Lessons not learnt

IK claims he needs to bring the corrupt to justice

Shahzad Chaudhry September 09, 2022
The writer is a political, security and defence analyst. He tweets @shazchy09 and can be contacted at [email protected]

Consider: Imran Khan’s major trouble during his tenure in office as the PM was first the economy which caught the whole PTI wrong-footed – in fact they neither understood national economy in totality nor did they know how to get started to resolve its distortions. Hence the dither to go or no to go to IMF and the rhetorical sloganeering about IMF strangled PTI’s options with adversarial impact on the economy. Wrong handling of the Rupee only added to the complications.

What seemed to turn the economy in the last two years of PTI’s tenure was the flex in the first year after Covid which provided the space for Pakistani manufacturers to benefit and when that waned – as other, bigger economies came around – a more relaxed import-based growth became the impetus driving the Current Account Deficit crazy. None was sustainable over a longer period. The PDM government bore the consequences thus when horses changed mid-course replacing IK’s government. To sell a conditional performance of the last two years as a prescriptive policy without relating the context is both devious and misplaced. PTI needs better thinking on the count and create genuine agency to remedy an ailing economy. Instead what is being sold is dreams without a plan. IK knows how to woo his fans but is yet to show whether he knows what will bring the economy back sustainably. The lesson derived from desperation of his time in office seems to have gone unheeded.

Next, IK claims he needs to bring the corrupt to justice. There cannot be a more altruistic goal in a polity like Pakistan where power means pelf and a hand on the till is as good as a hand in the till. Sadly. But the means to that end remained unattended during IK’s complete tenure. If judicial reforms were the crying call of his intent as well as political purpose there was little done to realise the objectives. Criminal justice continued as lackadaisically as it stands – a few exceptions in constitutional adjudication notwithstanding. The prosecution is listless and the powerful still get away with murder.

What bigger that IK’s nemesis, Nawaz Sharif, convicted and incarcerated, found a cabinet approval to proceed abroad for treatment. He remains a proclaimed offender from the courts and jibes at the compromised system of elites and the powerful in the country with his daily proclamations on politics from his safe haven abroad. IK not only was an accomplice in this charade but was also derelict in not improving the criminal justice system with necessary legislation and structural changes to make justice quicker and cheaper; as indeed equitable and fair.

IK’s inability to work in the Parliament with the opposition meant he was denied what was so basic to his belief system. To now pin it on others or to continue to hawk it as a populist theme is quite transparent and shallow. He is selling the moon to his believers and they are following him blindly but to where is what he conveniently shelves in his rhetoric. Again, does he now fully appreciate the fundamentals of a parliamentary democracy where the essence is to find common ground with the opposition for essential legislation or a tenure will be as fruitless and listless as it turned out for the PTI? Is there a lesson to be learnt in all of this?

We are a parliamentary democracy till we change the constitution with a two-thirds majority in the parliament in favour of another more singularly dominated governance model as the presidential democracy but that too will likely be challenged in the courts on the basis of the basic structure doctrine so clearly spelled by the Indian Supreme Court as a precedence guiding a lot of contemporary jurisprudence. If indeed it is so, is there new thinking in the PTI to work the parliament together with the opposition for consensual legislation, were the PTI to regain power? If anything, the harangue framing one and all is the more common resort alienating one and all even more firmly precluding any possibility of a reasonable, rational legislation emerging from a badly divided and fragmented House leaving governance in a limbo. It shall remain our debilitating predicament; so badly polarised is the political front.

Being agitated and aggressive may be a good ploy on the sports-field but when it shapes mindsets and attitudes in a society respect for law is the first and the most grievous casualty. Without rule of law no society can function, no system can sustain. Only chaos persists. Perhaps there may be opportune benefit in instituting chaos but when the genie is out none has ever bottled it back. A tsunami will then sweep all. Many take lead from how ZAB unleashed people’s power even if not at this scale and in a population half of today’s size but when things started going wrong the ultimate resort was martial law uprooting a system gone berserk. The economy had been pummeled under his idealist recourse of Islamic socialism – Islamic was for added flavor. Whether for power or for ideals when opposition rose against Bhutto’s autocracy there was little beyond populist rhetoric in his portfolio to gain support within powerful circles. Lessons from history must be carefully sifted for relevance and looked at in their full context. Is IK mis-learning from history and who is egging him on this route?

IK’s final hurrah was against his army and its leadership. Whatever went wrong between them is little known but there were a few indicators which soon culminated in a gradually reinforcing narrative of a US-inspired ‘regime change’ – for popular resonation based on some global examples. (Pakistan was too insignificant for this kind of attention by the US, escapes those who coin narratives.) He also alleges a conspiracy nudging PTI’s former allies (with a few votes only) to change sides and upend his time in power. Somewhere along there was a moment and a targeted advice to IK by a coterie to take on the US, the army, and the opposition in a contrived combine as co-conspirators to establish his saviour image. A pause is necessary. If in the first place those allies were a manufactured electoral majority he was anyway on borrowed crutches. When he decided to bracket his army and America together to imagine an evil and unjust cohort he lost the right to expect others to hold his crutches for him. The allies switched sides and his time was over. Will he now re-imagine his narrative without bringing state institutions into disrepute? Can he move out of the clutches of those few who egg him on against country’s military in a targeted campaign and force a confrontation with America defying Pakistan’s critical national interests?

IK invokes national pride, dignity and self-respect as the ideals he wishes to deliver to his people. For that he wants power. One, these are intangible notions impossible to numerically assess and qualify. Two, no one has exclusive rights to these attributes. And three, what better way than the Men in Greens delivering it to their people with exemplary performance, dedication and sportsmanship. Those who let their bat do the talking prevail in the end.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 9th, 2022.

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