Since the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has assumed office in August last year, it has taken the centre-stage in a fierce media trial of its 11-month performance.
In the past 11 months, the country has witnessed the worsening of an already ailing economy, besides political and security crises. From the foreign reserves, which hit a new low before a handful of lending efforts from foreign friends, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and China, gave it a lifeline, to an uncertain domestic political environment resulting in a halt to business activities, to the accountability wave which observed the incarceration of major opposition leaders, to persistent internal and external security threats, there is a lot to hold Imran Khan accountable for.
But the question emerges here is that whether he really deserves the media bashing? Does he really deserve to be held accountable for things he is not responsible for? Certainly not. The PTI government inherited the economic crisis it faces today. The day Imran Khan was elected as the Prime Minister, Pakistan’s total debt and liabilities stood at a whopping Rs26,861 billion at the start of the second quarter of the FY2018-2019. How much of it was taken by him? None.
In his article published in The New York Times, award-winning author Mohammed Hanif lamented “chauffeuring Arab princes in the hope of getting soft loans” and how it came at the cost of “dignity” for Khan. Well, with the economy being in such dire straits and hefty sums needed to avoid imminent bankruptcy threat, we were not left with much choice, or were we? Coming towards extracting looted money from the plunders, it is easier said than done. Hanif claimed that “there is no way of bringing back looted money.” It is an open secret that white-collar crimes are always difficult to prove. Former US energy giant Enron Corp. is a classical case study. For the readers of my age, Indian business magnate Vijay Mallya demonstrated another instance of a neatly-done financial crime.
Hanif then observed that in “New Pakistan” – an electoral slogan of PTI’s campaign – major opposition leaders were in jail and not allowed media-time. The fact, however, remains that the mentioned politicians are facing prison on charges of enormous corruption and money laundering. Nowhere in the world are proclaimed offenders allowed media-time and Pakistan is no exception to it. The “A Case of Exploding Mangoes”-fame writer then took up the issue of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement’s lawmakers Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir and questioned their “questionable” detention. The writer failed to observe that the arrests were made in the background of a violent mob attack on a military checkpoint in Boya district of North Waziristan which resulted in the killing of three people. A subsequent government enquiry report accused the PTM duo of “instigating” the protestors for the attack. “The security forces have regularly been targeted either in the form of physical attacks, ambushes, fire raids, rocket attacks or improvised explosive devices,” revealed the report, submitted by the district’s deputy commissioner.
Political observers believe the activists have waged a war against the state. Many of their speeches to the natives in local Pashto language abused the military and vowed to “throw the army out of Waziristan.” For a country that has been in a state of perpetual war against terrorism following the horrific 9/11 attack and subsequent US invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan cannot afford to romance with anti-state elements. In international politics, national interest is considered supreme. The chief duty of a state is to maintain itself. If the state disappears, then no other interest remains. The arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, which many said, was in violation of asylum protocols, provides another insight into international politics.
Hanif further mentioned the detention of PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah Khan on the charges of drug smuggling. He did not miss the opportunity to mention that the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF), which arrested the politician, is headed by a serving major general. As the ANF comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Narcotics Control, the ministry is the authority to be questioned, why it could not find a competent civilian to head the force? As much as this scribe advocates civilian supremacy, the fact remains that successive democratic governments in Pakistan have failed in developing an effective public delivery system which could perform efficiently. The absence of a local bodies system is a quintessence.
The military government of General Pervez Musharraf introduced a local government system in 2001 as part of its vision to devolve powers at the grassroots. However, the succeeding government of the Pakistan Peoples Party, which came into power following the tragic death of former premier Benazir Bhutto in 2007, failed to continue the system owing to political pressure as parliamentarians would view it as a direct threat to their constitutional authority.
The succeeding government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which came into power in 2013 for the third time, installed its own version of the local bodies system. However, analysts say it could not be implemented in the true spirit due to the same reason. Some so-called intellectuals blame the military for every political wrong. Yes, the army has a lot to be questioned about, including the three coups d’état. But certainly, it cannot be questioned for the prevalent economic mess, nor can it be accounted for the constant failure of successive civilian governments to develop a system of governance, nor can it be asked that why, in every sphere of public administration, the government seeks its assistance? Even for the canal de-silting exercise or annual anti-polio campaign.
The citizenry has not forgotten the firebrand cleric Khadim Rizvi, who sieged the capital over blasphemy allegations for 20 days in November 2017 – and the government, again, had to ask the army for interference after explicitly “surrendering to zealots.” The experience of juvenile democracy has given an important lesson to the Pakistani nation that powerful civilian institutions and an accountability system are crucial for its success and continuity.
A big segment of the nation believes that it is bestowed with a messiah in the shape of Imran Khan who has put a strong challenge to the corrupt cabal through the power of the democratic system. A popularity check was witnessed when around 30,000 Pakistani expatriates gathered at the packed to the rafters Capital One Arena in Washington DC to listen to Imran Khan during his recent visit to the US.
The journey is long and arduous but as the maxim goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Perhaps, Imran Khan would emerge as the true nationalist leader, after ZA Bhutto, who was awaited by the nation.