Murderous angst

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf is our Scheherazade, an obsessive vendetta its existential challenge

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf is our Scheherazade, wedded to its King Shahryar, who has vowed to eradicate corruption and deliver a Naya Pakistan. She must find a way around this predicament or else risk extermination.

Elected as the country’s prime minister in 2018, Imran Khan finally secured the job he had wanted and sought for a long time. Many analogies to cricket situations were invoked along the way and the people were promised a spectacular end to widespread corruption in Pakistan. Corruption, according to the PTI’s principal narrative, was the bane of Pakistan’s existence; the ultimate threat to good governance, social justice and economic prosperity. How has the chapter on delivering a corruption-free Naya Pakistan fared?

On his party’s 25th foundation day, Imran Khan reiterated his resolve against corruption and recounted some of the steps that his government has taken in this regard. These include a campaign to recover the wealth possessed by powerful mafias. According to Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, assets worth over Rs 200 billion have been recovered over the last two years. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) claims it has been relentlessly “proactive” in this regard.

The PTI-authored chapter on corruption should have been a straight-forward tale. Instead, it is convoluted and exasperating. The opposition has been crying hoarse that the ‘accountability’ has been consistently targetting rivals and sparing the government’s allies. A selective accountability, it appears, is the surprise plot twist. Our protagonists have not been able to escape allegations of corruption - from the sugar crisis to the billion tree tsunami project; however, they have been largely immune to the consequences that have followed in other cases.

A recurring trope in the PTI’s tales is the good vs evil theme. Now is a good time to remind ourselves of the distinction between story archetypes and ground realities. A functioning democracy cannot do without the opposition parties. The inability to reach consensus on important issues encourages reliance on other state institutions such as the Judiciary. Perhaps it is time for the PTI to realise that subversion may be the natural outcome of its overdone rhetoric. One thing we know about archetypes is that they tend to be popular. Will the PTI then keep selling the same tales even as they grow more predictable and leading nowhere?

The plot thickens: according to the most recent International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Pakistan has receded and ended up four positions higher than it was in 2019. Furthermore, it has been recently reported that the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) has detected discrepancies in the financial management of some state-owned enterprises. What is one to expect then from mega projects like the RUDA that tend to attract allegations of monumental corruption?

The tale has grown monotonous and the audience bored. Having promises eradication of corruption in its first 100 days, representatives of the government can now be heard suggesting that five years may be too short a time for the required structural changes.

How many more nights can our Scheherazade survive? It’s promising another cliffhanger.

The author is a LUMS graduate and a multidisciplinary writer with an interest in urban policy. She tweets @shehreenhere

Murderous angst