Our many delusions

Published January 1, 2023

LOOKING back, it was perhaps inevitable that 2022 would see all hell break loose. It appears that humanity’s pent-up appetite for politics and protest had grown immense after the long and languid era of Covid-19 lockdowns.

It bears pointing out that political upheaval was, throughout the year, a dominant theme in news headlines from all corners of the world.

In Pakistan, there had been discontent early in the year as inflation heated up, and it became clearer that the PTI was struggling to deliver. The party was clearly ill equipped to handle the growing needs and demands of a nation eager for a return to normalcy from the Covid crisis. It was in this context that the PDM started its political manoeuvring to oust Imran Khan.

It may have seemed like a good idea at the time, humbling the PTI in its moment of weakness. However, global economic circumstances turned the April vote of no-confidence into a case study in political miscalculation.

The chaos unleashed by the fall of the PTI government not only upturned the political order, but it threw everything else into disequilibrium as well. In the process, the country lost its moorings and was swept away into uncharted waters. The unprecedented upheaval proved a force so relentless that even the strongest pillars of the state struggled to hold their ground against its onslaught.

That long year is now behind us. What hope does 2023 bring? Can we expect a return to ‘normalcy’ in the months to come? Will the febrility in our political climate ever give way to healing and reconciliation? The events of the past year leave little room for optimism.

The political environment has progressively turned so acrid that one set of politicians has been invoking 1971 and threatening a national schism if kept out of power for too long.

The other is making it clear that it has no intention of returning any power to the public, even though it seems all out of ideas for what to do with the government. Neither side believes it has any reason to yield an inch. After being ousted ahead of its time, the PTI feels it has licence to keep hounding the PDM government whenever an opportunity presents itself.

On the other hand, after being dogged by questionable accountability cases for much of PTI’s tenure, the PDM leadership sees no reason to let Imran Khan and his party enjoy a cakewalk back to power. Given these circumstances, undemocratic forces are itching to find a way back in, and a proposal for an extended ‘interim’ government comprising technocrats has been floated to give the politicians a way out.

As has been stated earlier in these pages, this is no solution to the inability of political rivals to just sit together and talk. There have been attempts recently to cut Mr Khan’s holier-than-thou persona down to size with reminders that he isn’t too different from the people he despises and teaches his followers to hate. He fails to get the message, thanks to an infuriatingly single-minded approach to life and politics.

On the other hand, the PDM’s old guard seems to be suffering from severe delusions of adequacy that have put their parties out of touch with Pakistan’s young populace and its evolving hopes and aspirations. While they believe they display strength and power by imposing their will on the country’s affairs, a large cross section of the public sees it differently.

On top of their individual failings, both sides fail to see each other as representatives of people who think themselves to be as Pakistani as their ideological rivals. With invective dripping from the top, several venomous slurs have crept into everyday usage and are used to denigrate people and their political views. All of this needs to stop.

The nation needs healing. It needs leaders who can bring people together rather than drive them apart. The current crop cannot remain drunk on power and refuse to see any future that does not align with their individual interests.

With another general election scheduled for later this year, there needs to be a long rethink of how politics has been conducted in recent history. Our politicians have, in the past, sat together and agreed to work through their problems. They must do so again. Politics cannot be a zero-sum game, especially when the fate of 230 million souls is involved.

Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2023

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