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October 30, 2020

The people’s choice

Opinion

October 30, 2020

The political temperature in the country remains high as the joint opposition continues its rallies and protests. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan continues to lash out against the Sharifs and has now said he will personally visit London to capture Nawaz Sharif and bring him back to the country. This scenario of course is unlikely. The question, however, is whether the ongoing vendetta against opposition politicians has any real meaning for the people.

While naturally the general public would like to see a government which is not corrupt, the much-talked-about corruption of people like Mian Nawaz Sharif and his family is for many not a major issue. They would much rather be able to buy food items at prices they can manage. Ordinary people are saying the staple diet of onions and ‘roti’ is now beyond their reach. We hear everywhere of families driven to despair and of growing suicides in many places.

The National Nutrition Survey for 2018 indicates that nearly half the children under five in our country are unable to grow normally and remain below their expected height and weight. These figures are worse than those of many Sub-Saharan countries which do not produce enough food to provide for their population. As an agricultural country, Pakistan certainly produces enough. Where it goes and how the stocks are managed is a different matter. We can estimate with some certainty that the situation has worsened since 2018 when the survey was carried out. It is true that the Covid-19 crisis has contributed to this but so has mismanagement and incompetence.

Prize-winning Indian economist Amartya Sen has written about how ordinary citizens in developing countries are far more badly affected by petty corruption at lower levels, for example in the police force or electricity department, rather than high-level political corruption. Whereas the trickle-down effect means that corruption at the top does encourage corruption lower down the order, the people care more about the basic supplies including food and education rather than setting out on missions to bring Nawaz Sharif back to Pakistan or to tackle other opposition politicians as harshly as possible.

The widespread impression that NAB is a politicized body without any transparency does not help matters. Indeed, while Mian Nawaz Sharif may have been despised by a large number of voters during the 2018 election, many of them have now decided that obtaining at least some food to eat was better than an obsession with corruption, especially when it is directed only against opposition leaders and when individuals like Jehangir Tareen who are close to the prime minister are able to sit quite comfortably in London. The number of dubious Pakistani politicians that London now seems to house makes one wonder about the safety of the UK!

More than anything else, people want a competent government. This would be a government which would be able to sell basic food items at affordable rates and stop the spiral of inflation which continues to rise. This inflation is affecting almost everyone, including salaried persons and middle-income families – leading to wider and wider despondency and displeasure with the government in power.

There is also the question of how other matters are being handled. Journalists are alarmed at the report of disappearing reporters or harassed media professionals. Most people are intelligent enough to realize that a chained media means they will not be told the truth. Secrets from the Zia era are emerging even today. Those who lived through that dark period say the censorship and sense of fear they witness today is even worse than that time four decades ago. This is especially frightening, given that in theory at least we have a democratic government in power rather than a dictatorship.

Combined will all this, as former chief minister of Balochistan Akhtar Mengal eloquently stated in his powerful address in Karachi, people continue to disappear and there is a huge amount of disparity between regions in various parts of the country. This should not happen in a single state. The modern nation-state is after all a piece of territory held together by boundaries that turn it into a common entity. Good governance should mean useful taxation and revenue collection as a means to even out the divide.

We have seen no evidence of any ability on the part of the PTI government to manage this. Indeed, opposition members of the NA have pointed out errors in important bills and the Supreme Court delivered a firm dressing down to the legal team involved in filing the reference against Justice Qazi Faiz Isa on the ground that it contained major mistakes in interpretation of law. The court made its opinion of the flawed reference quite clear – and we hope that the government has taken note of this.

However, this appears to be unlikely. There is no evidence that the prime minister, his ministers or the rising number of advisers he has employed do much other than tweet out increasingly aggressive and sometimes abusive messages. This is setting a terrible example for the country. We all know our past where senior politicians no matter what their differences with opponents used decorum when addressing them and did not attack them by lashing out against their families or resorting to the language best suited for locker rooms.

This language is not acceptable anywhere. It is certainly not acceptable from a leader the people have elected. Neither are his attempts at humour by parodying opposition politicians and using misogynistic language. Imran may have been able to use such tactics successfully as the captain of the country’s cricket team but for a prime minister to resort to them simply shows up the shallow level of government with others taking their cue from him. This is why we hear the kind of addresses or language used by Shahbaz Gill, Fayyaz Chohan, Faisal Vawda and many others like them.

After over two years in power, it is time the government understood what it means to govern people. It means delivering on promises made in the past and at least beginning the tasks that could in the future create a better Pakistan for all its people. We do not see any of these measures put into place. Instead we have an unending and extremely petty campaign directed against those labelled corrupt, even though no proof of this has been put forward. The case of Rana Sanaullah is a reminder of this. There are many others. Imran Khan, and whatever team advises him, needs to rethink what he is doing and if the people are in any way being served by his actions and his policies.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

Email: [email protected]