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June 16, 2019

A midnight spectacle


June 16, 2019

If it were to be told in split images, this week’s story of Pakistan would be a kaleidoscope in flaming colours. And the pattern would change in the blink of an eye. Altogether, it would leave your head turning around. It does not seem possible to make sense of what is going on.

This, of course, was the week of the budget. Its arrival filled us with dread. One expected a rumpus in the National Assembly at the time of its presentation. But that was not the dominating image of the week. There were other spectacles that distracted our attention.

In this montage, I would like to hold on to a specific clip that I feel is a graphic representation of the chaos that is beginning to engulf the state of Pakistan. Yes, I am referring to that midnight address to the nation by Prime Minister Imran Khan. It had its sense of drama and one found it a bit difficult to interpret his body language and the meandering speech he delivered.

There are reasons why I think that this late night appearance of the prime minister should make us wonder why he had to make that speech just hours after the budget had been presented and whether it had an important message of hope in the midst of this economic turmoil. Hence, there was a bit of suspense when the address was announced in the evening – and it was enhanced when it was delayed until a few minutes before midnight.

Then, the presentation itself made us sit up and be bowled over by what we saw. An address to the nation by the prime minister of the country is a serious affair. It is taken care of by the high officials of the information set-up. This is one of the few things that state-owned PTV can be trusted with. But this was the most botched up address to the nation of a head of government.

There are stories about how it happened. In any case, the address was twice disrupted – and for minutes. There were patches when the sound disappeared, creating the weird impression that the prime minister’s words had been censored.

Irrespective of this, the content of the address itself raises alarm about this government’s priorities and sense of direction. Imran Khan did not focus on the budget and the economic difficulties that circumstances have inflicted upon the people. In fact, he seemed to be out of touch with the present realities of Pakistan.

Essentially, he announced a high-powered inquiry commission to probe the loans accumulated by the previous PPP and PML-N governments. In his view, these loans, amounting to Rs24 trillion, and their misuse are at the root of the present crisis. But this was not all. His speech was a replay of his ‘dharna’ tirades – with the contempt for political adversaries visible – and, sadly, he also invoked his insufficiently understood model of Riyasat-e-Madina. His interpretation of early Islam is another evidence of his poor comprehension of the potentially complex and difficult problems that we confront.

Some observers have commented on this performance that raises a number of questions about the prime minister’s capacity to deal with the many crises that are deepening at this time. Columnist Khurram Husain wrote: “On Tuesday night, I actually had to check whether or not there is a full moon, because not many other explanations were working”.

By the way, talking of images, there was this visual from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Bishkek which showed our prime minister sitting down when all the other leaders were standing.

Incidentally, the midnight address was not the only eruption that distracted people’s attention from the budget and the associated realities of the economic state of affairs. The timing of the arrests of Asif Ali Zardari, Hamza Shahbaz and, on Friday, Faryal Talpur by the National Accountability Bureau is instructive.

Even more enigmatic is the filing of references against two judges of the superior courts, in particular against Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court, at a time when the political pot was already boiling. This move rattled the legal community and there were intimations of a movement of the kind that we had seen in 2007.

This time, though, it was easier for ‘dissidents’ to appear and form their own Action Committee to challenge the mainstream, elected bodies of the lawyers. It has to be noted that the spokesperson of the government, Ms Firdaus Ashiq Awan, publicly applauded the Action Committee lawyers.

It so happens that no official statement was made after the closed-door session of the Supreme Judicial Council was held on Friday. This means that the nation will have to wait with bated breath about the outcome of the government-sponsored references. Once again, a monumental conflict is building up that relates to integrity and credibility of our higher judiciary.

So, where is the focus in this fragmented scenario? It is becoming obvious that the government is trying to play down the budget that underlines our mounting economic hardships. A measure of this is the budget debate in the National Assembly. There is complete disarray on this front. Ironically, the ruling party is itself stoking the fires of confrontation and making the entire situation more precarious.

Meanwhile, the people are sinking deeper into an unprecedented economic downturn. The US dollar hit a new high on Friday at Rs158. The Ministry of Finance estimates economic growth rate to further slow down to 2.4 percent and inflation rate to rise up to 13 percent. Just a few days ago, the National Economic Council, presided over by the prime minister, had targeted 4 percent GDP growth and 8.5 inflation rate.

Ah, all this and I have not mentioned one image that should leave you speechless. At least I would not be able to deal with it in any rational manner. Perhaps this is the ultimate image to identify the path our rulers have set for us.

On Tuesday evening, one of Imran Khan’s leading players, Faisal Vawda, made a remark in a television talk show that has been translated into English in these words: “If we had it in our power to hang 5,000 people, the future of 220 million people would be transformed”. Where has this wild idea come from?

The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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