False equivalence

Published July 29, 2022

CELEBRATING his party’s triumph in dislodging the PML-N government in Punjab, former prime minister and PTI chairman Imran Khan on Wednesday made what sounded unmistakably like a speech delivered on the hustings, by a man confident of the ultimate prize.

He reiterated his demand for an early election as the only solution to the prevailing crises and vowed to continue public welfare schemes started by his government earlier. More significantly, he dilated upon the direction his policies would take in critical areas once he returned to power.

For instance, Mr Khan said he wanted good relations with all countries including the US, which he accuses of having engineered his government’s ouster through a conspiracy, but exhorted the nation to choose “death over slavery”.

In the same vein, the PTI supremo claimed he would make the country stand on its own feet and for financial assistance would appeal to overseas Pakistanis.

True to form, Mr Khan’s statements were gossamer-thin on substance and heavy on populist narratives.

To point out but one fact, it was the PTI government that in 2019 had signed a bailout package with the IMF agreement and had no qualms about seeking financial support from other countries.

Read: A toxic narrative

That said, it is accepted that populism has a tenuous relationship with facts. What cannot, however, be easily overlooked, or filed away as a ‘rhetorical flourish’, is Mr Khan’s assertion in Wednesday’s address that he can talk to the TTP or the Baloch separatists but not with “thieves”, as he often describes the leadership of the major political parties other than PTI. “Will you speak to someone who robs your home?” he asked.

To place bloodthirsty militants who have murdered tens of thousands of innocent Pakistanis on par with political leaders, howsoever corrupt, is an abhorrent and cavalier overstatement. Such false equivalence ignores the gravity of the crime of terrorism which in many countries, including Pakistan, attracts the death penalty; even nations that have done away with capital punishment reserve the most severe sanctions for those convicted of terrorism.

That brings up another point, that of prosecutable evidence: political leaders found guilty of corruption should of course be punished. But despite having a compromised — and hence pliant — NAB chairman leading its ‘anti-corruption campaign’, why was the PTI during its nearly four years at the centre unable to successfully prosecute most of the political personalities it denounces as thieves?

Finally, Mr Khan’s stance makes it depressingly clear that personal animus, reinforced by obduracy, remains the driving force behind his politics. Even when the country is in the grip of a dire financial crisis and polarisation has risen to dangerous levels, the former PM — perhaps a future one too — insists on demonising his opponents when the only rational way forward is to cool down the political temperature and talk to those across the aisle.

Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2022

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