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April 7, 2019

A bonfire of infidelities


April 7, 2019

Again and again, we are treated to old clips of leading politicians making statements that blatantly negate what they say or do at a given time. This is so widespread that almost every mainstream politician has appeared in this rogues’ gallery, so to say. And this is how the game is played in our surroundings, with players frequently changing sides and position in their pursuit of power.

But the serial now running on our news channels is particularly engaging. Our news bulletins and talk shows are liberally sprinkled with tiny snatches of statements made in the past that are at odds with the present stance of the specific leaders. The star of this spectacle, of course, is Imran Khan whose path to power was paved with such good intentions. He did promise us a rose garden.

In a larger context, many of the promises had started to fade even before the elections were held in July 2018. As I said, these things happen. However, Imran’s score on the billboard is higher than that of the rest. It seems incredible that those digital scavengers are able to pick just the right clip to undercut a statement made or step taken by Imran Khan and some of his close associates.

This week, the main supporting role was played by Asad Umar. That makes sense because the focus remains on the economy and Asad Umar was perhaps the only player who had been assigned his position long before the formation of the cabinet. So why have his actions apparently lacked pace and a definite sense of direction?

Before I proceed any further in this vein, let me refer to one news item that I want to use as the peg for this column. It is about the government’s plan to introduce another amnesty scheme to provide non-filers of tax returns an opportunity to whiten their undeclared assets at home and abroad to get into the tax net. Other budgetary measures are in the offing in the run-up to entering into an IMF programme.

Since Imran Khan had bitterly opposed such a scheme when the previous government of Nawaz Sharif had resorted to it, here was another treasure of past clips to tease the present government for doing the same thing that had previously been condemned with such passion and evident conviction. The juxtaposition of the fury of the original response and the solemnity of the present reversal of policy must be amusing for many and painful for others.

I have for long stopped discussing politics with those who had a crush, in a political sense, on Imran Khan. I believe that some of them are still hanging on to their partisan passions and have learnt to rationalise the infidelities of their leader as a pragmatic submission to ground realities. For them, there is still hope that ‘tabdeeli’ will rise from the ashes of an economic downturn and a number of promises will be kept.

But taking sides is not the issue. The point, simply, is that the expectations associated with the PTI leadership have not been realised. On the contrary, evidence is growing by the day that in its eighth month in office, this government’s attention is not fully focused on the challenges it confronts. Take the example of how a serious rift between two senior leaders, though one of them stands disqualified from holding any public office, had rattled the entire edifice of the party early this week.

We know that differences between Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Jahangir Khan Tareen have a history. But the party should have found ways to not allow these differences to flare up in public in these critical times. Still, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who stands out in the cabinet as foreign minister and is vice-chairman of the party, took exception to Tareen’s presence at official meetings in a press conference on Monday. He visibly spoke in anger.

Expectedly, Jahangir Tareen was quick in taking a swipe at Shah Mehmood. He tweeted: “There is only one man in my life whom I consider my leader and to whom I am answerable. His name is Imran Khan”. This was in response to Shah Mehmood’s advice that Tareen should respect the Supreme Court decision and stay in background.

Before this clash was papered over by the party, there were big headlines in the media about ‘cracks’ in the PTI leadership. Divisions were evident in how, for instance, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda took to social media to support Jahangir Tareen. Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar was with Shah Mehmood in Monday’s press conference.

At a separate level, some ministers seem to have been assigned to keep the pot boiling. They are constantly taking on the opposition in an offensive manner. Not only would this distract them from the business of governance, creating an environment of peace and tranquillity should be in the interest of the government.

I am not attempting to list the major promises that this government is now incapable of meeting. The list is long. There was that time when Imran Khan had applauded the practice of taking U-turns as the virtue of a great leader. But frequent retractions of policies and principles is something else. That is how the clips lifted from former statements, some of a very recent origin, tend to mock the stance that is now adopted.

I mentioned the amnesty scheme. Finance Minister Asad Umar said on Tuesday that the details had not yet been finalised but it would be introduced before the coming budget. He explained that it was a strong demand of the business community. On Thursday, we witnessed a different kind of reversal when Imran Khan suggested that his PTI and the MQM might contest the next elections from the same platform.

Just think about it. Imran Khan is so fondly embracing a party he had hated with such intensity at one time. The history of how that animosity had unfolded is very instructive. Even in last year’s elections, the PTI and MQM were proclaimed rivals. Now the PTI needs the MQM to protect its precarious majority and Imran Khan has discovered that the two MQM ministers “are the finest members of the federal cabinet”.

The function that prompted this show of camaraderie was also extraordinary. It was the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Hyderabad University in the majestic confines of the Prime Minister’s House in Islamabad. Imran Khan did it in right earnest and the deed was set in stone.

And no, this did not mean that they had kept the promise of turning the PM House into a university.

The writer is a senior journalist.

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