Monday May 23, 2022

An inability to think

January 16, 2022

A day after the PTI-led coalition easily defeated the opposition in the National Assembly to win the approval of the ‘mini-budget’ that is dictated by the IMF, Prime Minister Imran Khan unveiled a public version of the country’s first National Security Policy. And he was candid in underlining the irony that is inherent in the juxtaposition of these two events.

Speaking about the policy that places a special emphasis on economic security, Imran Khan noted that the compulsion to acquire loans from institutions like the IMF put the national economy at risk. However, what the government is doing at the IMF’s behest is a reality. The National Security Policy is a plan. Or call it a wish-list.

While we wait for the implementation of the policy which, in its conception, is rather idealistic, we have to live with the realities of our present existence. When the prime minister has himself conceded that our security is compromised when we submit to conditions laid down by the IMF, the nation’s prospects, at least in the near future, would not seem to be promising.

There is general agreement that the ‘mini-budget’ will add to the people’s misery by raising prices of many necessities. But there is another dimension of what the IMF has prescribed in the context of our national security. In addition to the Finance (Supplementary) Bill 2021 – the ‘mini-budget’ – the National Assembly on Thursday also approved the State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill 2021.

Irrespective of the concerns that have been expressed about these two controversial bills, it is necessary to understand the overall situation and the state of the nation’s affairs in various economic, political and social sectors at this time. This, though, is becoming an impossible task. We seem to be lost in the fog of anxiety and uncertainty.

At one level, two years of pandemic have left the world in a wounded and bewildered state of mind. Pakistan may have been in a fortunate place in this regard, but it cannot entirely escape from the global impact in terms of the pandemic’s medical and social consequences. And now this new variant is sweeping across the world. Suddenly, there is a surge in Covid positivity in Pakistan and the ratio in Karachi is alarming.

Then, Pakistan is also caught in the grip of its own, specific crises and sorrows. The situation in the political sphere is very bleak. Though the PTI was able to demonstrate its numerical strength in the National Assembly on Thursday, the vote was preceded by a dramatic show of discord in the party.

Reports about Defence Minister Pervez Khattak’s dramatic confrontation with Imran Khan in the parliamentary meeting of the ruling alliance have certified rumours of serious dissent within the PTI. Imran Khan’s popular support is bound to decline in the face of unprecedented inflation and the poor quality of his governance. In addition, there is an increasing sense of disarray and lack of cohesion in society.

When you look in the mirror of some particular events, the picture that emerges of our society and how it is governed is frightening. There was the Murree tragedy and details about the lapses that wrought it are still being revealed.

Shocking in a different sense was the graphic account of the adventures of a young man who was supposed to be serving life term in a prison in Karachi for murder but was found living it up in a private hospital. He had been there for many months until an intrepid reporter found his lavish hideout.

Yes, Shahrukh Jatoi, the dashing scion of one of Sindh’s leading feudal families, was featured in other stories after he had been convicted. Even in the prison, he was very well looked after, as former chief justice Saqib Nisar had discovered in a surprise visit. This is how the rich and the powerful can consort with law and justice in this country. Interestingly, it was revealed that around twenty other privileged prisoners in Karachi were also lodged in hospitals.

There are other stories that have to be left out, but I would just like to mention the rising tide of violent crime and very tragic consequences of poverty, depression and abuse of law and justice. Sadly, there is no proper documentation of this social disorder and no methodical comprehension of what this means for the future of our society.

Quite simply, we are not capable of self-reflection in a collective sense. We do not have sufficient intellectual resources to figure out the causes of our deprivations and look for any viable curative strategies. A pertinent example is how debate is conducted in the media and also in the political domain. The National Security Policy was not debated in parliament and there was no input from academic institutions.

I wonder if I can use this title of the David Brooks column published on Thursday in The New York Times: ‘America Is Falling Apart at the Seams’. Instructively, David Brook is not talking about politics. He has collected statistics to show that in the wake of the pandemic, bad behaviour has risen. There is an increase in traffic deaths, murders and drug overdoses.

Let me quote: “But something darker and deeper seems to be happening as well – a long-term loss of solidarity, a long-term rise in estrangement and hostility. This is what it feels like to live in a society that is dissolving from the bottom up as much as from top down”.

If this is how a social critic has described the situation in the United States, a country that has ample resources to deal with its problems, what would a similar assessment of the Pakistani society be like? Some of our stories are born of a kind of destitution and deprivation that does not exist in most other societies. After all, we know where we belong in global rankings that relate to social development.

We may have some inkling of national security, as defined by our rulers, but what are the hard facts about our expanding insecurities?

The writer is a senior journalist. He can ber eached at: ghazi_salahuddin@hot