The Demonization Of Ishaq Dar

The Demonization Of Ishaq Dar
A few months ago, I wrote an article trying to put praise for Miftah Ismail into perspective and context. The same crisis theater in which Miftah was christened Maximus now has a new figure at the center of a new act of the play, an act which might be called The Demonization of Dar. Now, I'm not a fan of Ishaq Dar or the PML-N but even the devil needs an advocate now and then, and Ishaq Dar may not be the demon that he’s being made out to be anyway. Regardless, he has been cast as Commodus opposite Miftah’s Maximus. We have now reached the counterpoint of the valorization of Miftah, which reflects very well the shallowness of the hype surrounding both men and in turn the state of affairs in the country: much ado about nothing, and silence and indifference when it comes to matters of the greatest significance.

Dar needed to be very careful in trying to follow Miftah’s seemingly selfless take on the role of Minister of Finance. He tried, with his hardened expressions and unbending public demeanor in face of the IMF and his critics, to be seen as standing with the public in his own way. It didn’t work. Whatever little chance he had against the likable Cocomo uncle was gone because of his policies (which have been analyzed well by Uzair Younus). But it wasn’t just about policies. Dar’s public face and presentation went against him and failed to endear him to… well, anyone. The contrast with Miftah was thrown into further relief by the fact that the “tough choices” mantra came from the soft looking man, while the man with the hardened face was busy selling hopium. His entourage didn’t help either: recall the video of one of his associates shouting obscenities at a person shouting at Dar upon his arrival in the United States. It was all too much for the fun loving tishun class obsessed with appearances and respectability, even as it appropriates more for itself and creates little of intellectual, political or aesthetic value in exchange. There was no way Dar the hard faced bean counter could hold a candle to the jolly, Wharton educated, intellectual businessman.

Clutching at straws is the national philosophy, so he has practically conceded that the country is a charity case by calling on philanthropists to raise dollars.

But how different are the two men really? Both were unelected, both were loyal to the party and hence both were at ease with being pro-establishment men. It was a minor consolation that at least Dar was not trotting out the country-over-party line like Miftah. But Dar has his religious rhetoric. Not too long ago he had announced that the State Bank of Pakistan and the National Bank of Pakistan would withdraw their appeals filed in the Supreme Court against the Federal Shariat Court’s “verdict directing the government for a complete transformation of the banking system into Shariah-compliant banking by December 2027”. His commitment to an Islamic financial system has recently been reiterated. This is all a red herring and is merely meant to shore up some credibility with the public. The hand waving continued in the form of the proposal for a commission to probe economic decline under PTI and more tiresome talk of an economic charter, which at this rate is going to turn into little more than a fig leaf for politicians to hide their insincerity. The real irony is that he is now justifying persisting with the IMF as prioritizing state over politics - a variation of Miftah’s country-over-party line - despite having lost his cool in an interview with Shahzeb Khanzada in which he said that Miftah was “a non-entity”, and that “I don’t care!” when pushed regarding the delays in progress with the IMF.

Clutching at straws is the national philosophy, so he has practically conceded that the country is a charity case by calling on philanthropists to raise dollars. But that makes him not so different from Imran Khan, who was trying to run the country like a charity case as well. Perhaps overseas Pakistanis should set up an investment firm willing to lend to the Pakistani government on exploitative terms, and in return end up with something like a slice of the country which could be run from abroad. The country is divided anyway and arguably being run from the IMF headquarters, so what’s another division or two? Buy the influence, as Blackrock has done in Ukraine. Who knows, the investment firm’s logo might even make it to the Pakistani flag.

Dar has been left poking his toy sword at ghosts in an empty amphitheater.

This suggestion might have irked Dar not so long ago, considering that in 2021 he wrote against the amendment to the SBP Act 1956 which became law in January 2022. But now he finds himself, as Ammar Khan has written, blinking first in his staring contest with the IMF. Alas, not everyone can be a fallen hero like Miftah. While Miftah may no longer hold office, he is the one who holds influence and power, while Dar continues to take hit upon hit while remaining in office. Contrary to being the victim he is thought to be, Miftah is the real student of this theater of power and strategy. What distinguishes him is his ability to recognize a losing battle, to play the generous selfless hero briefly while welcoming the opposition from within his own party, knowing full well that the battle is lost and not worth fighting. He left the arena as the fallen hero rather than the oppressive villain, and then took the centrist mob on a Reimagining Pakistan tour to dupe it into a conservative, austere, pro-market vision of the economy according which Pakistan must give in to the deadly embrace of the benevolent profiteer if it is to prosper. Dar has been left poking his toy sword at ghosts in an empty amphitheater.

To employ a variation of Dierdre McCloskey’s description of the ideological range of American economics, the ideological distance between Miftah and Dar is all the way from meem to noon. They merely appeal to different faces of Pakistan’s establishment: Miftah to the military and the tishun class, and Ishaq Dar to religious sentiment. In traveling this stone’s throw distance from Miftah to the noon League’s family man, the governing coalition is very much the same and its relationship with the establishment is very much the same, as is the impotency of both the federal government and the military when they are required to offer the public anything more substantial than platitudes and an unimaginative word kachoomar. This amateurish theater of crisis, valorization and demonization will offer Pakistanis little opportunity for self-reflection, so the least these people could do is to entertain us. Yet they can’t even do that very well. Meanwhile it’s Imran Khan, Aitchison’s old-boy par excellence, the fool pretending to be a philosopher king, who offers some comic relief with his New Yorker interview and complaints of being subjected to the power of a super king.

“Are you not entertained?!”, roared Maximus in Gladiator. Not really, because the ranting and scowling Dar makes for a terrible Commodus.

Dr. Daniyal Khan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, and holds a PhD in Economics from The New School in New York.