Lost at sea

Published May 10, 2022

IT is unfortunate that despite a policy reset promised once the PTI-led alliance was shown the door, we have heard little of consequence from the new government regarding what plans it has for actually governing the country.

Two ministries, in particular, stand out as examples of the new government’s wayward priorities. Despite a recent surge in high-profile terrorism incidents, the Ministry of Interior under Rana Sanaullah seems to be growing too fixated on which Pakistani citizens are to be thrown in prison, who are to be prosecuted for criticising state institutions, who should be tried under blasphemy laws, and whose entry into and exit from the country should be blocked.

On the other hand, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb seems unable to get over which gifts or cars the former prime minister allegedly retained, non-starter inquiries on ‘Cablegate’ and providing running commentary disparaging the PTI and its activities.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif himself seems to be spending too much time worrying about Imran Khan and his speeches and issuing statements that he will prosecute the former PM for criticising institutions of the state.

In all this, the new rulers too seem to be resorting to the PTI’s oft-criticised strategy of attacking and berating political opponents to hide a dearth of ideas to tackle major governance challenges.

Key to understanding why this seems to be happening is Mr Sharif’s recent communication to journalists that there has been no decision yet on whether the government will complete its term till August 2023 or go for early elections. This logically entails that the political leadership is unsure of how much political capital it is willing to risk on course correction, especially for the economy. This is evident in the government’s continued flip-flopping on fuel and electricity subsidies — which would have been withdrawn by now if the new finance minister was being taken seriously by his own government.

Read: Miftah says govt willing to curb fuel subsidies

Meanwhile, a host of other economic challenges also triggered by the Ukraine crisis gathers on the horizon, threatening to rain down more blows on our already vulnerable economy if immediate preparatory measures are not taken.

With things balanced so precariously, nerves are starting to fray.

The military has recently issued a stern warning to political leaders, journalists and commentators about not wanting to be ‘dragged into’ political matters. Respect for state institutions is indeed enshrined in the law, but the military leadership must allow some time for the citizenry to familiarise itself with the new ‘apolitical’ direction the establishment has taken. Taking or encouraging any harsh measures in haste may add fuel to the resentment smouldering in many of its most ardent erstwhile supporters.

For now, the FIA’s efforts to have draconian aspects of Peca reinstated in order to punish those transgressing the red lines have thankfully been checked just in time by the government. Let’s hope sense continues to prevail.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2022

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