Monday January 30, 2023

Rhetoric means nothing

November 20, 2018

The PTI government is perhaps the first in recent decades that enjoyed the support of various sections of society. Many had pinned hopes on the charismatic leadership of Imran Khan.

Many had thought that the Kaptaan would steer the country out of crisis, enacting pro-poor policies, stamping out corruption, eliminating cronyism, putting an end to class-based education system, providing shelter to the homeless, tackling health issues on emergency bases and bringing much-vaunted prosperity to the land of pure that he promised during the election campaign.

But all those promises appear no more than a chimera. The party of change seems to have failed almost on all fronts. Imran and his tedious acolytes are still resorting to the rhetoric of transforming society, making tall claims about their performance. However, such claims seem to be riddled with contradictions. Firebrand PTI MNA Murad Saeed, who asserted that Khan would retrieve $200 billion stashed in foreign banks, seems to have gone into hibernation after Finance Minister Asad Umar denied the existence of such a whopping amount in the banks. The finance minister also had to face much embarrassment in parliament over his approach towards financial matters.

It seems that from day one Umar had known that only a bailout from the IMF could alleviate the financial hardships of the government but he balked at the idea of going to the international monitory institution with a begging bowel because his visionary leader had already lambasted Nawaz Sharif for bowing down in front of the master of the capitalist world. The leader had vowed not to ever approach the Fund. This solemn pledge was not made in any drawing room but in front of tens of thousands of people. How could Umar have had the audacity to go against such pledge? But, as we know, promises are made to be broken.

It is also surprising that PTI leaders do not feel uncomfortable making contradictory statements. In the beginning, a stream of assertions was issued, vociferously announcing that the robbers of the political world had stashed away $200 billion in foreign accounts, However, in his recent press conference Shahzad Akbar seems to have reduced the figure drastically to just one billion dollars. Some ministers are still claiming it is 6 to 7 billion dollars but none of them is ready to answer crucial questions. For instance, how much of this money can be repatriated? What mechanism do they have to make tax havens return this looted money? How long will they take to bring back this money?

Promises regarding governance also stand exposed. First, the transfer of Pakpattan’s DPO and then the rescuing of ex IG Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from the task of reforming the police department in Punjab – both acts greatly stunned many admirers of Khan and his party but the party of change did not stop here. In fact, in some respects, it even left other parties behind. Its sitting minister, Azam Swati, not only allegedly encroached upon CDA land but had the audacity to victimise a marginalised family living close to his farm house. Had the Supreme Court not taken notice, his sheer contempt for the police and the law would have gone unaccounted for.

So, from hilarious claims about helicopter expenses to bizarre auctions of buffalos and cars, the government has committed blunder after blunder. It is lucky to have had a pliant media that did not challenge it. The price of the dollar has skyrocketed. Inflation has also soared. The cost of living is becoming unbearable for an ordinary Pakistani. Running the manufacturing sector seems to be turning into a pipedream, what with the rising cost of energy. Foreign direct investment is dwindling and foreign exchange reserves are shrinking.

The much-vaunted investment from overseas Pakistanis is nowhere to be seen. And why should it come anyway when the government cannot even protect their plots bought in this or that housing scheming from land grabbers. The social sector also has not witnessed any major improvement. Schools, hospitals, sanitation system and road infrastructure are yet to see the miracles of Naya Pakistan. The PTI lambasted Shahbaz Sharif for launching the metro bus in Lahore, but the party ended up inaugurating its own metro project in Peshawar, which seems to be taking ages to be completed, turning the lives of the people of Peshawar into hell. The social sector is going to be further affected badly by the budget cuts and stringent conditions that the IMF dictates and which are likely to be accepted by a government that was voted into power on the promise of defying such institutions.

More than 60 million people in Pakistan live below the poverty line. One of the ways to counter this phenomenon is to provide jobs to people. However, instead of providing jobs to jobless youth, the government has been removing vendors, small hotels, wedding halls, thatched tea shops and roadside restaurants. It could be argued that the federal government is doing that on the orders of the respected Supreme Court. But the government still has the option to provide alternative places to these people who are from the bottom layer of social stratification. No court will stop the government from providing alternate ways of employment to these poor souls who were working instead of joining criminal gangs.

And, importantly, it is not just the poor that are encroaching upon state land. Several elite schools, religious seminaries, hospitals and prominent housing colonies have also encroached upon state land. Why does the government not retrieve the hundreds or possibly thousands of acres of forest land upon which influential housing societies have carried out constructions – despite clear court orders against such construction? Why does the government not cancel thousands of acres of land allotted in the name of developing farm houses, and instead settle homeless people on such land? What prevents the government from liberating the land encroached upon by powerful business groups?

The PTI needs to understand that stifling dissenting voices through coercive measures cannot ensure people that change is taking place on the ground. Rhetoric cannot force people to represent reality in a distorted way. Reviling the previous government for everything will not prompt people to declare that the country has been turned into a heaven under the leadership of the Kaptaan.

Therefore, it is important that the party of change carry out some soul-searching. It should really prove that there is no dichotomy between what Khan says and what he does. This new philosophy of U-turns will not save the sycophantic brigades that are claiming everything is hunky dory. The bitter reality is quite visible and the stark truth can be seen everywhere.

The writer is a freelance journalist.