Crying need for clean slate- Abbas Nasir

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POLITICAL discourse in Pakistan has degenerated to a point of no return, with the government, paradoxically, leading the race and widening the chasm between itself and the opposition. The divide now appears unbridgeable.

It is a paradox because the party in power, it is assumed, always has the most to lose and, in the normal course, tries to find some common cause with the opposition to try and bring down the temperature. But here we take pride in defying the norm, no matter what the ultimate cost.

I was shocked, actually horrified, to hear the Punjab government spokeswoman Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan’s holding forth on the death of Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif’s mother in London and using unbelievably uncalled for language.

She was critical of the Sharifs, saying they used to order special aircraft to fly in harissa for themselves and “were now sending their mother as cargo”. I could not believe my ears so I listened to the clip a number of times. And yes, that is exactly what she said.

Her words rekindled a memory. One of a personal loss. My parents were abroad for my mother’s cancer treatment when my father suddenly died of coronary thrombosis. I was in my teens. My brother, who was working in the UAE, rushed to Canada to bring our father home.

On his way home, there was a very tight connection in Europe, so he told me to check with the airline if they’d transferred to the Karachi flight as he would not have time to call us. There were no mobile phones then, no other way of knowing if our father’s coffin was on the Karachi-bound plane.

So an hour after the plane was supposed to have taken off for Karachi from, if I recall correctly, Amsterdam, I called the airline office in Karachi and asked if they could tell me if my brother had made the connection and if my father’s remains had also been transferred.

“We can confirm your brother is on board. For information on any human remains on board please call our cargo section,” was the response. I went into shock. Just a few weeks earlier I’d seen my parents off at Karachi airport, and now my father was returning as cargo.

Even as a teenager who’d lost a father he thought was the best in the world, and through the desperate sense of loss that I’d never felt before, I understood that the airlines staff member was merely conveying information to me. There was nothing callous in his words.

International civil aviation regulations are pretty clear on how human remains are to be transported, and everyone has to comply. For Dr Awan to try and make an issue out of how the mortal remains of the Sharifs’ mother were being brought home was heartless to say the least.

Such unnecessarily inflammatory language by a government minister against the backdrop of spiking Covid-19 cases in the country, when some in the government say they want the opposition to abandon its mass contact campaign, can’t be helpful at all.

In fact, ever since the Covid-19 cases began to register an upturn with the start of the winter months in Pakistan, even those ministers who have called on the opposition to rethink its schedule of public meetings have not sounded earnest.

This conclusion has not been plucked out of thin air but after careful observation of the common thread running through ministers’ statement. If there was an appeal to the opposition without the use of poisonous barbs I apologise, I missed it.

All statements that I have heard have had the common refrain that the opposition won’t give up its campaign because it places the interests of its ‘chor, daku’ (thieves and robbers) leaders above those of the common Pakistani.

Who’d say such statements were well-meaning and designed to serve the best interests of the common Pakistani and not provoke the opposition into continuing its campaign and enhance the risk of mass infections? Probably many in our polarised and split-down-the-middle country.

But the fact is that such inflammatory and provocative outpourings serve no cause other than to fuel confrontation and push the main political characters further and further away from one another. Surely, this can’t serve the cause of the people or country.

Some knowledgeable political observers have said this attitude runs all the way down from the holder of the highest office in the country. If that is indeed the case, then the situation in our country is headed towards turmoil not seen thus far.

Coupled with the ravages of the pandemic on human health and lives, the economy will be left reeling too, and that would spell disaster for the common man. Mass job losses, a spike in poverty and inflation, hunger and disease are just some of the consequences of Covid-19.

And the capacity of the shirtless to withstand such tough times without a word of protest must surely be running out, if not exhausted already. Hence, the time would be ripe for the opposition to strike and channelise that rising anger towards the government and its failings.

Despite having each of my illusions shattered over the years, and more so in recent days, I refuse to be a prophet of doom and gloom and still see hope. It is incumbent on all parties, overtly political or otherwise, to come forward and play their role so we can pull back from the brink.

Our aspirations for our people and the land in which we live need not be in collision. Each one of our ambitions is only realisable when and if there is stability and relative calm. Yes, egos and self-assigned roles for the country’s security and prosperity need to take a back seat.

External threats, the faltering economy and divisions within the country are threatening the well-being of our most vulnerable people. The time is right for a national reconciliation and to start afresh with a slate wiped clean.