Sunday, April 30, 2017

Business Recorder editorial April 30, 2017

Knee-jerk over-reaction The PML-N government has taken for some time to feeling the need to react to any and every statement from Imran Khan. Perhaps this is the result of the ruling party’s revisiting its relatively restrained responses to Imran Khan’s barrage of accusations and allegations in 2013-14, a period that spans the 2013 general elections as well as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s months-long sit-in in Islamabad during 2014. But the change in the PML-N’s approach to the ‘perpetual accuser’, ‘great distractor’ and ‘agent provocateur’ Imran Khan does not seem an improvement on the previous stance. A whole panoply of PML-N government and party leaders is in the knee-jerk, instant, inescapable counter-barrage mode to Imran Khan’s constant shots over the bows of the PML-N’s admittedly listing ship. Feeling hemmed in by the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Panamagate case and the opposition’s seeking to twist the knife in the wound by calling for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign, the PML-N has felt compelled to respond to each and every one of Imran Khan’s statements on a daily basis. What this inadvertently does is elevate these provocations’ status to fare for the big appetite of the media, mushrooming more often than not into interminable debates on talk shows on these issues, arguably at the cost of weightier problems that confront the country. To illustrate the state of affairs, on April 28, Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, Federal Minister of State for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb, Railways Minister Saad Rafique and Punjab government spokesman Malik Ahmed Khan all weighed in against the latest revelation from Imran Khan regarding the offer of a Rs 10 billion bribe for taking his foot off the accelerator of the get Nawaz drive. The only name missing in the ‘cast of usual suspects’ in this regard was Daniyal Aziz. Imran Khan had said that he was offered the amount through a businessman friend with ties to the Sharifs. He has consistently refused to name the go-between, citing fears the Sharifs would wreak vengeance on the person by ruining his business. In response to the threats from Shahbaz Sharif and the Punjab government spokesman to take him to court for defamation if he does not reveal the name, Imran Khan says if taken to court he will reveal all there, but first ask the court to protect the go-between and his business interests. This Rs 10 billion bribe allegation is the latest in Imran Khan’s armoury of accusations that he has regularly trotted out against the PML-N as well as the PPP for being corrupt. The brave words of Shahbaz Sharif (with the tired rhetoric of leaving politics if found guilty) and the PML-N to file a defamation suit seems more bluster than a realistic hope of beating back Imran Khan’s latest provocation. Who does not know the fate of civil suits in our judicial system in general, and defamation cases in particular? Seldom, if ever, have such cases provided a satisfactory conclusion, if they ever reach a conclusion at all. In the meantime, the battery of spokespersons flying to the defence of the PML-N at the drop of a hat on matters big and small is having the opposite effect to what is intended. Far from convincingly refuting such accusations (a difficult proposition at the best of times, given the rhetorical rather than factual basis of such accusations by and large), this chorus of ministers, leaders and spokespeople of the PML-N is simply serving to keep alive in the public mind and exaggerate the importance of such allegations. In the process, the PML-N is falling into the Imran Khan ‘great distraction’ trap, keeping it occupied with relatively trivial matters and distracting its focus from far more serious problems confronting the country. In other words, contrary to the ruling party’s rhetoric of focusing on development despite its detractors, this minuet is simply helping to take the government’s eye off the ball and entangle it in unnecessary slanging matches. The government may be better served by appointing and restricting its public statements against Imran Khan and on all other matters to one authoritative spokesperson who should respond to all and any provocations in a measured, mature, civil manner, not descend to the level of the language used by some of its opponents, and keep its focus on governance.

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