Monday, August 6, 2012

The New Pakistani Politics

Dr. Umar Khan

Dr. Khan belongs to a Lahore based Think Tank.




The New Pakistani Politics

Khawaja Asif of PML (N), in the company of stalwarts Mushahidullah Khan and Pervez Rasheed, came on prime time TV and launched a barrage of very serious allegations on Imran Khan and Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital. As expected this well planned attack was followed by another onslaught by Ch Nisar of PML, again on the prime time. These allegations were refuted by Imran personally and also SKMTH and counter allegations were made on PML (N). There are rumors that the next round is about to start and its going to be even uglier and more vicious. It has become a routine for dubious people coming on TV making serious allegations on people of stature, including CJ, and getting attention while diverting the focus from their performance. Welcome to the politics Pakistani style which has made politics the biggest entertainment for the nation, more popular past time than TV dramas, sports or movies.

Before analyzing the content and effects of the allegations lets have a look at the people making them. Khawaja Asif has a history of working in a financial institution and is expected to understand its intricacies. Unfortunately it doesn’t end here; the financial institution he worked for was very notorious known for its dubious practices and was finally closed down after being convicted of facilitating drug trade. Stretching it further we find that he got this lucrative job on recommendation of our most notorious dictator trying to please his crony who happened to be Kh Asif’s ----- I’ll end it here. Fortunately despite a dubious past Khawaja sahib appears to be one of the cleanest politicians in PML (N) as there aren’t credible allegations against him.

This was certainly a vicious attack comprising of the following,

  1. Shady investments of donated money with losses.
  2. Zakat invested for “interest”, a religious allegation.
  3. Money from Pakistan taken out and invested abroad.
  4. A simple guarantee sought instead of a bank guarantee.
  5. A board member given the investment creating conflict of interest.

A banker knows that all this was well within the norms of business but rhetorical words like “satta” and “sood” were used ruthlessly and an impression was created which temporarily made me suspicious too, but for a very short time. This was an excellent exercise of dysphemism. These allegations cant stand in any court of law or electorate and should follow their natural course so don’t need any commenting. Coming from the side with hundreds of millions of dollars invested abroad and history of PM doling out subsidies with his family being the biggest stake holder appears ridiculous. Or maybe it was a confession that we are guilty but others aren’t clean either; interesting politics.

It is not hard to imagine what PML (N) wanted to achieve by this exercise. They wanted to halt the slide of their popularity and improve their image in public. For this they needed to stop Imran attacking them. It shows the extreme nervousness and jitteriness in their camp. There is a certain gloom of impending disaster which is very obvious on their faces. PML (N) was certainly the most popular party in March 2009 when Nawaz Sharif led the march in support of judiciary but since then it has been a downward trend. His support for democracy by supporting the PPP government has been construed as support for Zardari government and now he has to put tremendous efforts to negate it. His statement “we will support the PPP government even if their own MNAs desert them” is clinging to him like Bhutto’s “Wahan tum, yahan hum”. Forming and running of a coalition government for years makes it even hard to defend despite resignations of federal ministries. When rug below the feet is suddenly pulled such reactions are not uncommon. It might also be a rude reminder of need to unite the rightist against PPP.

Whatever were the intentions the affects of this tirade are clear; Zardari is the apparent winner. Despite 4.5 years of misrule he is not being scrutinized instead people who have never had power are. The words “corruption” and “immorality” are being ridiculed and desensitized; hopefully unintentionally. No wonder there is a hidden sarcastic smile on the faces of PPP leaders who were extremely depressed earlier. PML has effectively distracted the nation from PPPs misrule, something Zardari was trying to hard to achieve, no wonder some might call it a joint effort. This episode has an even more important side effect; it has once again exposed the scruples of PML (N) and its leadership. Pakistani political scene had never seen an uglier political campaign than the campaigns of 1988 and 1990 in which with the help of ISI and its money, PPP and BB were ridiculed shamelessly and even the anatomy of BB being a women was not spared. Interestingly all this was done under the banner of “sharafat ki siasat” and it worked. It is strange how unworkable things work in Pakistan with the support of agencies.  The people had forgotten this old story, but now ably reminded they are expecting a few more Sitas or Terrians. I wonder how long would “Sharafat ki siasat” survive without the outright state support.

The intended losers appear to be Imran Khan and PTI with SKMTH the collateral damage, might survive this attack if not outright benefit from it if able to refute effectively. In this case PML (N) might become the real collateral damage along with the reputation of its leadership. The political class which is already heavily maligned in Pakistan might get even more maligned, something beneficial to other claimants of power who have been arguing for decades that civilians are not fit to rule. No matter how bad the situation you can always lose your nerve and worsen it, that’s exactly what PML (N) apparently did here.

The political attack on PML (N) is severe and their response absolutely necessary and expected but not of this kind. They should have dwelled on their achievements and performance of decades in power. Unfortunately they couldn’t do this because their performance wasn’t good enough. Hospitals and schools are responsibility of the governments, PML has controlled for long without desired results. It is the inability or failure of the government that makes room for welfare organizations in the private sector to do this duty with the help of Zakat. The govts inability and corruption forces respectable people seek treatment on zakat which can be an emotionally devastating experience for many. Except Shehbaz’s shown ability to get the desired results despite a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy there is nothing much to show. Slogans of nuclear explosions or doling out anything from the national exchequer have ultimately lost their luster. Still they might use propaganda and communication techniques to package their performance in a presentable way and get better results.

Khawaja Asif, one of the most admirable people in party, didn’t look very comfortable making these allegations nor during following them up on the talk shows. Knowing the working of Pakistani politics this was the duty given to him and he had no right to refuse or even give an argument against it. This is how our political parties work. PML with a name of a person (Nawaz) attached to it doesn’t give a right to object to its cadres. Pakistani political parties are like personal properties which have shown their ability to be transferred on the basis of will until coming of age of the children. These are routinely inherited by the family members as any other ordinary property making a joke of the claims of political party. Kh Asif is in a difficult situation here, no matter how and what he does, he is destined to remain junior to anyone with the name Sharif in the end. He has to please and obey the whole extended Sharif family with the power to extradite him from politics and decades of service. The only comfort he enjoys is that being a Kashmiri he can expect a slightly better understanding than non Kashmiris in the party as Nawaz family is Kashmiri too. In this case there are not many options available to him between a national level leader and an ineffectual angel, and Kh Asif made the pragmatic choice.

The difference between PML (N) and PTI over here is all too obvious. Dr Faisal Sultan, an employee of SKMTH, while defending the hospital, publicly referred Imran Khan as “Imran” on TV without any sahib or other prefix of respect, something unimaginable in inheritable political parties. I still remember Kh Asif speechless on a TV show during Musharraf era when asked if he would quit PML in case it joins a military dictator. He just couldn’t afford to say what he wanted to, as it could annoy people and ruin his political future. This also shows the scare of our established politicians whose monarchies are at stake here. High stakes do attract severe responses and that’s exactly what’s happening here.

Now that the allegations are made they should be explored and explained. If discrepancies are found, responsible people should be held accountable irrespective of their stature. IK should let the professionals (accountants, managers, lawyers) do their job and stay away from it. In case allegations are found malafide, the culprits should be made accountable in the court of law. Court of people will do their justice in the next elections. Nothing more or less is required, let the law prevail.

“Yahan pagri Uchalti hai,The  ise maikhana kehte hain”

Maybe we should not let the two mingle so that neat and clean people should also be able to participate.

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