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March 18, 2021

A broken country

Opinion

March 18, 2021

There is today a risk that we could see such a falling apart of even the limited harmony we have within the country once again, if we are unable to unify our political forces and persuade them to engage in dialogue, rather than a constant exchange of abuse and harsh language which should not be permitted from anyone who claims to lead the people or the country.

This narrative has been repeated again and again. The discourse from Prime Minister Imran Khan, who should be setting the tone for his party, speaks constantly of dishonesty, corruption and horse-trading. He is not entirely incorrect when he hurls such accusations. But there is a manner in which to conduct business and also to understand that politics demands more than simply attacking the opposition at every possible opportunity.

To an increasing degree, this is also true of all opposition parties who return the rhetoric with equal venom. We saw this in the Senate with senators, who are both senior politicians and good friends, attacking each other verbally, as the time came to cast ballots for the chairman and deputy chairman of the House. Outside the Upper House a few days earlier, we had seen a man kick a female PML-N leader, leading to a violent scuffle. Shoes and eggs have been hurled at leaders from both sides of the divide.

This environment has been created mainly by the apparent belief that the ruling party must follow a line of bringing down the opposition by calling it corrupt and dishonest in the harshest possible terms, even if this means resorting to unparliamentary language. Unfortunately, most of the trumpeted cases have been defeated or thrown out of court, with NAB becoming an institution which is seen increasingly as a tool for witch-hunts. The prime minister and his cabinet must understand that leading a country calls not just for dealing with the vices that certainly exist in our country but offering governance to the people of the country. This, after all, is the purpose for which people elected the PTI to power and voted for Imran and his colleagues with so much enthusiasm. The PTI then has an obligation to deliver.

So far, it is failing badly in doing so. We see a degree of chaos almost everywhere, with Punjab almost completely lacking in anything resembling solid governance. The many calls from within the PTI's band of allies to consider a change in leadership in the province have been rejected time and time again. In addition to this, we also have unchecked inflation, which is literally leaving people unable to purchase basic items of food, including atta and sugar.

There are accusations that the so-called 'ATMs' who surround Imran Khan also play a part in dictating policy. This is a dangerous state of affairs. There has been no reform in the police, no real reform in education, no visible change in healthcare and not much else in the way of offering people benefits by collecting more taxes and using them to better the plight of a people caught up in a desperate situation. Yet these are the things that people need most of all: a check on the price hike, employment and major administrative reform rather than vitriolic attacks on opposition leaders. This in no way helps those in desperate need of help.

Much could be achieved if all political players could agree to sit together and devise a common policy. This does not mean giving up on the individual ideologies and leanings of parties, but rather developing a common core around which some structure for the future can be built. The exchange of angry language and abuse between political leaders has led to the divide spreading down to their supporters, and leading to dangerous intolerance for each other's views.

Political views, of course, differ. This is how it should be in any democracy. But for democracy to work, people also need to understand that other views must be respected and listened to, without attacking the person who holds them or calling them supporters of corrupt and dishonest elements who need to be punished harshly and placed behind bars, or even taken to the gallows. We are, after all, not living in some mediaeval kingdom.

To add to the problems, we have a pandemic which now appears to be entering its third surge with the highly transmissible UK variant of Covid-19 now said to be present in Lahore, and possibly other parts of the country. This is obviously not good news, and we can only hope that the government's promises on vaccination will hold up to the test of time over the coming months.

Most of all, we need to create a situation in which disputes and differences and divides are settled within parliament and not outside this forum which stands at the centre of democracy. Of course, parliament itself needs to be cleaned up too. All parties must consider with greater care the candidates they choose to put in parliament and insist that they act for the people and not against them.

Only if we have sensible harmonious debate in parliament can we move forward and reach conclusions that can help all the people and save them from the situation they face today. At the present time, we do not appear to be moving in this direction at all. Instead, the divide is growing wider and wider. There is a decreased willingness among politicians to work together and act to unite the country. The tweets and other posts we see on social media are proof of this.

The new chairman of the Senate, Sadiq Sanjrani, elected for the second time could play a crucial role in bringing politicians together. He is known as a man who is friends with many who sit with him in the Senate. He also holds the honour of being the only chairman of the Senate to be elected from Balochistan. If he could be used as one of the persons who could begin the process of unifying political parties, rather than dividing them further, we may have a situation where it would be feasible to find a way out of our difficulties.

We have to find this way, as today we try to find ourselves a path that can lead us out of a maze made up of confused foreign policy, a failing economy, multiple problems at home and a cabinet which apparently lacks competence and enough ability to hold the country together at this crucial time.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

Email: [email protected]