A Pakistani man wearing face mask rides past a billboard with a picture of Prime Minister Imran Khan in Rawalpindi. Photo: AFP / Farooq Naeem

Famous English poet and scholar Alfred Edward Housman once said, “The house of delusions is cheap to build but drafty to live in.” The delusional mindset likewise is very easy to create but in the long run it eventually only destroys the society and its makers.

It took years of effort for the Pakistani military establishment to launch Imran Khan as the savior of the nation. The controlled press and the turncoat politicians all worked around the clock to make people believe that Khan was the only honest and capable man in the country.

In the process of launching Khan, the minds of an entire generation have been manipulated, and it will take decades to end the narcissist and hatred-based politics in Pakistan.

While the establishment’s experiment of bringing Khan to power has failed, the country is facing the consequences in the form of misgovernance and rising corruption and nepotism. From the sugar and wheat crisis to the mismanagement of Covid-19, Khan has put the country on the verge of a disaster.

Pakistan is facing a surge in the numbers of Covid-19-positive patients and, as usual, the government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led by Khan is not ready to take responsibility for its failure to protect citizens.

The first two cases of Covid-19 emerged in Pakistan on February 26. After the cases emerged, the only thing required from the government was to close the flight operations and borders of the country and Pakistan would have not seen pandemic spreading so rapidly.

Not only did Khan fail to do that, he also decided against the lockdown of the country. The reason Khan was against the lockdown was his ego, as the idea of the lockdown was first presented by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

Any sane leader would have listened. In fact any genuine political leader with a stake in the electoral constituency would never have taken the pandemic so casually and would have listened to the voice of the opposition parties.

Since Khan has no stake in electoral constituency – and without the backing of the establishment his party can never win more than two dozen seats in the National Assembly – he acted like a dictator.

When the world was busy fighting against the pandemic and strict lockdowns were imposed in most countries, the PTI government’s focus was on the “accountability” witch-hunt against its political opponents. The entire cabinet including Prime Minister Khan was busy bashing the opposition through a controlled section of media houses.

Such was Khan’s level of ignorance that in his televised speeches to the nation he repeatedly said that Covid-19 was not a dangerous thing for young people and was like flu and even if the people are infected they would get better.

As a result the majority of the population who were already deprived of critical thinking took the pandemic lightly and now Pakistan is trapped in the quagmire of this pandemic. The daily death rate has gone to 100 and there is hardly any street in the cities and towns of the country where people are not infected or otherwise affected by this virus.

Khan, who is known to blame others for his failures, is now trying to put the responsibility for the contagion’s spread on the masses. In his last address to the nation not only did he take another U-turn, by saying that Covid-19 is a serious disease that will continue to spread in the country. He also blamed the masses for not taking precautionary measures.

Perhaps this was the government’s strategy from the first day: to put the blame on the masses. Certainly it never had any policy for controlling the pandemic. It is very hard to find another government in the world that has no vision or policy about controlling the contagion or about how to move forward in the post-Covid world.

The incompetency of the incumbent federal government is not limited to mishandling the pandemic only. It has also failed miserably to keep a check on hoarders and the rising prices of commodities in the country.

Almost across the globe petroleum products have lost value, becoming cheap due to falling prices and lack of demand amid the lockdown in most countries. In Pakistan, however, there is an oil crisis.

Oil companies are not buying any more, due to the government’s reduction of the ex-factory rates and failure to offer them tax relief. Hoarding of petroleum products is another problem, but other than making statements the Khan-led PTI has been doing nothing to end this artificial crisis centered on petroleum products.

It seems the real estate mafia, sugar and wheat mafia, oil mafia, pharmaceutical mafia and cement mafia all are having the best of times.

Khan’s party full of turncoats and opportunistic politicians, who join and leave the party on the instructions of the establishment itself, is part of the problem.

Take for instance the example of Khan’s right-hand man Jahangir Khan Tareen. According to the sugar inquiry report prepared and released by Khan’s own government, Tareen made a profit through corrupt practices. But instead of being held accountable he was allowed to flee the country along with his son. Both the father and son are now in London.

On the other hand Khan’s entire focus is to muzzle political opponents and the free section of the press. Almost all the prominent political leaders of the opposition are facing inquiries in the courts while the owner and chief editor of Jang and Geo group, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, has been behind bars for the last three months without a single charge being approved against him.

The question is for how long Pakistan can afford a liability such as Khan, imposed by the establishment on the people.

In any civilized country, the criminal negligence of a government in handling the pandemic of Covid-19 alone would have been enough for the opposition, through mass protests, to send the government packing. However, since there is indirect martial law in Pakistan, the opposition is not ready to take the risk of going against the establishment.

The charge sheet against the PTI government is not only limited to the mishandling of Covid and misgovernance. From the foreign funding case to the fiasco of the Peshawar Bus rapid transit project known as BRT Peshawar and from the Malam Jabba case to the Bank of Khyber case, the list is long and never-ending.

The longer this hybrid regime spends in power the more the problems will grow for the country. Perhaps the damage that has been done to the economy, foreign policy, and political discourse is almost irreversible now, meaning that even if genuine elected leadership is given the chance it will take at least a decade to put Pakistan back on the track.

The cult of Khan of course the only problem, as it blames Pakistan’s woes on the previous governments led by Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari rather than the PTI regime’s own failings.

Still, in reality, the indirect rule of the establishment through a puppet prime minister such as Khan not only sends democracy to the gallows but the hatred and division created through propaganda against political opponents have given birth to a society that is intolerant and incapable of thinking beyond the propaganda of this hybrid regime.

In terms of the contagion, we will see in a timespan of a few months how badly the masses are affected by the virus. Beyond that, though, the damage being done to the country will even be seen and felt by generations to come.

Sooner or later this hybrid regime will fall but the price the next generation will pay for its criminal negligence in every domain of governance will be very costly. 

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.