THE prime minister has come up with a fresh statement of intent. The war against the corrupt rulers of Pakistan will continue to be the basic cause, the rallying cry of his march forward in the coming days. Apparently for reasons of brevity, he has specifically chosen to probe how the loans obtained during the last 10 years were used by those in power then. The period nicely takes Prime Minister Imran Khan’s two main opponents into its grasp.
The PPP and PML-N must now be ready to do penance for their deeds beyond the current sufferings and incarceration of their leaders. Along with both these most suspicious parties, Pakistanis in general must be prepared to live through the formula that has quite obviously been adopted by the PTI government as the main theme around which to go about performing the most difficult task of governing this country.
The formula is to press on with the campaign against the PML-N and PPP and, amid the noise that this exercise is bound to generate, go on introducing whatever tough economic decisions have to be taken. This may appear to be just too obvious a strategy, betrayed early to all who cared to see. But the simple method is working quite okay for the government to think about employing more sophisticated or subtler ways in this phase where it is still trying to stabilise things almost 10 months into power.
Prime Minister Imran Khan is known for not making too many bones about it and his habit to keep things brazen has apparently been adopted by others, who may not be dependent on direct orders from him to move against all kinds of old and new suspects. Thus as the National Accountability Bureau prepared for its post-Eid spree to round off some famous faces, everyone knew who was going to be the first ones to land in the accountability bureau’s lockup.
The PPP and PML-N must now be ready to do penance for their deeds beyond the current sufferings of their leaders.
And, persisting with his already tested transparent policy, it is not just the cases that NAB has stacked against them that the Zardaris and Sharifs of the deeply suspected world may be answerable to. They have an entire commission breathing down their necks. It pretty much sums up what these gentlemen of the opposition would be doing for the next few years — the way Mr Khan says it, there always being available other versions on how things might shape up in future.
His latest invention, the commission, was bound to run into a surprised group of Pakistanis who still thought that, finally, the prime minister had to go search for a less hostile long-term appearance on the subject. Some, if not many, had been hoping that the government would dismiss Mr Zardari’s arrest, followed a day later by the nabbing of Mr Hamza Shahbaz, as some kind of a routine occurrence. There was expectation that the confrontational mode would be replaced by aloofness, particularly when it was desirable to get the impression that the incumbent was neutral in this stand-off between past rulers and an accountability machinery that must be independent to execute its functions.
Going by its makeup, it seems that the commission Mr Khan has proposed, is aimed at sullying the names of those who could threaten his hold on power in the immediate future. It’s a bold reminder to the PPP and PML-N that the prime minister is undaunted by threats of street agitation both these parties have been making as NAB zeroed in on cases against Mr Zardari, Mr Hamza Sharif and others close to the two big political dynasties.
At the same time, the circular nature of this new endeavour via the commission must be clear to one and all. It points to dangers of being obsessed with decimating political opponents by painting them as corruption gods.
Let’s limit ourselves to the loans acquired and spent in the 10 years between 2008 and 2018 since going beyond that would open fronts that Pakistani democracy may find too hot to handle. A more progressive answer to mismanagement by the PPP and then PML-N would have been a study undertaken purely by economists who could devise strategies on how our present and future rulers could avoid falling into the same pit again and again.
Indeed, this job aimed at avoiding recurrence of the ills by past rulers may be very much on. But what the commission does is that it takes the focus off the future that must be free of the burden of the past. It places the camera lens back on the evils imposed by the ‘criminals’ who, sadly, were repeatedly brought to power by the Pakistanis before they ultimately got the saviour they had long craved.
Persecution of political opponents on all kinds of charges was the norm in the old Pakistan. It seems that the new Pakistan has chosen to deal with this nagging problem by going against people who happen to be the political rivals of the current prime minister with a vigour not seen before. It is clear that the idea is to cleanse the system once and for all — which used to be the slogan of the clean-up squads who were here before the equally well-meaning Prime Minister Imran Khan.
PTI circles insist that the prime minister has struck a chord with the people. One is surrounded by PTI claims about how the talk against the corrupt resonates with the people who couldn’t bear these poster boys of corruption at a time when the world had woken up to corrupt practices which were previously tolerated under one pretext or another.
The feeling generally is that Prime Minister Khan’s repeated intent of not allowing any reprieve to any politician in the name of averting a fight with all of them at once has won approval from key partners and backers in the current setup. They may be prepared to go the whole hog with him. Actually, they might be very happy to have someone with his passion undertake the mission but eventually it’s Mr Khan’s battle to win or lose.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2019