A dangerous path

Published October 28, 2018
The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

IN all of this, in all the messy, confused, stuttering start to his term, there has been only one real surprise: Imran seems to harbour a very genuine loathing and hatred for Nawaz and Zardari.

Khanistas will scoff at this. After all, you only had to listen to Imran for the last five, 10, 15 or 20 years to know what he thinks about those two and the parties they lead.

Imran has roared his disapproval and shouted his condemnation into every camera he’s found and in every forum he’s ever had. Hell, he’s said it so much that you’d be a fool to have not listened to him.

What thrills the PTI base doesn’t mean it works on the national stage. Imran’s instincts are dragging us all into a dangerous place.

But it didn’t mean as much back then.

When you’re at the bottom of the pile and have to clamber over bodies all the way to the top, you do what you have to — and say what you have to. You’ll destroy your enemies, you’ll turn Pakistan into Switzerland, you’ll chuck everyone in jail.

Doesn’t matter how or why — the promise alone draws attention and helps you begin the slow journey upwards to the top of the pile. Where you really want to be.

Once they get to the top, most folk usually move on; recalibrate, get bogged down in other stuff, whatever. But not Imran. Imran, in his own words and in the words of those around him, has no intention to let up, move on or deviate.

Imran looks like he wants to move in for the kill.

This thrills the Khanistas. They think it has the PPP and PML-N running scared. They think that to back off or look away now would be to betray the politics of the PTI. It makes a kind of sense too — if politics is about vanquishing foes and taking no prisoners.

But what thrills the PTI base doesn’t mean it works on the national stage. Imran’s instincts are dragging us all into a dangerous place.

The problem isn’t locking up Nawaz, Shahbaz, Zardari and dozens of their acolytes, enablers and facilitators. Lock ’em all up and throw away the keys for all anyone outside those circles really cares.

But it matters who is doing the locking up and how.

Imran, he is now making clear, considers this to be a personal crusade. He wants to lead the charge, even if it’s NAB or whatever that does the actual prosecuting. And Imran doesn’t seem to much care for how it’s done.

For Imran and his enablers in the PTI, the who and the how don’t matter — Nawaz, Shahbaz, Zardari and whoever else is in the PTI’s cross hairs are manifestly corrupt, and in a rotten system only the brave and the reckless can take down the wicked.

And so we are being told how difficult it is to prosecute white-collar crimes and how thoroughly the PML-N and PPP have penetrated the civilian side of the state. Translation: trust Imran; his heart is in the right place and he’ll deliver.

Except his head doesn’t seem to be.

The more Imran bangs on about his political enemies, the less they’ll eventually have to do to un-entangle themselves from the legal thicket they are being drawn into — what’s more third world and unjust than having the chap in charge throw his enemies in jail?

That’s Imran’s first mistake.

Imran’s second mistake is that he seems to be in a hurry. The PTI is right when it argues that the system is broken and that investigations and prosecutions are riddled with flaws. But what’s the surprise there, exactly?

For 10 years, the PPP and PML-N’s position on NAB was essentially that it had to be dismantled and replaced by a new accountability regime. If you are the PPP and PML-N, you’ll argue that’s because the NAB was flawed and meant to serve a dictator’s interests.

If you aren’t the PPP and PML-N, you may notice that neither ruling party ever got round to legislating a new accountability framework. But that still leaves Imran pressing ahead with an accountability machine that is broken — all but guaranteeing that the results it will produce will be tarnished even before a judge’s gavel is brought down.

Imran’s third mistake is, well, everything else Imran has done.

His only real achievement so far, even by his friends’ reckoning, is the few billions he got from the Saudis this week. But even that is an explicit rejection of Imran’s own roadmap — the need for domestic reforms and governance was so urgent, Imran had told us, that he could not leave the country for the first three months.

Though, since being clueless before assuming high office is a regular Pakistani affliction, maybe Imran can be given a pass on that.

The fourth problem could be the worst.

It is quite obviously almost entirely out of Imran’s control, but it could loom largest in the decisions he makes: what’s coming down the pipe in the next year or two in the shape of inflation.

Inflation, especially of the double-digit variety that seems headed our way, has a way of knocking everything else out of the way.

Nobody really cares about who you’ve chucked in jail and what good things you’ve done with the police if prices are spiking, growth is down and jobs are harder than ever to find.

But imagine you’re Imran then. Short of options, cornered, but there, across the aisle from you, are the political enemies you hate and loathe. What would you do?

You’d be tempted to go for it. And that should make the rest of us just a little bit afraid for all that it could cause to unravel and bring tumbling down on everyone’s heads.

The writer is a member of staff.
Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2018

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