Time to hit ‘pause’

Published September 4, 2022

DESPITE nature’s fury having affected over 30m of his fellow Pakistanis, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless in the worst-ever weather-related catastrophe this country has seen, former prime minister Imran Khan shows no signs of calibrating his fury at being ousted from power.

On Friday, addressing a large rally in Gujrat he accused the “imported government” of “acting on the instructions of foreign powers” and warned that PTI supporters would march on Islamabad if the centre “continued to torture” his party’s leaders and workers. Last week, at a public gathering in Jhelum, he declared that his fight for haqeeqi azadi (real independence) would continue during heatwaves, floods and even wars.

All populist rhetoric is calculated to evoke a visceral response in its audience — and Mr Khan has proved especially adept at it since his removal from power — but it is a divisive tactic ill-suited to the present moment. Even for a country that often seems to lurch from crisis to crisis, Pakistan is in the midst of a particularly harrowing ordeal, with the humanitarian crisis compounded by the harsh conditions the coalition government has had to agree to for the resumption of the IMF bailout. However, buoyed by his public support, the former prime minister is pounding away at his narrative as relentlessly as the floodwaters that are cutting a swathe of destruction on their way to the sea.

Read: Instead of being fully engaged with flood relief, our politicians have opted for cheap showbiz

On Dec 17, 2014, one day after the Army Public School massacre that killed nearly 150 people, most of them schoolchildren, Mr Khan announced he was calling off his four-months-long dharna in Islamabad because the need of the hour was for the nation to unite. This moment too demands a unified response by not just the government, but the entire civilian and military leadership.

Does the PTI chief not see how much damage can be caused to relief and rehabilitation efforts, which also involve aid from foreign governments and organisations, by whipping up public sentiment against the authorities? As he looks to regain power, everything for Mr Khan has become about political point-scoring — including raising funds for flood victims. At first, he was inexplicably reluctant about doing so at all, but then better sense appeared to have prevailed. After his international fundraising telethon led to pledges worth Rs5bn mainly from overseas Pakistanis, Mr Khan could not resist turning it into a jibe at the chief election commissioner about ‘foreign funding’ — an unwarranted, not to mention illogical, analogy.

Even President Arif Alvi — before modifying his views in deference to his party chairman’s position — had suggested that a ‘political pause’ was in order at this time given the devastating flood situation. Calls for restraint and national solidarity have come from many others as well, but is Mr Khan capable of hearing anything other than what he wants to in his echo chamber?

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2022

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