Pakistan is a house divided: It cannot stand
Of all the many lies we tell ourselves, perhaps the greatest is that we are too big to fail, that the world will not stand by and let a nuclear-armed country of 220 million plus fall apart. We are simply too important, too strategically located and too critical for global security and stability to be allowed to pull ourselves apart, and that the world must continuously foot the bill of our follies.
It is a magnificent delusion, and it’s not the only one we suffer from as too many of us believe that we are in this state not so much through our own actions but due to an elaborate global conspiracy to keep us from achieving our prophesized greatness. It is important to note this, as this thinking informs those geniuses whose repeated schemes and interference has played a major role in what can only be described as the absolute breakdown of the state of Pakistan.
Is ‘breakdown’ too harsh a term to use? Absolutely not. If we start with the economy, it is clear that we are effectively in a state of default, and that no one is going to save us. Despite this, we carry on as usual, granting perks and privileges to a class that does not deserve them while also thumbing our nose at the IMF – whom we are begging for a few dollars to help us survive the next few months – by granting populist fuel subsidies of the sort the Prime Minister proudly announced last Monday.
As for the friendly countries to whom we go far too often, hat in hand, the message from them has been unequivocal: get your house in order first, they tell us, and rightly so. Except we refuse to do anything of the sort, relying on the myth of strategic importance to fuel our vehicles, power our factories and feed our children. No wonder then that parents are resorting to killing themselves and their children because they simply cannot afford to pay rent or put food on the table.
The leaders and supporters of both sides have something in common: Each can only see their own pain.
As for the government, its clear priority is to somehow knock Imran Khan and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party out of the running. To achieve that end they have used all the old, tried and (often) failed tactics that are as time-worn as they are time-honored. From multiple cases in multiple jurisdictions, to using the regulatory authority to block coverage and speeches, to conducting searches and arrests on often trumped-up and easily dismissed charges, to preventing the PTI’s political rallies through the imposition of section 144, and then baton-charging the same rally, only to subsequently remove the restriction. That these – with the exception of the last point - are almost exactly the tactics used against the now-governing Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz in the not-so-distant past, isn’t lost on the ruling party. In fact, it is used as a justification for yet another cycle of revenge and recrimination. Talk of the treatment meted out to the PTI these days and you’ll hear them counter it with the litany of cases against the Sharifs and the indignities meted out to its leadership while in court or jail.
To them, the PTI are at long last getting exactly what they deserve.
The PTI, for its part, has decided that street power and public support can indeed be the only effective shield against state power, regardless of what precedents are set, and with no care that those very same precedents will be back to haunt them in the long-term. Any accusation – from foreign conspiracy to assassination plots – can and will find believers. Nothing is off limits.
There is a certain irony to the way PTI has decided to resist the arrest of its leader, even if said arrest warrant was only for the purpose of ensuring his appearance in court. There is a distinct lack of self-awareness and honesty in the fact that while they dismiss the cases against their own leadership and workers as politically motivated and mala fide, they will in the same breath call for opponents to be tried and jailed on similar charges. In this point at least, the leaders and supporters of both sides have something in common: Each can only see their own pain.
One must of course talk of the need for elections – a constitutional requirement – but that also means that prior to any such exercise, a minimum acceptable code of conduct must be agreed upon as to how those elections are to be held, and whether the results of such an election will be accepted and acknowledged. To achieve this, there has to be some form of dialogue, with the minimal outcome being that all parties agree to at least respect the others’ right to exist. In the current atmosphere, even this seems impossible.
Meanwhile, the only hope we have is that of the drug addict who imagines that if he does indeed hit rock bottom, the only way to go will be up. Of course, in our case, the likelihood is that the bottom isn’t rock, its quicksand. And we have only just begun to sink.
- Zarrar Khuhro is a Pakistani journalist who has worked extensively in both the print and electronic media industry. He is currently hosting a talk show on Dawn News. Twitter: @ZarrarKhuhro