More of the same

April 20, 2019


IN last Saturday’s column, I asked where was the Jacinda Ardern of the Muslim world.

I was referring, of course, to the prime minister of New Zealand who won global acclaim for her sensitive and sympathetic handling of the terrorist attack on a Christchurch mosque that killed 50 Muslim worshippers. You won’t find such a figure in Pakistan: there appears to be little compassion in our prime minister’s heart for the plight of the Hazaras who are regularly targeted by Sunni extremists.

Imran Khan has lots of time to dash off to China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE with begging bowl in hand. However, he cannot spare a few hours to console the loved ones of the victims of the latest atrocity against a beleaguered community. And now we learn that he’s going to China again on a four-day visit. Surely even the Chinese — polite as they are — must be tiring of his frequent trips.

Less than a year into his tenure, the PM has taken several U-turns.

The Hazaras have suffered hundreds of casualties over the last few years, and are now forced to live in what is virtually a ghetto in Quetta. In all these years, the state has failed miserably to protect these peaceful citizens. By refusing to fly to Quetta, Imran Khan is sending a signal that the Hazaras are on their own.

On the campaign trail last year (and for a couple of decades before that), Khan had promised that he was for an inclusive Pakistan where all citizens would enjoy equal rights. However, it seems that some are less equal than others. And this is not the only pledge the PTI government has broken.

Less than a year into his tenure, the prime minister has been forced into a number of U-turns that would have been embarrassing had he not been blessed with a thick skin. At campaign rally after rally, he vowed he would not beg for aid and loans. Indeed, he went so far as to vow he would commit suicide rather than extend a begging bowl before the IMF.

But as soon as he was sworn in after a contentious election in which many detected the active role of hidden forces, there he was in China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, asking for alms. And just a few days ago, his verbose now ex-finance minister was in Washington, negotiating a loan from the IMF.

Khan had also promised that transfers and promotions in the bureaucracy would be made strictly on merit. However, the swift changes of officers in Punjab have shown that little has changed: personal likes and dislikes take precedence over efficiency and transparency.

The one item dominating the PTI agenda has been corruption. For years, the party’s leader has been banging on about the venality of his predecessors, and how he would bring back the $400 billion (or was it $100bn? So many figures have been tossed around that the zeros begin to blur). that Pakistanis are supposed to have siphoned off abroad. The latest figure I read was $10bn; I doubt very much if even this amount will ever reach our exchequer.

But in its zeal, NAB — presumably at the government’s behest — has been hounding and humiliating people across the country. Even university professors and archaeologists have been caught up in the dragnet. Bureaucrats have been hauled up before courts due to minor infractions.

Small wonder, then, that most civil servants are now too scared to put their signatures to official documents that might return to haunt them at some point in the future. Rather than risk being handcuffed by NAB officials on some whimsical charge, officers now prefer to pass the buck. A lethargic bureaucracy has thus become positively catatonic.

And what of the war on corruption? Friends in Karachi’s business circles say they still have to fork out the fixed monthly payments to provincial government inspectors. Those buying or selling property tell the same story.

Then there is the glaring conflict of interest in the award of a multibillion-rupee construction contract to a consortium that includes a firm belonging to a senior adviser to Imran Khan. Had one of his predecessors taken such a questionable decision, he would be blasting it from a container ad nauseam.

Let us not forget the ongoing kite-flying about abrogating the 18th Amendment, and replacing our parliamentary system with a presidential one. This reflects not only Khan’s contempt for parliament, but also his preference for unfettered power. However, he forgets that those who are seen as having helped him become prime minister will call the shots.

The 18th Amendment is anathema to them as it limits their share of the pie. The provinces are now in charge of a relatively large chunk of the budget through a constitutional provision. Thus, the federal government can no longer re-appropriate funds allocated to the provinces to satisfy the voracious appetite of our defence establishment.

So instead of the naya Pakistan we had been promised, what we have is more of the same.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2019