Politics of vendetta By ARIF NIZAMI

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And Sharif’s grave ailment
That the prime minister has finally relented on permitting Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s ‘Azadi march’ to take place ‘within the ambit of law and constitution’, is good news. But the venue still remains a sticking point. Hopefully the cleric along with his allies will be allowed to hold a rally in the federal capital as long as they remain peaceful.

What the inscrutable Maulana is going to achieve from his putsch towards Islamabad is yet not fully clear. Unsurprisingly, Imran Khan has ruled out acceding to the opposition’s main demand to resign and hold fresh elections.

It is difficult to agree with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairperson Bilawal Bhutto’s assertion that the days of the PTI government are numbered. Perhaps it falls more in the realm of a forlorn wish rather than a prediction.

The opposition’s campaign seemingly is meant as a wake-up call for Khan’s ostensible backers. But the deep state is not in any mood to abandon him yet.

While the prime minister has reaffirmed that the Army fully stands behind him, the leader of the opposition Shehbaz Sharif in a rare fit of candour has acknowledged ground realities complaining that the establishment is backing the PTI government to the hilt.

According to him “despite this 100 per cent support Khan has failed to deliver”, loudly complaining that the PML-N government did not have even 10 per cent support of the powers that be.

Most critics contend that running the security, foreign policy and even the economy has been outsourced by him to his handlers while he is content on making fiery speeches lambasting the opposition while operating in the little space left for him

The other day the younger Sharif boasted that if he were in charge, he would fix everything within six months. The former chief minister of Punjab, who was running the province for a decade, takes pride in the efficient manner in which he governed.

But Sharifs and the Bhuttos are no longer on the radar screen as a possible replacement to Khan. Shehbaz Sharif makes no secret of his pro-establishment stance in sharp contrast to the hawkish attitude of his elder brother as well as his niece Maryam Nawaz.

The establishment in the past has been flirting with the idea of him being a possible alternative choice from the PML-N. But unfortunately, the younger Sharif is not perceived as quite autonomous of and independent of his brother’s rejectionist politics.

So much has been invested in the PTI project that unless Khan becomes a total liability he will not easily be abandoned. And that too at the hands of ‘the corrupt’ he replaced and was originally tasked to politically eliminate.

In the process Khan is seen more as a quisling in an unequal partnership rather than an independent player. Most critics contend that running the security, foreign policy and even the economy has been outsourced by him to his handlers while he is content on making fiery speeches lambasting the opposition while operating in the little space left for him.

In this hybrid model of governance the civilian government gets most of the flak for its malfeasance and its policies, perceived as vindictive towards the opposition. The prime minister claims ad nauseam, that he will not rest until he recovers stolen wealth of the nation from the corrupt politicians.

The corruption watchdog, NAB (National Accountability Bureau) chairman hectors in his not too infrequent pressers that he will not rest until he makes Pakistan corruption free. But this quixotic goal has not been achieved even in most transparent of societies.

The fact the butt of NAB’s cleanliness drive is only the opposition leadership is conveniently overlooked. It is not merely a coincidence that brazen cases of corruption against prominent members of the PTI cabinet have been simply swept under the carpet.

As contended by some in a lighter vein, those who join the government are automatically dry-cleaned. So far, the goal to fill national coffers with ‘looti hui daulat’ (looted money) has remained an elusive dream.

In this atmosphere of vindictiveness terming political opponents as thugs and crooks has become the norm. Hence it was not at all surprising when the federal cabinet decided to enact an ordinance amending the NAB law by virtue of which anyone charged with corruption over 50 million rupees will be given C-class in jail.

Naturally the opposition perceives the proposed law as Sharif and Zardari specific. In such a pervasive atmosphere of an inquisition rather an investigation, red lines are often crossed.

This is exactly what happened with ailing Nawaz Sharif who was ‘rearrested’ by NAB in a rehashed case in the wake of Maulana’s proposed Azadi march. Protestations by the family and his personal doctor that the three times prime minister was gravely ill were simply brushed aside.

The government appointed doctors warned that Sharif was suffering from acute immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) and his blood platelets level was dangerously low. Resultantly the prime minister relented to move him to Lahore’s premier government hospital.

Despite given infusions his blood platelet levels continue to drop. In addition to this his heart problems have also started acting up with a suspected heart attack that was later clarified to be angina.

Sensing the gravity of the situation the prime minister publicly offered best treatment to Sharif from any medical facility in the country. Even Sharif’s daughter, who was refused permission to meet her ailing father on Wednesday, was later in the evening moved to the hospital to tend to her father.

Clearly the government does not want to create a political martyr on its watch in the form of Sharif (God forbid) succumbing to his illness. The Lahore high court has already granted him bail on health grounds and judging from the present conciliatory mood of the government it will not oppose the former prime minister’s bail application from Islamabad high court either.

Unfortunately, heartlessness towards its opponents permeating from the very top has become the very ethos of the ruling party. While in the opposition it had alleged that Sharif faked a heart by-pass surgery. Later it was wrongly claimed that his wife was fine and not terminally ill. Not much later she passed away.

A culture sans empathy is fast becoming part of the political discourse. Quite unsurprisingly special assistant to the prime minister on information Firdous Ashiq Awan on the day Sharif was moved to the hospital callously declared that he was ‘hashassh bashash’ (fighting fit) dismissing claims about his fast deteriorating health was just a ‘drama’.

Obviously after getting a dressing down from the prime minister the other day for not being able to properly project government’s policies, she was simply doing her best to please her masters.

In this atmosphere of recriminations and extreme polarisation the media is feeling the heat as never before. Blatant pre-censorship, arm-twisting and brow beating of media houses and journalists have become the new normal.

Australian newspapers last Monday made a strong statement against censorship and intimidation of media by publishing identical redacted front pages. They asked a very relevant question: “when the government keeps the truth from you, what are they covering (up)?”

Perhaps this is the question that needs to be put across more poignantly and forcefully by media organisations, practitioners and owners to the powers that be.