POPULARITY is the buzz today. It is presumed to hold the key to the future of the country. Partly owing to the musings on social media, the swashbuckling PTI chairman is regarded by many as the country’s most popular political leader and a putative king.
Frivolous hypothesis, rather than informed opinion, accordingly reigns. Possibility readily mutates into fact. It is in this limbo of virtual reality — or at the razor’s edge — that we have developed the somewhat unfortunate habit of living.
This is of course due, in part, to a built-in quirkiness within the system itself. Change may be a constant of politics and history. But it is not — necessarily — constant. Pakistan is, however, the grand exception to the rule, having historically been in a state of perpetual flux.
There is, as a result, a kind of Freudian death drive embedded in the national psyche. We will political change to come about — for the sake of change — regardless of the possible cost to the state.
Frivolous hypothesis, rather than informed opinion, reigns.
Whatever the case, this is no time for change — through confrontation or any other means — but, rather, for restraint and solidarity. Measures of desperation are also not in order. But there are those who are not convinced.
The recurrent call for elections together with the proposed long march of the PTI chairman, in the teeth of the devastation of one-third of the country is a case in point. Not only is it singularly ill-timed but smacks, all too blatantly, of political adventurism.
There is, however, no longer room for opportunism or adventure — or for improvising a future replete with potential hazard — where conscionable thought and action alone can, properly, pass muster.
History has spoken. It is telling us, clearly, that there has been a paradigm shift in the country and that a new, post-diluvial era has set in. That means that a new set of criteria and a whole new thinking must also replace the old.
The prime minister, more perhaps than others, is aware of this and the fact that a new politics — a politics of circumspectness and care — must take the place of a typical neoliberal politics of power.
The conventional, headlong drive towards modernity will inevitably have to be reined in while the painful process of economic recovery in the country takes place. Economic growth will also necessarily have to be balanced, in the future, with social as well as environmental protection.
In view of the unwholesome living conditions in the relevant areas prior to the floods, a programme of re-housing rather than mere rehabilitation of the victims of the floods should also — whatever it takes and regardless of where we get the necessary funds from — be considered.
In such an extreme situation, the PTI chairman would be well advised to lay aside his rhetoric — and his Damocles’ sword — and engage in a credible form of dialogue with the government.
Rather than debate a possible date for elections, he should join in developing a national programme for the most productive way forward in relation to the many thousands who have lost all.
That would be in his best interest as well as a service to the nation. It is certainly the need of the hour. The PTI head must realise that his image will only be hurt and his vaunted popularity diminish as a result of his continuing, at such a time, to harp on a return, at all costs, to power.
In any case, we cannot, under the present circumstances, afford to let Pakistan continue to be a political battleground. If there are misconceptions on the score of freedom, they can be countered with the appropriate facts. Democratic rights and freedoms in today’s Pakistan are, for instance, duly in place.
In a global world where interdependence is of the essence, our sovereignty too cannot be held to be in question. Any rhetoric of ‘freedom’ can therefore be said to be oxymoronic and lack all force.
The cricket star-turned-politician appears to have forgotten that what initially earned him a name and moved many in the country was not his politics but the lofty cause he had earlier espoused: of philanthropy and social work.
An opportunity for him to prove his mettle in that particular field is once again at hand. That will earn him kudos as nothing else will. The people in the relevant flood-hit areas need practical succour above all.
No mystique or cult will make up for the slightest sign of nonchalance or indifference or derogation of responsibility at what is a critical juncture in our history.
What the components of both the PDM and PTI must bear in mind is that they are all on trial at the hands of the suffering public and will be judged on the precise basis of their performance in relation to them at the time of elections.
No amount of ‘can’t’ will do. Nobody can claim to call the shots where a far larger reality beckons.
The writer is the founder-chairman of Dialogue: Pakistan, a local think tank.
Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2022