For whom the bell tolls

For whom the bell tolls
"Naya Pakistan” is a constant reminder of two wise sayings.

“He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a fool; shun him.

“In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve”.

Unfortunately, there is no Democracy in Pakistan, only a Selectocracy which the people don’t deserve. The problem is the people cannot shun the fools who preside over this Selectocracy because the people are disempowered, divided and helpless.

But the Miltablishment has stopped repeating the “same page” mantra because it is sounding embarrassingly hollow. Indeed, things are so bad that it has also stepped in to take direct charge of sensitive policy areas. Not just Pakistanis but the international community too has noted that Pakistan’s finance advisor, interior minister, interior secretary, national security advisor, heads of NDMA, NCOC, CPEC, etc., are all Selectocrats. In the latest twist, the Foreign Minister has been excluded from Foreign Policy making: he was conspicuous by his absence when the COAS, DGISI and Special Envoy made a strategic trip to Kabul last week for facilitating talks between the Taliban and Afghan regime aimed at smoothing the American exit from Afghanistan.

Not to be left out, our gallant PM has tweeted his readiness to help the Indian PM in alleviating poverty-related COVID issues with his brilliant cash transfer program. Never mind that the ownership of the program rests squarely with Benazir Bhutto. Never mind also that only half the cash pledged by the PM to the poor and needy at home has actually been transferred in two agonising months and the proposed budgetary outlay of Rs 71 billion for the next twelve months is peanuts for catering to 40 million in need.

It is unprecedented for any government to create or mismanage a sugar, wheat and petrol crisis in the country simultaneously, especially since there are adequate stocks of each commodity at hand. It is unbelievable for a PM to first claim that there is no life threatening COVID19 risk to the people (ghabraana nahin) because it is no more than a common flu and then to turn around and warn the same people to follow impossible SOPs in the face of the most dangerous infection spike in June and July. Worse, when the WHO points out persistent errors in government policy and recommends an urgent course of action, the PTI’s federal and provincial health ministers and advisors are quick to line up and drown out its sane advice.

Not to be left out, the PM proudly proclaims his Islamic credentials by taunting the leaders of the Muslim World that he allowed mosques to remain open when they were shutting them down to stop COVID19 from infecting the masses. It is incredible that the irony was lost on the PM that the opening of the mosques during a general lockdown was one of the main reasons why that lockdown was unsuccessful. In the same vein, the PM has speeded up the repatriation of Pakistanis in foreign lands, despite the fact that over 50% of them are infected when they land and can’t be effectively tested or quarantined, thus spreading the infection far and wide. Best international practices of banning incoming flights during lockdowns were blithely ignored. Unforgivably, the PM has managed to throttle the economy and infected the populace at the same time even as he has constantly portrayed himself as a savior of both. For four months the PM and his cabinet members have beamed before cameras without masks sending out the message of “all is well” when all is definitely not well. Now we are increasingly paying the price for their ignorance, recklessness and callousness.

The situation is fraught with peril because the people are squarely pinning responsibility for the chaos in their lives not just on the government but increasingly on the Miltablishment that has brought it to power. This is leading to two developments: members of the cabinet are blaming one another for the various problems that have erupted and leaking their dissatisfactions to the media; and Miltablishment Big Wigs are silently distancing themselves from the disastrous decisions of the government and scratching their heads for honourable exit strategies.

It is time for them to admit that their latest experiment in governing Pakistan has gone awry. It is taking an unprecedented toll of state and society. Propping it up much longer risks irreparably damaging the permanent institutions of the state like NAB, FIA, Judiciary and Bureaucracy, all of which have been railroaded into doing its illegal biddings. Meanwhile, there is no silver lining on the horizon. The outlook for the economy and COVID19 is so bad that it is only a matter of time before the people erupt to demand an end to this unaccountable disaster of a government. On top of it, if India creates a conflict on Pakistan’s borders that we cannot win, the price of failure will trigger the tolling of the bell for many in Pakistan.

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.