A journey backwards | Attaullah Tarar


In August, the PTI government completed its second year in office. The occasion warrants an assessment of its performance. What frightens me as a citizen of this country is the despondency and hopelessness sweeping through the land. It appears that the fear of the unknown has gripped the nation; 126 days of rhetoric and propaganda from atop the infamous container had created an environment of hostility and at the same time gave false hopes to many. While hopes have undoubtedly been shattered, the hostility remains.

With the cost of living becoming unbearable, businesses being shut, and jobs being lost in hundreds of thousands every month, there is no recent example of such a massive loss of faith in the government’s ability to perform even its basic functions.

Compounding the citizens’ problems has been a bureaucratic dysfunction that the PTI government has caused over the last two years. Looking at the treatment this government meted out to star performers such as Ahad Cheema and Fawad Hassan Fawad, civil servants are reluctant to put their signatures on day-to-day files. There is a fear of being caught and publicly humiliated even for minor procedural deviations.

Contrary to the high-sounding rhetoric of the civil services reforms, the current dispensation has presided over massive reshuffling in the bureaucracy. It is difficult to keep track of the changes brought about in key administrative positions. Punjab is awash with the reports of political interference being the norm even in the matters of routine transfer and postings. Little wonder then that governance has come to a grinding halt. An adversarial relationship with the bureaucratic machinery based on a lack of trust and suspicion is a sure recipe for disaster.

The past two years have witnessed a government that is being run by a small kitchen cabinet consisting of unelected advisers who hold important portfolios in the government. Under the parliamentary system, a cabinet is an offshoot of parliament with even the percentage of the representation of the Senate and the National Assembly mentioned in the constitution. The fact that a large number of handpicked advisers and SAPMs are running the show negates the very concept of parliamentary democracy. Political experts have raised serious questions involving conflict of interest and lack of accountability vis-a-vis this arrangement.

The emergence of information about some of them having dual nationality has further complicated the situation. Their dominance in the cabinet has seen the issue of Mian Nawaz Sharif’s health being politicized. A cabinet oblivious to the struggle of the common Pakistani discusses the former premier’s health for countless hours, all the while issuing self-contradictory statements on the matter. The fact is that medical professionals have, through certified reports, declared him ill and his return will be dependent purely on the recommendations of the medical professionals treating him in London

Various crises involving wheat, sugar, petrol and medicines have highlighted one essential lesson: mafias remain invincible and are literally lining their pockets during the tenure of the current government. To say that it is powerless before these interest groups will be an understatement.

Despite the formation of inquiry commissions, the prices of essential items have not come down. In other words, it means that mafias are free to loot and plunder the people as the government looks the other way. Coupled with the high cost of doing business, and several other factors, the high-handed and humiliating manner in which the government has treated the business community has led to a loss of confidence resulting in business closures and stagnation in the economic activity.

The current times will be remembered for media freedom being muzzled and media houses being strangled economically. In the last two years, hundreds of working journalists have been sacked. The worst kind of censorship has been in place, with PEMRA serving as a handmaiden of the government to control and even shut down errant TV channels.

Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, the owner of the largest media group of the country, has been in jail for nearly 180 days without any charge being framed against him. Such shackles on media freedom are weakening democracy.

Another trend witnessed during the last two years has been the incessant persecution of the opposition political parties. Prominent leaders from both the PML-N and the PPP were arrested. Leader of the Opposition in Punjab Hamza Shehbaz continues to languish in prison for over a year without any evidence against him and after references filed against him, there is no requirement for him to remain in custody. The cases against Maryam Nawaz who hasn’t held public office for a single day in her life are a big question mark on the accountability process.

On tentative assessment of facts, scriptures passed by the higher courts of the country in cases against Shehbaz Sharif where NAB failed to prove any misuse of authority let alone corruption worth a penny, have further weakened the government’s narrative against the Opposition. The reference filed against the leader of the opposition does not level any allegations involving corruption or embezzlement of public funds; instead it is an attempt to link him to the family business which, in the eyes of law, is not tenable. Attempts by NAB to arrest him despite his previous incarceration from October 2018 till February 2019 and after filing of reference against him clearly expose the reality, as there is no legal or moral justification for his arrest anymore.

The serious business of governance has been reduced to hounding the Opposition, with political vendetta becoming a governing philosophy. The SC judgment in the case against the Khawaja brothers tears into NAB, exposing how so-called accountability has been used to victimize the opposition.

For its part, the opposition extended support to the government on key national issues despite having massive doubts about the legitimacy of the current dispensation. Opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif spoke of the need for a national charter on the economy during the inaugural session of parliament. Then, the opposition mooted the idea of a joint parliamentary committee to oversee the anti-corona drive to make the national effort meaningful, which was not reciprocated.

National interest should always be held supreme and one cannot afford to be blinded by egoism when it comes to the affairs of the state. The experience of the past two years shows that Imran Khan did not have a plan or a vision, to begin with. Nor did he possess the ability to put together a capable team to run the government. This is evidenced by the wide margin between his rhetoric and the reality on the ground. For many people he has lost his ground and, in the process, his credibility.

The writer is the deputy secretary general of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz).

Twitter: @TararAttaullah