The only way forward

May 18, 2019

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

OPERATION Restore (Corruption-Free) Patriotic Glory, or whatever else it was called, seems to be floundering, tragically, at the altar of the sheer incompetence of our political engineers.

And how are we responding? With the customary red herring. This time round it is the fault of parliamentary democracy, where the 18th Amendment is also to blame, as is the allocation of resources to the provinces through the NFC.

The answer? Roll back or drastically check the flow of resources to the provinces; rethink the 18th Amendment and even hark back to presidential rule that was abandoned nearly half a century back, but not before truncating the federation. Has anyone asked how hare-brained it would be to threaten the national unity and cohesion that provincial autonomy buys us?

The process via which justice is delivered needs to be uncontroversial, transparent and above board.

Why all this? So that people can’t focus on hard facts? Since the current government took over and first vehemently rebutted suggestions it might need to approach the IMF for a bailout package, the economy seems to have nosedived. The PTI is guilty of talking down the economy and talking up the perils faced by it.

I am no expert but statistics tell a sorry tale. Look at how much the rupee has lost in value to the dollar, see how the growth forecast has been dramatically curtailed, look at the cost being inflicted on the small, local investor due to the stock market mayhem.

If you still feel all is well and the millions of new jobs that were to be created, and half a million housing units that were to be built, are plans (or, to be more accurate, claims that) are still on course, then you will need a serious reality check.

Seeing the writing on the wall, you are still convinced that Utopia is round the corner and the impact of galloping inflation on the lives of the common man is minimal, and that too as members of the usually smug and comfortable upper middle class are complaining, then your state of denial can’t be remedied.

It has been some 30 months since the then prime minister expressed the opinion, as an elected leader, that some of the country’s proclivities in terms of its handling of the militants or non-state actors needed to be looked at afresh as the old norms might not be viable in the changed global environment.

‘How dare he?’ was the response. He was vilified and the wrath of the establishment breathed fire and spared no one connected to the prime minister’s indiscretion; not journalists, not ministers, not advisers. Who knows had we heeded his words, the hostile FATF environment we face today could have been obviated.

Nobody is saying that the Panama leaks were the figment of someone’s imagination in our beloved land. However, it took incredible imagination to take the matter of the leaks and then weaponise it to first take out a prime minister and, then, banish from power his government and party.

Before I go on I must clarify, if I need to at all. I do not condone corruption of any sort. There can be fewer crimes against society graver than pilfering funds meant for the public good when the vast majority is so, so needy.

This clarification is even more important in an age of false binaries. Just this week, I expressed surprise, in a sarcastic comment, at the government-IMF plan to retain and reinforce the Benazir Income Support Programme, or BISP. A friend who works on one of the government task forces chided me for supporting the PPP leaders’ ‘corruption’. Why in the world would I ever do that? And how is lauding a widely acclaimed and effective poverty-alleviation programme the same as ‘condoning’ corruption?

Corruption needs to be curbed no doubt. By all means investigate and punish the corrupt — what you call the ‘chor-daku’. But due process can’t be short-circuited. The process via which justice is delivered needs to be uncontroversial, transparent and above board.

In 1979, we hanged a prime minister after what was largely viewed as a sham trial. And who’d argue that injustice does not haunt us to this day? Who’d oppose accountability if it was possible to tell it apart from a witch-hunt?

If you really wish to find a great window to the accountability process we are now in the midst of I implore you to read Accountability Czar Justice Javed Iqbal’s two-part interview in Express Urdu published recently. The burden of interpreting his words will be on you as I doubt anyone in journalism will do it for you. When the establishment dragon was breathing fire in the wake of the former prime minister’s major ‘blunder’, and beyond, most vestiges of the independent media were also charred.

You may be wondering where I am going next with my submissions in this column. Let me tell you. As an optimist I still feel all is not lost. It never is. Nations’ histories are written over decades, even centuries. One folly does not spell the end; it need not lead to eternal doom and gloom.

Let’s stop chasing shadows and finding excuses for our own incompetence. It is in the supreme public interest that a process of reconciliation be initiated and all our wise brains brought together to chart a way forward. No ego, no prejudice, no self-righteous stance is more important than Pakistan.

It is imperative that the economy’s health is restored as a top priority. Political stability provides the right backdrop for economic consolidation. This is imperative to take care of the millions of our poverty-stricken masses and also to ensure our national defence needs as we continue to face internal and external security challenges.

A national consensus is the crying need of the hour. History will judge us unkindly if we fail yet again.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2019