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January 13, 2021

Politics of accountability?

Opinion

January 13, 2021

This week’s latest attack on former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on another alleged corruption charge appears out of sync with Pakistan’s reality. The charge announced, based on remarks on YouTube attributed to a UK-based lawyer and CEO of Broadsheet, added yet another dimension to the accusations of corruption against the former prime minister. Notwithstanding the spin that the Khan government has given its latest claim, the matter still has to be proven in a court of law.

But more broadly, in the third year of the Khan government the pursuit of graft related cases against Pakistan’s former rulers appears to have lost its charm for the public. Coming on a day when the opposition PDM staged its latest gathering in Malakand, the matter of accountability fell short of trends across the country’s political landscape.

Equally significant was this latest claim coinciding with the worst breakdown of electricity ever witnessed in Pakistan’s history over the weekend. Taken together, there is a widening gap between the long-drawn pursuit of corruption versus trends across Pakistan.

In the past week, the prime minister went through what could safely be characterized as a public relations disaster in the wake of the killings of eleven innocent coal miners outside Quetta in Balochistan. Khan’s refusal to visit the western city till the victims were laid to rest in defiance of demands from protesting relatives of the martyrs, only made him look like an uncaring leader. And last but not the least, his refusal to be ‘blackmailed’ – the burial to take place as a quid pro quo for his personal visit to the Quetta protest site – only reinforced his disconnect from the mainstream.

The prime minister has spent the bulk of his tenure promising to take Pakistan’s corrupt elite to task for their past misdeeds. Yet, that objective alone has hardly impressed the Pakistani public, notably those at the receiving end of graft as they go about in their daily lives.

A failure to lift the quality of daily lives, coupled with the failure to conclusively press ahead with closure of corruption cases against politicians, has brought about an inevitable outcome – the broader public left increasingly sceptical of their ruling structure.

Meanwhile, the public’s mood across Pakistan appears to have been hit hard by other trends across the grassroots, notably ones of the government’s making. In a year when the fallout from Covid-19 as expected has led to an economic downturn worldwide including Pakistan, the country has additionally suffered from spiraling prices of food commodities.

The matter of growing food insecurity has haunted the Khan government during its tenure. With farm incomes plummeting due to the outright failure or underperformance of different crops, Pakistan’s food insecurity is likely to grow.

This is an area which remains out of the government’s control, despite the prime minister and his PTI politically in charge of Punjab – the country’s most populous province, which is also known as the national bread basket owing to its contribution to agriculture.

For the moment, the Khan government faces challenging choices. As the opposition parties step up plans for protests, the prime minister and his team are not likely to be swept away in the face of the public’s pressure. Yet, the agitation is set to increasingly force the government to go on the defensive. And, while the government’s underperformance has so far not brought about a political cost, the same cannot be taken for granted with just over two years to go before the 2023 elections.

For Prime Minister Khan, the writing on the wall must lead him towards beginning to tackle issues of interest to the public. Unless the broad spectrum of the Pakistani public sees the government meaningfully beginning to set the pace for a more prosperous future, the popular mood will only harden against the prime minister and his team.

Already, the promise of ‘tabdeeli’ or change that drove the prime minister’s message in 2018 has lost its gloss. Unless the future is a break from the past, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s political fortunes will only head southwards as his message of accountability loses further meaning.

The writer is an Islamabad-based\ journalist who writes on political and economic affairs.

Email: farhanbokh[email protected]