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November 20, 2019

An unpleasant episode


November 20, 2019

With the departure of Nawaz Sharif for medical treatment abroad, a long and unpleasant episode in the politics of Pakistan has come to a close. Though this is not the end of the story as yet, it is definitely the end of a chapter that was marred by accusations, counter-accusation, and repeated exchange of unsavoury comments about each other. Especially the PTI-led government could and should have avoided casting doubts about Nawaz Sharif’s health. A more balanced and considerate approach was expected not only of the prime minster and ministers but also of other PTI leaders who took it upon themselves to hurl indignities at the most unfortunate of times for the Sharif family.

PTI leaders took different stances at various stages of this morbid drama. First, they refused to acknowledge the gravity of the illness by making fun of it; second, they found themselves offering to provide all medical help needed; and finally, they tried to impose a surety bond apparently to show to their voters that the PTI government could extract money which according to them was ill-gotten. As the story developed, now all three stances appear to be ill-conceived and ill-timed. Now, after the LHC ruling, views and remarks by government ministers and officials have been quite at odds with each other, revealing a setup in confusion. Now in his first public speech after the LHC ruling, Prime Minister Imran Khan has spoken with unexpected rage. There are different views as to why he sounded as he did. Imran lashed out at all his political opponents. He also said that some members of his own cabinet had become shaken by the sit-in staged by Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Ironically, part of his attack once again targeted Maulana in ‘religious’ idiom, something the maulana has been roundly castigated for doing. The tone and manner of the prime minister’s mocking diatribe against Bilawal Bhutto is not usually expected from heads of government, who should reflect dignity and grace in all matters.

The main issue, however, is where we are headed from this point on. Over the past week or so there has been much conjecture and speculation. Members of the ruling alliance have been displeased with some of the PTI’s actions and the Chaudhry brothers (the PML-Q) as well as the MQM have stated this clearly. Essentially, what the prime minister and his team need to focus on is not petty politics, attacks on opponents or the public demonstration of anger. Instead they need to live up to the promises they made to the people on their way to power: including major changes in the system of policing, healthcare, education and in other sectors. They were not promised soaring inflation and impoverishment. Throwing leaders behind bars can only get us so far. Experts say that because of the fear of NAB the bureaucracy has come to a standstill; so too has the system itself. An environment of more political harmony is greatly needed. We need good policy and good planning rather than raw emotion.

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