Saturday, August 2, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Aug 3, 2014

A wholly avoidable ‘crisis’ The sense of anticipation (and dread) regarding the coming August 14 Independence Day sets a new bar in Pakistan’s history of avoidable crises. The dramatis personae on the stage seem increasingly to be converging into two camps. In the left corner, a seemingly panicky and beleaguered government attracts fewer and fewer supporters amongst the political parties, while in the right corner, the challengers from the opposition, led by a recalcitrant Imran Khan and his PTI, seem to be acting as a magnet in greater or lesser measure for all parties that have some grouse against the government or see opportunity in the ‘siege’ it is under. Although Imran Khan’s logically inexplicable aggressive posture must top the list of factors responsible for creating this polarisation, the government’s inept handling comes a close second in the responsibility stakes. As August 14 nears, the PTI has dug its heels in, refusing overtures for dialogue with the government and reiterating firmly its intention to hold the march to Islamabad come what may. In the PTI’s wake, marginalised parties such as the PML-Q and Sheikh Rasheed’s one-man party hope to cash in on the eddies created by the long march. MQM has flirted with the PTI’s ‘ally’ the PAT of Tahirul Qadri, but seems undecided after a meeting with the Maulana in Lahore on Friday. JUI-F’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman has his own axe to grind against PTI in the context of the politics of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, hence his critique of Imran’s ‘absurd’ logic of agitation against the whole democratic edifice on the basis of four allegedly rigged seats. The PPP intriguingly has latched onto the use of Article 245 to deploy the army in Islamabad as the main counterpoint in its taking the government to task for mishandling the Imran challenge. The political context of what the country is facing needs to be kept in mind. According to the government’s version, it is embarked on a ‘long march’ to development and prosperity, and no other (political) ‘long march’ is either justified or can halt this momentum. As a diversion, the government has announced a month-long independence celebration in an age-old tactic: if you cannot give the people bread, regale them with circuses. These repeated claims from the PML-N leadership however, increasingly unconvincing as they sound, can be subjected to a critical look, given that the prioritisation of the government’s focus is, to put it mildly, questionable. The two greatest challenges facing the country when the PML-N government came to power last year were terrorism and the energy crisis. On the first, the government wasted a year in pursuit of the will-o’ the-wisp of talks with the terrorists, finally surrendering reluctantly to the logic of the situation that required firm military action in North Waziristan. Reservations about the strategy, conduct and end results of the operation aside, the fact that action has been taken, albeit belatedly and after unnecessarily alerting the militants, cannot but be welcomed as a recognition of reality and necessity. On the energy crisis, the government has been hoist by its own petard of tall claims during the election campaign and after coming to power to solve the crisis in a matter of days, no weeks, no months, no years, (and finally) no solution (the preceding list reflecting the government’s ‘sliding’ statements regarding the timeframe for a solution, ending with supplications to the Almighty). Instead of focusing all its attention first and foremost on the energy crisis, on which a revival of the economy and the welfare of citizens so critically depend, the government has chosen to indulge its penchant for ‘showpiece’ projects such as metro buses and other transport infrastructure. While such expensive projects may win a few brownie points in the short term, they are likely to drag finances and the government’s credibility into the dust in the future. Belated appeals to and contacts with Imran Khan and his ‘friends’ to either call off the August 14 march or arrive at a modus vivendi to avoid a clash have fallen seemingly on the deaf ears of the Khan’s known stubbornness beyond reason. Contradictory statements and reports indicate the government torn between preparations to pre-empt the march by the traditional tactics of arrests of PTI leaders and workers to pressurising transporters not to lend the march logistical capability, and advice to let the march go ahead peacefully to wither on the vine in D-Chowk of its own accord. One step the government would be strictly advised against is dragging the armed forces into the middle of the fray and causing an even more serious political crisis that could derail not only the government but hard won democracy too.

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