Saturday, November 29, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Nov 30, 2014

War of insult The level of the political discourse in Pakistan has never been known for achieving any kind of heights. But even our low standards have been kicked into the gutter by the manner in which political rivalry and contention are currently being conducted. This low tone has been set, first and foremost, by Imran Khan and his acolytes in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). The party’s chief has not hesitated since the 2013 elections to assail all and sundry, institutions as well as individuals, with vitriolic assertions, accusations and calumny only slightly removed from the lower depths. Now, on the eve of the November 30 ‘big show’ by the PTI in Islamabad, Imran Khan has launched (once again) into the present governments in Punjab and the Centre, former Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, the Election Commission of Pakistan, the caretaker governments in Punjab and the Centre overseeing the 2013 elections, and even the police as being responsible for rigging, which resulted in a false mandate for the PML-N. He goes so far as to lump the PPP along with the PML-N as targets for his wild and woolly charges, including the latest Platonic wisdom that Punjab and Sindh have been turned into ‘police states’. Imran claims 5.5 million extra ballot papers were printed at three Lahore printing presses for the elections and distributed amongst the candidates of the PML-N for the purpose of rigging. He demands a probe into the charges but not under Nawaz Sharif because it would not be a fair one since the prime minister is the beneficiary of the rigging. The sit-ins, Imran insisted, were intended to bring the riggers to justice and were certainly not intended as a move to invite martial law, which accusation was a travesty of his lifelong struggle. However, in the same breath Imran saw no difference between the present incumbents and the 111 Brigade, throwing in for good measure that the ‘third umpire’ was not the military but the Almighty! The best response to such arrant nonsense would perhaps be silence and sympathy for the embarrassment the author of such charges is causing himself and his party. However, since no such embarrassment seems to furrow Imran Khan's brow, the government has fielded Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed to pay Khan back in his own coin. In a press conference on Friday, the normally mildly spoken minister went overboard, a la Imran Khan, in trying to prove the accuser of the government an absconder, feudal lord, and agent of the international oil mafia, who was assigned to sabotage the visit of the Chinese president through his sit-in since agreements for production of power from coal were to be signed (these were later completed when Nawaz Sharif visited China, the minister reminded us). Not stopping there, the minister whaled into Khan with allegations of earning huge sums abroad for unrevealed services to foreigners, holding a suspiciously large amount of cash in hand, and being a defaulter of agricultural income tax while his luxurious lifestyle was financed by hidden hands. To add icing to the cake, Pervaiz Rasheed trotted out facts and figures to show that the Sharif family paid huge amounts of taxes. Have both sides lost the plot? Imran Khan’s wild and unsubstantiated accusations and allegations hardly found traction beyond his adoring circles. The government so far had been well served by a demeanour of patience and restraint. Now it seems to have striven for, and arguably achieved, the same guttersnipe level as the PTI. Could it be that these exchanges, amongst reasons related to previous court orders being flouted, has persuaded the Lahore High Court to exercise judicial restraint and question why the judiciary should be dragged into such political matters while dismissing a petition seeking the halting of the November 30 rally? Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar has stated that the PTI has signed an agreement regarding the terms and conditions for the rally. Any deviation from these, the minister emphasised, would bring the law into action and the resultant outcome would entirely be the responsibility of the PTI. The citizen can only marvel and scratch the head at the shenanigans going on in the country. PTI has the right to protest peacefully, for which an NOC has been issued. But can the party guarantee that its professed peaceful aims are compatible with its leadership’s foaming at the mouth? In the interests of the country and the democratic system which, with all its flaws rooted in the slow reform of a still young dispensation, nevertheless offers the best hope of stability and progress, we hope both sides will show exemplary restraint and responsibility and not plunge us into another unnecessary crisis to add to the list of all the others we are confronted with.

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