Two rules

Published October 17, 2023

HAVING accepted unquestioningly political objectives dictated by unelected quarters, the entire apparatus of our state has been acting with all the subtlety of a bulldozer.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the federal and provincial capitals, whose respective interim administrations have remained unapologetic about the duplicity apparent in their decisions as they go about enforcing a stricter set of rules for the PTI while allowing other parties freer rein.

Just last week, a dozen PTI supporters were arrested outside the National Press Club in Islamabad, where they had gathered to express support for the Palestinian cause.

The party and its supporters had a right to react angrily: no other religious or political entity seems to have faced similar treatment in recent days as they have gone about conducting political outreach activities or organising rallies for the people of Gaza. To deny one party the privileges being enjoyed by others seems petty and smacks of victimisation.

More recently, the enthusiasm that the Lahore administration has shown for the PML-N’s plans for a grand rally at the Minar-i-Pakistan even as it simultaneously denied the PTI a similar gathering at Liberty Chowk has made it abundantly clear why the PML-N’s political rivals fear there will be no ‘level playing field’ before the upcoming general election.

Both the PTI and the PPP have been questioning the circumstances in which Nawaz Sharif has ‘agreed’ to return to the country from his self-imposed exile. Both parties believe that the elder Sharif’s homecoming is happening thanks to an alleged covert deal with the ‘concerned quarters’, ie, the security establishment.

Both parties are also right in asking why an individual who is a proclaimed offender, who has been on the run from the Pakistani justice system, is being ‘welcomed’ by the state upon his long-delayed return with pomp and pageantry rather than a solemn reckoning with the law.

Unless the state immediately backs down from its manipulation of the political domain, there is a good chance that the upcoming elections will be preceded and followed by the kind of intense controversies that will never allow a civilian-led set-up to stand on its own feet.

The 2018 elections are a case in point. If the country is to be run by a political leadership that lacks a democratically acquired mandate, and is partnering with an unaccountable elite that has no tangible, lasting solutions for the country’s problems, we should stop thinking about progress.

The only way forward is to let the people choose the leaders they think can best lead them and for non-political forces to stop interfering in this process.

Finally, the ECP and the caretaker governments should take stock of their mistakes. They have constitutional duties to fulfil, which they seem to be failing in quite spectacularly.

Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2023

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