Saturday June 22, 2024

At its nadir of instability

By Ghazi Salahuddin
September 11, 2022

Imran Khan was playing politics when the country was drowning in the floods. This could be one of the captions of an account of the present trauma of Pakistan, after the waters and the dark passions that have flooded the minds of a section of the populace have receded.

In many ways, both – the floods and the Imran Khan phenomenon – constitute a moment of truth for Pakistan. And in both cases, the gravity of disaster is reinforced by our collective inability to be rational and shrewd and honest in making our choices in whatever national context.

Now that the media has mostly woken up to the unbearable reality of the damage that is done by the floods, hard questions about the quality of our governance and the solidity of our infrastructure are floating on the surface. Climate change and freak weather have hit many other countries, causing immense destruction. But they have been better prepared to bear the brunt of nature’s anger.

Incidentally, the entire world is cognizant of our troubles. Sometimes it seems that we are not taking these floods as seriously as a number of international observers and experts. On Friday, shortly after midnight, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Gutteres landed in Islamabad on a solidarity trip. Generous help in relief goods is continuing to arrive from many countries.

As for the coverage in the global media, I would restrict myself to one opinion piece published in The New York Times on Wednesday. Consider the implication of this question posed on the homepage of the newspaper: “Who is responsible for Pakistan’s floods?” The article itself is a newsletter by best-selling science writer David Wallace-Wells and it is largely based on an interview of Fahad Saeed of Climate Analytics, presently in Pakistan.

The heading of the newsletter for the subscribers of Times is: “Pakistan’s vulnerability to disaster was through the roof. Then came the floods”. But I will come to it a little later. We need to have a glimpse of what has happened on the Imran Khan front this week, far from a human tragedy of, to say it one more time, biblical proportions.

On Thursday, a five-member bench of the Islamabad High Court decided that Imran Khan will be formally indicted on September 22 on a contempt of court charge. His explanation and expression of ‘regrets’ regarding comments he had made about a sessions court judge in a public rally were rejected by the court.

This is surely a major development and creates the possibility of the PTI leader’s disqualification. But since it is an unfinished story, let me move on to that exceptional response of the Pakistan Army on Monday to remarks made by Imran Khan on the selection of the next chief of army staff. It came as a bolt of lightning on the political horizon.

Here is the opening sentence of the statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR): “Pakistan Army is aghast at the defamatory and uncalled-for statement about the senior leadership of Pakistan Army by Chairman PTI during a political rally at Faisalabad”.

I wish I had space to dwell on Imran Khan’s endless tirade of abuse against his adversaries that leaves one mystified about what he means and what he believes in because he changes his stance from rally to rally – a cycle that he ended on Saturday. He is frequently baffled by figures and facts. (Would someone please tell him Pakistan’s population in 1947?)

However, here is a confession about something he actually did. The Toshakhana case has been lingering for a year. On Wednesday, Imran Khan submitted his response to the Election Commission of Pakistan to admit that he had sold at least four precious gifts he received as prime minister. He said that he had procured the items from the state treasury on payment of Rs21.56 million and sold them for around Rs58 million.

Forget about any details, the question in my mind is: has any other leader in any other country done anything like this? Besides, what does this say about the moral values of a leader who never tires of shouting from the rooftops about the corruption of his adversaries?

Finally, let us return to David Wallace-Wells and pick some points from his article and his conversation with Fahad Saeed. At the outset, he concedes that a weather event so extreme and far-reaching can be hard to make sense of. He quotes Foreign Policy: “bad governance exacerbated Pakistan’s flooding”, listing some long-term mistakes: failing water infrastructure, deforestation, poor drainage systems and dangerous, unregulated construction.

He also quotes Fahad Saeed writing last week: “Pakistan is at its nadir of political instability”. This is what Fahad Saeed added when he spoke to David Wallace-Wells from Islamabad this week: “I am myself very scared at the moment, considering the political instability and the economic stability in the country …”

In response to a question about ‘harrowing footage of what looks like whole clouds of mosquitoes’, Fahad Saeed, partly, said: “I just cannot imagine any plan for how the government is going to tackle all this. People will be able to get rehabilitated – the people who are affected. But how the country will run, that is very difficult to comprehend for me at that moment”.

There is a lot about the situation on the ground and a statistical portrayal of the extent of damage that Pakistan has suffered. We have some idea of what it is. The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned on Tuesday that the humanitarian situation in flood-ravaged Pakistan was expected to get worse.

As a summing up, let me conclude with these words of Fahad Saeed: “Considering the state of governance in Pakistan and what it has been in the last few decades, I would say that it would be a death sentence for many, many, many poor families. So it is a very crucial time for the world to come together”.

But can we, in Pakistan, also come together?

The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at: