Matter of priorities

December 27, 2015


The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

THE PPP is in thick soup, thicker than it has ever been in the past, and its leadership will have to perform miracles to keep it relevant as nothing short of that will resuscitate it.

Coupled with no viable alternative, the recent local elections demonstrated in rural Sindh that wins can still be scored through an intricate network of electable land-owning/tribal chieftains’ families, herded together mainly via an incredibly rich ‘rewards/ incentives’ programme.

This rewards programme, insiders say, is the winning formula which is managed at considerable expense to the Sindh government exchequer and is state largesse. It may not translate into development in the rural reaches of the province but is bringing wealth to individuals/families in ‘control’ of the vote.

What was once described as a party which united Pakistan and claimed to represent the progressive segments of society is now content at being restricted to the rural parts of one province and that too through such means. Whatever happened to distributive justice, once at the forefront of its identity and the policies of its founding fathers?

When Gen Zia toppled the government headed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the military regime issued ‘white papers’ detailing the supposed excesses of the PPP. Despite a protracted vilification campaign on state media, nobody believed Zia and all saw it as mere propaganda.

Today, the nastiest of rumour, including allegations of plunder, murder and mayhem, just need surface to be believed in totality. Party supporters will say this is the result of years of conditioning of the people via a scientific media campaign, of systematic demonisation. This has happened too.

But to the impartial observer of the current scene it is clear that the party and its leadership today carry the biggest burden of blame. It isn’t alone that they face substantial allegations of corruption and misgovernance; it isn’t their lackadaisical attitude to these allegations. It is their arrogance, their ‘how dare they ask us’ approach.

Not all of the PPP’s wounds are self-inflicted.

For example, take Wednesday’s incident at the Civil Hospital Karachi where an infant, according to media accounts, died as her father wasn’t allowed in for her treatment because of a security cordon thrown around the premises as the PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was there to inaugurate a trauma centre.

Whatever the facts, the minister in charge of (the dismal state of) education in the province, Nisar Khuhro, displayed zero emotional intelligence and even lower compassion when responding to the tragedy; indeed, it was a lesson in how not to react in the face of a tragedy, and a PR calamity.

Mr Khuhro’s disconnect from reality was complete. Deliciously for his critics, the minister appeared completely ignorant of the public anger at all things ‘VVIP’ when he defended the extraordinary security for the chief minister and Mr Bhutto Zardari by saying the latter’s life was a matter of priority for the nation. He failed to see how his remarks would appear when juxtaposed with the death of 10-month old Bisma from Lyari.

Great pity as I know Nisar Khuhro to be a decent man. However, not all of the PPP’s wounds are self-inflicted. The near-myopic isolation of the political forces in Sindh, both rural and urban, at the hands of the security establishment continues apace.

Either the governing PML-N is helpless in staying the hand of the army or, as an observer put it, happy to see two potential adversaries locked in a tussle, tiring each other out in Sindh, thus allowing it considerable elbow room at the centre and in Punjab.

Who would have trouble if PPP leader Dr Asim Hussain is, indeed, corrupt and is convicted for his crimes in a court of law and punished? But the campaign against him with regular media leaks is beginning to smell fishy as corruption, and backing and financing terrorism are two distinctly different things.

Similarly, after endless attempts at uprooting the MQM politically, the security establishment should realise that the people of the metropolis still see the ethnic party as their first choice. Yes, there is also widespread support for the operation to restore law and order to Karachi.

Respecting the people’s mandate and cracking down on those involved in terrorism, violating the law shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. The hounding of MQM leaders including its candidate for the mayor’s office in Karachi for listening to a speech by Altaf Hussain is a case in point.

Where there are substantial issues to deal with, chasing red herrings is no more than silly at best and much, much worse if the exercise makes things go pear-shaped. After all, we do still agree that dealing with those who raise flags of the militant Islamic State group, pledge loyalty to the terrorist group and all it represents remains a priority, don’t we?

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2015