IMAGINE you have been parachuted to power to run a country of 220 million with myriad problems of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and malnutrition.
You have also inherited massive fiscal problems from your predecessors, elected and uniformed. And to add to your woes, your country — as well as the rest of the world — has been blindsided by a lethal virus that is devastating entire societies and economies.
What do you do in these circumstances? Why, you just ban TikTok, the app that’s so popular with young people around the world, together with large numbers of your own supporters.
The other evening, I was watching a popular TV anchor taking calls from viewers on his YouTube show. One lady telephoned to say: “I don’t support any political party or leader. I just want the government to tell me how I am supposed to pay for my family’s gas bills, medicine, food, children’s school fees and books, when prices keep rising every day.”
How indeed? Clearly, the middle class is being squeezed out of existence, while the poor are being pushed against the wall. Imran Khan’s kitchen expenses are met by his friends — as he boasted on coming to power — so he has no idea about the inflation that is raging across the land.
How do you fix a country like this?
However, he has promised to use “all the powers of the state” to bring down prices. Actually, all it takes is money: if sugar and wheat are running short or being hoarded, just import these commodities and subsidise their sales. Hoarders, scared of being caught with excess stocks, will immediately offer them for sale.
Sugar mill owners will make windfall profits, and people like Jehangir Tareen will be able to add more assets to their bulging portfolios. Where is Jehangir Tareen these days, by the way? Rumour has it that he’s relaxing in his UK mansion, far from inquiries about his role in the recent sugar crisis.
And what about the mysterious Zulfi Bukhari? He seems to have dropped off the radar without a peep. Perhaps he, too, had something to fear from our ‘agencies’…
Into this murky mix appears the charge sheet laid by Bashir Memon, ex-DG FIA. According to Mr Memon, he was ordered by Imran Khan to file a wide range of charges against his political opponents. And when he replied that he did not have the mandate to act in political cases, the prime minister was most displeased.
For his temerity, Mr Memon was removed from his post months before he was due to retire. This is the same political leader who had promised to depoliticise the bureaucracy on coming to power.
Perhaps the PTI’s way of reducing the powers of the bureaucracy is to set up the Tiger Force, a million-people army of volunteers. Originally established as province-based, unpaid groups to enforce anti-coronavirus rules, they are reminiscent of volunteer forces run by political parties to enforce their will without having to use due process.
Without any legal authority, they could be unleashed against political opponents without any hindrance from the security hierarchy. The ongoing opposition protests will tell whether the Tiger Force is indeed a counter-force to our phalanx of anti-PTI leaders.
While they are supposed to only report on prices being charged by retailers around the country, rest assured that their unofficial powers will be misused to blackmail shopkeepers, and settle old scores.
As I write this, reports are pouring in that the large demonstration to be held in Gujranwala on Friday is being sabotaged by the government in various ways. Containers are being pulled across roads to block incoming traffic, and many arrests have been made. Orders must have come from the top leader who once led his troops into battle against Nawaz Sharif’s government using violent and illegal tactics.
At the time, he had invisible support that prevented the government of the day from taking firm action. The PTI shutdown of Islamabad was unprecedented, and blocked the state visits of the presidents of at least two friendly countries, Sri Lanka and China.
And we recall vividly the dharna in Faizabad that ran for weeks and caused misery and fury among thousands of commuters and schoolchildren. The clerics who organised and sat in the protest for days were given cash awards by an army officer.
So how do you fix a country like this? The ruling coalition threaten all major social networking firms with closure unless they move major offices and servers to Pakistan. They can face fines of up to Rs500m for non-compliance with local regulations.
When the solutions are too difficult, the PTI’s approach is to go for easy, but irrelevant, ones. The leaders can thus be seen doing something, even if it’s useless.
Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2020