The Abyss

The Abyss
Nawaz Sharif has been declared by the courts to be an “absconder” from justice but the PMLN isn’t exactly quivering in its shoes. Karachi has been gifted a development package of PKR 1100 B but Karachi-ites aren’t dancing a jig on the streets. Punjab and Lahore have been given, yet again, a new IGP and CCPO respectively but its citizens say the police is going to the dogs. Two officers of the Foreign Office (FO) have petitioned the court to stop the reckless PTI policy of postings and transfers on political basis in the FO but the government doesn’t care two hoots for its loss of professionalism. NAB has opened a second case of corruption against the Punjab Chief Minister but the gent is not spending sleepless nights over it. The courts have stripped SAPMs and Advisors of their powers but they are still lording it over ministries and departments. The Emperor is without clothes but he is strutting about unabashedly. Meanwhile, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan based in Afghanistan is making forays across our western border to attack our security forces in FATA even as the Indian army is beefing up its positions on our eastern border and contemplating another round of “strategic strikes” to divert attention from its humiliation at the hands of China’s Red Army in the Himalayas. No wonder then that, when the “same-page” political philosophers constantly seek to drum “all is well” into us, we are not sanguine at all.

Nawaz Sharif has no intention of returning to Pakistan until the time is ripe to overthrow the government. Equally, the PTI would prefer a zipped-up Sharif in exile over the prospect of a defiant father and daughter combo in the midst of charged supporters at every court hearing. But as we inch towards the Senate elections next March, the stakes are getting higher for government, opposition and selectors. Something or someone must give before that milestone. If the opposition’s Senate majority is lost, which is inevitable if Imran Khan is still around by then, the road to radical constitutional amendment to consolidate the PTI as the Miltablishment’s sole political party – perhaps under a hybrid Presidential System – will be clear. This will be the death knell for the PPP and PMLN because it will shred their bargaining power for political compromise.

Karachi’s “development package” of PKR 1100 B is a propaganda stunt in the same vein as the Covid-19 “relief package” of PKR 1100 B a few months ago. Then, as now, there was no kitty in the federal treasury to make good on even a fraction of the promise. Then, as now, the federal and Sindh governments were constantly sparring instead of cooperating because their political interests dictated it.

The fiasco in the Punjab Police echoes the one in the provincial civil service. Both services are vying with each other to set new records in postings and transfers of head honchos. While the senior civil service bureaucracy has downed pens because of job insecurity and fear of NAB scrutiny, the ones at the lower level are wading in corruption. Much the same fate now awaits the police service. The message from Islamabad is that the police must get ready to break the rules of neutrality and professionalism in order to thwart the political opposition at every point in the run up to March, hence those officers who are not prepared to do the PTI’s bullying must make way for those who are.

NAB is looking weak and bewildered. The courts are chipping away at its unaccountable powers. The government wants it to go after the opposition regardless of merit for party political reasons while the Miltablishment wants to rein it in against the business community and state bureaucracy regardless of merit for economic growth reasons. Under the circumstances, it is fast losing its credibility as a genuine and neutral anti-corruption watchdog.

But there is one policy that is doing irreparable damage to notions of stability and consensus in a threatened democracy. This is about controlling and repressing the traditional print and electronic media, a task that is increasingly difficult in a world informed by global social media. Precisely for that reason, such policies are counterproductive. Indeed, one grave casualty of this policy is the negative social media spotlight on certain institutions of the state that undermines their traditional sacred cow status. For every one “disappeared” media person, several crop up to carry the torch forward. This potential asset in times of national crisis is fast being compelled to become a liability when it may be needed the most. It may be recalled that President General Pervez Musharraf had a running love affair with the media from 1999 to 2007 until he ran into a spot of trouble with the judiciary and cracked down on the messenger, after which the media went for him when he was down and has never forgiven him since. One-Party Pakistan is hurtling into a dark abyss. We anticipate the Ides of March with trepidation.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.