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October 5, 2018

Broken promises


October 5, 2018

Are we drifting towards a cheesy future? This question has become more pertinent today than ever with the visible low thespian talent of the PTI’s political leadership to act on the script of Naya Pakistan.

There are two dimensions to our current political despair. The first is our accumulated sense of failure as a democracy and an increasingly popular sense of the continuation of Old Pakistan. Second, the hopes that brought the middle class to polling booths to vote for change are being dashed.

Much has been written about the resilience of Pakistani society and its ability to fight back attempts to squeeze the space for civil liberties – and rightly so. There have been strong popular movements in our country against dictatorial regimes that have led to the ouster of Ayub Khan and Pervez Musharraf in the heydays of their political power. The Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) in the 1980s is another example of the popular will to ensure democracy and freedom of speech.

Therefore, it wouldn’t be fair to argue that our nation does not deserve democracy. Our political leadership, however, hasn’t lived up to the expectations of the people of Pakistan in the struggle for democracy.

In the aftermath of Ayub Khan’s dictatorship in the 1960s, people voted for change spearheaded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his pro-poor ideology. This helped morph the PPP into the country’s largest political party. We may argue about Z A Bhutto’s political opportunism by referring to a number of U-turns triggered by his power obsession. Faced with the dilemma of striking a balance between socialism and religion, Z A Bhutto found it extremely difficult to reconcile the incompatibility between religion and social democracy.

But the popular perception of Bhutto’s ability to represent the poor resulted in the PPP emerging as the only mainstream political party with a strong social democratic ideology. As long as the PPP advocated its social democratic ideology, it remained the country’s largest political party. However, its popular support plummeted when the party gravitated towards a pro-establishment stance. The party has now been reduced to a Sindhi nationalist party, even though it doesn’t represent the aspirations of Sindhi nationalism.

The narrative of change was once again welcomed by the people of Pakistan during Election 2018 despite the fact that it was filled with intricacies, compromises and inconsistencies in words and deeds. The narrative espoused by the PTI still reflects the wish list of political and institutional reforms in the country. Unfortunately, this wish list doesn’t seem to be a strategy for a real transformation that benefits the majority.

The PTI’s real challenge is to strike a balance between the diverging interests of its benefactors (the forces of the status quo) and beneficiaries of its political and economic reforms (the citizens). So far, the PTI seems to be inclined to protect the political and economic interests of its benefactors, with the continued reversal of its political reforms.

The PTI has not been successful in providing a clear roadmap for reforms other than a few populist austerity drives that don’t contribute substantially to the country’s economic recovery and political stability. In fact, the mini-budget presented by the PTI is a good indicator of the mindset of its political think-tank, which is neither capable nor willing to face the wrath of powerful political interests whose role has been critical in its electoral victory.

Many believe that the new political leadership is still in its honeymoon period and that it should be given adequate time to show its performance, especially with regard to its promised reforms agenda. The reality is that the honeymoon period has been riven between an untasteful capitulation to powerful interests and an unabated tendency of backing down from the promises of Naya Pakistan.

As prime minister, Imran Khan needs to seriously reflect and rethink possibilities like a mature statesman to come up with a pragmatic strategy to implement his much-avowed agenda of political and economic reforms. He has to present himself as a man of crisis rather than plunging the country into political uncertainty through ad hoc and unilateral decisions on political issues of far-reaching national significance.

Reverting to and revoking hasty policy pronouncements has become a political normal today – a trait that is symptomatic of a more whimsical mind than that of a strategic thinker. During his last two months in office, Imran Khan seems to have been carried away by a frenzied haste to fix the country without delving deeper into the intricacies, nuances and subtleties of transformative politics.

The primary condition of democracy is to establish the institutional norms of equitable participation and inclusive decision-making so as to minimise human discretion and the whimsical drives of power. The political actions taken over the last 60 days have, for the most part, been cosmetic and superficial, with little positive bearing on Imran Khan’s own conception of a welfare state. At times, the economic and political measures adopted by the government have been diametrically opposed to the 100-day plan that the PTI had promised before Election 2018.

There has been much hue and cry about banning cheese imports to the country. This is an expression of a purely home-grown realisation of the phenomenon of institutional decay, which has culminated in a form of political dystopia for the people. Owing to decades of an accumulated fear of repression, Pakistan has turned into a dystopia for those who struggle for freedom of speech, freedom of association, and the freedom to live with dignity and sanity.

The notion of ‘political dystopia’ may be a far too pessimistic expression of our state of affairs. Therefore, we ought to be content with the term ‘political decay’. We have been milking this country ferociously for too long for personal gains and grandeurs. Those with even a modicum of knowledge about political science can tell the story of our downfall as a nation.

If there is any unity of discourse in this country to celebrate, it is the national consensus on our political decay, which transcends ethnic, religious and political affiliations. Is this what we have gained in the seven decades of our existence? There is, of course, more to the matter. We have also cultivated the mindset that democracy is our worst enemy and our failure as a democracy makes us Martians – ie, we aren’t governed by the earthy rules of politics. In our political idiom, democracy is equal to the rule of the corrupt and the inept, and it is much too brutal to put up with as a nation.

As they say, those who don’t pretend to do politics are the most political of the lot because they get the best as a reward for their apathy. Being a pacifist in a world plagued by a struggle for dominance is the cleverest way to protect one’s interest. Those who struggle to win freedoms make history and those who remain peaceful make a fortune. Our greed and altruism make us different political breeds and we choose our goals accordingly.

The writer is a freelancecolumnist based in Islamabad.

Email: ahniha[email protected]

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