The team that lets them down

December 27, 2019

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The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

THOSE they want to discredit in high offices, they first surround with unwise counsel.

The remarkable Pakistani quality of distinguishing the leader from their handpicked team is on display once again. Already a year, maybe a longer period of time, has passed since the first murmurs about the leader being let down by his lieutenants were first heard.

Just as Z.A. Bhutto had surrounded himself with bootlickers of all kinds and Mian Nawaz Sharif had created a Lahore coterie around him that dictated all his choices from thereon, Imran Khan was also supposed to have found a team that his sincerity and his commitment didn’t quite deserve. Worse, he was said to have been betrayed already.

If there was ever any pretence of this being a group rather than an individual exercise, the shift in emphasis from the team to ‘him and him’ only was quick. The chorus that had been going on in the background about how the individual brilliance of the leader was destined to cleanse his immediate followers of all anti-petiole afflictions was brought to the fore.

The change — and not a subtle one — this time was that while earlier a redemption for the politicians he drew from other parties was said to be very much possible, now, increasingly, he was billed as capable of single-handedly turning it around in spite of the bad team he had.

The tradition of camouflaging the PM’s own weak moments in the acts of his blundering associates continues.

The team in the meanwhile didn’t sit idle. The members of the small group that came to rule over us (as the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government) saw to it with their frequent antics that the impression of Prime Minister Imran Khan having to deal with internal problems of incompetence and outright absurdity was not short-lived. Every now and then there have been instances that prove that up there at the top, the leader today is as lonely as his illustrious predecessors in Prime Minister House in Islamabad once were.

The tradition of camouflaging the prime minister’s own weak moments in the acts of his blundering, often bombastic-sounding associates continues. It will continue until, God forbid, the hardcore faithful of the brand find fault with the leader himself and identify him as a problem, and not just a prisoner of the individuals he had himself gathered around him.

For the moment, the minister who takes so much pain over explaining the difference between footage and video is earning his prime minister more sympathies. What can anyone do when he is surrounded by men so committed to maintaining the conventional equation where the second tier had to appear so devastatingly ‘off’ in comparison to his leader?

The honourable minister’s vows as he sat claiming the big catch of Rana Sanaullah all those months back ring clear even today. But he seems to have overcome all that early excitement of nabbing a criminal as he goes back on much of what he had said.

He says that this is the season of bail, which would have qualified him as the Santa assigned to visit Pakistani prisons, carrying for the inmates the gift of liberty. But this is not the most painful part of the thunderous lines he has now delivered with trademark conviction. The most disturbing part of his statement is where he says that Prime Minister Imran Khan had blind trust in him.

Really? Pending corroboration of this claim by the sole competent authority, the prime minister, it is a statement that must entail a probe at a national level. We as the people who brought the PTI into power must know who the prime minister believes in blindly and why. There should be a list, prepared preferably under the supervision of our minister of state for interior, of people who are considered worthy of PM Khan’s unconditional trust. And while we are at it, it would be in the interest of everyone to have a look beyond individuals, at policies and institutions that often appear poised at casting the prime minister as a rather lonely figure perhaps in an effort to confer distinction upon him.

Staying with the topic of the season, the bail that many opposition politicians have secured in recent days, it is quite obvious that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) didn’t have sound enough cases to detain them beyond a certain point. But whereas the government tries, through various members of the already suspect prime ministerial team, to distance itself from whatever is being done these days in the name of finding and punishing the corrupt, the government cannot possibly prove to people its neutrality here. The buck stops with the prime minister and his closest associates.

The legal side of it apart, there is a huge significance in these opposition leaders coming out of jail on bail. The images sit perfectly well with the opposition allegations that NAB was in a hurry to throw politicians opposed to the prime minister into lockups. In the absence of a sound enough case, the original fears about the old tendencies of the governments in the country to use corruption charges to break opposition parties persist to this day.

NAB arrests new suspects or re-arrests the old ones — all in order for the easily convinced among us to view it as a normally functioning, independent institution that like other kinds loses some and catches some. But like some individuals in the prime ministerial team, it is one prominent institution whose routine is clearly hurting the image of a leader who cannot quite do without roaring against the corrupt who had eaten into the body and soul of this country. He has led himself into a situation where blind faith in his loud comrades is the last remedy he should be willing to try.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2019