Power usually makes people blind and it makes them believe that they will always remain in power, and under this delusion they start thinking of their critics and opponents as threats to their hegemony. Yet in reality no one is indispensable and everyone has to leave the throne at some point in time.
The way the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) government has lashed out at the press and opposition parties reminds one of the brutal military dictator General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has failed miserably to deliver on any front of governance, has also failed to rise above petty politics amid the Covid-19 crisis.
After arresting the media mogul Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman for the staunch criticism of the PTI government by his publications and News TV channel, the government tried to arrest Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a former prime minister and a stalwart of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). An accountability court on Saturday issued non-bailable warrants against Abbasi in a vague case of illegally appointing the managing director and deputy director of Pakistan State Oil.
Abbasi spent seven months in prison for allegedly misusing his powers in an LNG (liquefied natural gas) import agreement, yet nothing was proved against him. Being one of the most honest and intelligent politicians in Pakistan, Abbasi’s political stature is taller than people like Imran Khan who are brought into the power corridors by the invisible forces for their own vested interests.
Though Abbasi managed to get pre-arrest bail from the Islamabad High Court, the question remains why the Khan-led PTI government is wasting its energies on a witch-hunt against the opposition instead of focusing on waging a battle against the Covid-19 outbreak.
Khan on Monday in an address to the nation seemed still to be misinformed regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, saying that the coronavirus only kills old and already ill people, whereas the fact of the matter is that regardless of age or illness it can put anyone’s life in danger if he or she has a weak immune system.
Instead of telling the masses about how his government plans to face the challenges posed by the global recession due to the pandemic, Khan continued to stress that the state does not have the resources to fight the disease and asked for donations from ordinary Pakistanis at home and overseas.
One wonders who is advising the prime minister to address the nation at the time of such a grave crisis without having any policy or measures at least to ease the panic among the masses.
Khan also still seems confused about the importance of curbing the surge of the pandemic through lockdowns. In fact, he referred to the lockdown in neighboring India, and because of his habit of not paying attention to details misquoted Prime Minister Narendra Modi as apologizing to his nation for an unplanned lockdown. The truth of the matter is that Modi in a radio address apologized for the inconvenience faced by the poorer segments of his nation as a result of the lockdown but clearly stated that the measure was the only option to contain the spread of the pandemic.
Khan’s assumption that lockdowns will cause deaths is also wrong, as even with an empty stomach for a week or two one has a better chance to survive than being the victim of Covid-19.
So in short Khan, as usual, is clueless about the impact this pandemic has had around the globe and keeps telling the masses that we will fight this war with faith and youth. Perhaps he soon will realize that when it comes to survival, faith in religion or unity in society is irrelevant.
The problem is that despite its failure to address the pandemic, this government is only concerned with curbing dissent. The arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, the continuous silencing of the media and journalists by Khan’s regime, and an absolute crackdown against the main opposition parties remain its only achievements.
When one looks at what this government has achieved there is hardly a laurel to be found for its foreign or economic policies, or even for simply improving governance. At a time when the International Monetary Fund has announced that the world has entered a recession due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Khan and his cabinet are still lashing out at their critics, the press and political opponents instead of coming up with a strategy to save the middle and lower middle classes from vanishing in the post-Covid-19 era because of a global recession.
Though democracy in Pakistan has always been controlled and the military establishment has always played a role in lodging and dislodging elected governments, never in the history of the country has such an incapable government as the PTI regime been imposed on the masses. From the Kashmir fiasco to the embarrassment over the Kuala Lumpur summit, and from creating self-inflicted economic turmoil to miserably failing to deliver to the masses on governance, and now failing to understand the gravity of the Covid-19 outbreak, there is a list of charges against the PTI government that in any genuine democracy would be more than enough to send Khan and his cabinet home.
The problem remains that Pakistan has not devised strategies to counter the spread of the pandemic and has still not devised any long- or short-term policies to address the global recession and its impact on the country’s economy. The focus remains on political optics only, as first a social-media team was hired by the prime minister to defend his government and now he is launching a special team of young volunteers called the Corona Relief Tigers Force who according to Khan will go door to door to provide needy people with food and to check the areas most affected by the pandemic. But this new force will only eat up resources from the national exchequer as it will need time to be trained.
To date, only around 13,000 tests for the virus have been conducted in Punjab, a province that has a population of more than 110 million, the largest in the country. The doctors who are fighting in the frontlines against this pandemic have still not been provided with personal protective equipment. There is an acute shortage of testing kits, and ventilators are also in very short supply, but Khan and his cabinet remain focused on mocking the opposition and criticizing the segment of the press that is vocal about the incompetence of the government.
Anyone familiar with the political history of Pakistan can easily seem the similarity of Imran Khan’s tenure in power to that of the military dictator General Yahya Khan, who like the current prime minister never paid heed to details and tried to crush the dissent in East Pakistan, and was more popular for his personal life stories than for his governance capabilities. Yahya’s stint in power led to the debacle of the loss of East Pakistan. One hopes that Imran Khan’s stint will not bring any more suffering to the country.
In these testing times, popular slogans and hate-mongering against political opponents and dissenting journalists will not be able to save the country from economic crisis or from the loss of precious human lives. Pakistan needs a decisive and committed prime minister at the helm to cope with the challenges during and after the Covid-19 outbreak.
The engineered political discourse that brought Khan to power but was not able to deliver even in normal times certainly is not capable of delivering in the middle of a global crisis. Mob justice and presenting Khan as a messiah have not contributed to the betterment of the country and it will not in the future, as merely citing slogans and abusing opponents cannot make any government successful.
As the famous Greek playwright Euripides said, “When one with honeyed words but evil mind persuades the mob, great woes befall the state.”
Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.