democracy and spreads the old romantic tale about controlled democracy that serves the ‘national interest’.

It was no coincidence that in his address to the nation PM Imran made it a point to mention that much of the mega progress that took place in the country was during the Ayub era. He of course chose not to remember that the roots of united Pakistan’s division and Bangladesh’s creation were planted by the same regime in the same years that he was praising as the best in terms of development. His narrative is now backed by NAB and the judiciary’s actions, which is nothing but an indictment of the whole system of governance, administration, economy and politics.

The message that comes out of these narratives is that politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, journalists are all corrupt and untrustworthy and they are the ones who have ruined what otherwise could have been a great country. Interestingly, there are competing claims to who will fix this devil’s chessboard.

The judiciary thinks that it is the chief-fixer; the NAB chairman assumes he is the top-cleaner; PM Imran insists that only he can make the system neat and tidy. However, what everyone is saying that Pakistan is in a deep mess, a Humpty Dumpty that needs to be put together. Name one investor who would find this description a mouth-watering prospect. Name one serious-minded citizen who would put faith in democracy after hearing these officially-sanctioned tales of its horrors.

This is what working at cross-purposes results in: it creates a situation that is wholly contrary to what you had hoped to build. You want to build a country but you want to do it by plunging it into multiple crises on every step of the way. This is cross-purposes. This is crazy.

The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.

Email: syedt[email protected]

Twitter: @TalatHussain12