WHO wouldn’t be tempted to endorse an Imran Khan-like stance to burn the house down, in the face of the paralysis that our dysfunctional state and its rotten-to-the-core system has come to represent, as millions of Pakistanis struggle to put food on the table.
Look at the state of the economy and the dithering that has been the main characteristic of decision-makers; just look at how the government can’t even appoint an attorney general because a ‘rival’ fiefdom has unspecified issues with the nominated candidate. The dispensation of justice takes a back seat, with politics in the forefront.
There is indeed yet another fiefdom, making up the third element of the power troika, whose leader put the country’s future at stake because he wanted near-immortality in office. He wasn’t even satisfied with two tenures, despite the disastrous consequences of his ambitions.
The visionary arbiters of our destiny can’t even see what their petty power grabs have done/are doing to the Islamic Republic, the state of Pakistan. Their lust for more personal/institutional power and quest for narrow, selfish gains have brought the country to a pass where the most sympathetic of observers don’t see it as viable anymore.
Burning the house down won’t solve any issue on its own.
In the name of patriotism, we have banished terms such as ‘failed state’ from the lexicon. But, hand on heart, none of us can deny that is what we are or at least heading towards at breakneck speed, with no sign of anybody with the ability or desire to apply the brakes.
How else would you classify our beloved land where the bulk of the population works 10 to 12 hours a day and considers itself lucky if it can scrape together enough for one decent meal, let alone three? With large swathes of the population without proper healthcare or even potable water and, after the massive rain-triggered floods, shelter, the system has quite comprehensively failed to deliver.
Yes, the most vocal complainers are the chattering classes whose voices are the loudest and what we mostly hear. Ironically, many among the most audible moaners are part of the problem. They belong to the rentier class whose capture and exploitation of the economy has brought us to where we are.
This is indeed a rather bleak backdrop and something needs to be done for a better, less dismal, scenario. So, is the Imran Khan recipe of burning the house down the only way forward? Well, burning the house down won’t solve any issue on its own.
We won’t rise phoenix-like from the burning embers. There would have to be a concrete plan in place about what shape the new republic will take. This is where the biggest question mark emerges over that philosophy.
When given an opportunity with a surprising amount of harmony within the troika and where all fiefdoms for once seemed to be working to support something ‘new’, the intellectual poverty, lack of vision and absence of a plan were striking. Brave words were just that and no more.
It is now incumbent on major political parties, with PTI, PML-N and PPP foremost among them, to first ensure that after their battle for political supremacy is over, and one or more among them is the winner, there is something left to preside over.
Root and branch reform of the economy that we have shied away from or that elite capture has blocked, is inevitable now. The current state of affairs isn’t sustainable. If this fight for political ascendancy continues in the no-holds-barred fashion we see today, rest assured the people’s deprivations will continue to mount and so will their rage at their inability to feed their children, let alone clothe and educate them adequately.
I, for one, have never been a great believer in IMF prescriptions but our affairs have been managed thus that each of the major political parties that has governed the country over the past decades, either on its own or in a coalition, has gone running to the Fund for a bailout. Borrow and spend, or rather fill the elite coffers, has been the order of the day.
Again nobody had the vision to realise that with the changing geopolitical situation and with it Pakistan’s reality, its place on, for example, the US pecking order isn’t exactly what it used to be. Islamabad isn’t Washington’s blue-eyed boy anymore.
In fact, even Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, which have been generous in the past with their handouts, are now saying Islamabad needs to first set its own house in order before any help will be forthcoming, as none of them are willing to shovel more of their petro-dollars into a black hole.
Setting the house in order, at least in the short term, will mean more difficulties for everybody and most for the pain-laden bottom of the pyramid. If the decision-makers were not ensconced in their Mayfair flats, their estates spread over dozens of acres and their mansions named after themselves, they may have related more to the plight of the shirtless and put their ‘politics’ on hold.
Had other elements of the troika been more attuned to the challenges of the struggling multitudes, they too may have placed their egos, their power trips and their narrow institutional interests, in abeyance, whilst letting economic revival be the top priority. After all, they have all supported far less worthy causes with great gusto on many occasions till very recently.
But no. None of them seem prepared to lift their foot off the accelerator as they speed towards the edge of the cliff. My main fear is that none has any sensors left intact to understand that hell hath no fury as a parent who is unable to feed their children. Are we sleepwalking into a violent backlash?
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2023