Wednesday, January 22, 2020
FAISAL Vawda is a ‘phenomenon’ that defines Imran Khan’s populist regime. His theatrics on a TV talk show last week may have appeared excessively crude, but were not surprising. The federal minister for water resources has been known for his absurd acts.
Remember his dramatic entry dressed like a cowboy at the Chinese consulate in Karachi while it was under a terrorist attack in 2018? His presence at the spot may have been a nuisance for the security agencies trying to break the siege, but why would he care? It was his way of getting media attention.
Imran Khan, who had promised to bring in new talent to build a ‘naya Pakistan’, chose Vawda to head one of the most critical ministries. Soon after taking charge, Vawda promised to open the ‘floodgates to jobs’ that would even require Pakistan to import labour from other countries. We are still waiting for that miracle to happen. Meanwhile, his expensive sports car and motorbikes remain the centre of media attention.
But Vawda is not the only jewel in the crown of Imran Khan’s collection of talents. He is part of a careless crew piloting a rudderless ship of state. Many of the crew members are quite entertaining and end up providing considerable comic relief in times of crisis. Whether it is the special assistant to the PM on information and her daily pearls of wisdom or the railway minister’s habit of shooting from the hip, it’s all a manifestation of an administration that thrives on absurdity.
If this were not enough, the PTI government also has ministers like Shehryar Afridi and Ali Amin Gandapur in its ranks. The minister of state for narcotics control, Afridi is known for his outrageous utterances, including his claim that 75 per cent of female students and 45pc male students in the capital city use drugs including crystal meth and ice. It is such statements, not backed by evidence, which render his remarks pointless. Similarly, his constant reminder that he “owes his life to God” has made him a star in PTI ranks.
For Gandapur, the minister of Kashmir affairs, inflation ‘benefits’ a large section of the population. “If someone is benefiting from rising prices then it is our farmers, they are the ones growing the tomatoes,” he remarked. Going by such profound logic, people should be hailing the hike in prices rather than protesting against it. The list of such knights in shining armour in the PTI cabinet is quite long.
For sure, one cannot forget the great discovery of ‘Wasim Akram-plus’. The star is yet to shine but Imran Khan has not lost faith in his protégé. It is believed that the reason for backing Usman Buzdar, the chief minister of Punjab, has to do more with occultism than political rationality.
Although most of his powers seem to have been taken away, Buzdar’s stay in office, even as a figurehead chief minister, is seen as essential to the survival of Khan’s government. One really feels sorry for the man from Taunsa Sharif who appears helpless, despite occupying the second-most powerful political office in the country. The affairs of the country’s biggest province are now run by the Prime Minister’s Secretariat through the provincial chief secretary and the inspector general of police.
This unique arrangement has thrown the province into complete disarray, raising questions about who is really in charge. The growing rebellion within the ruling party’s ranks and threats by allies to part ways has left the survival of the Buzdar government hanging by a thread. Yet there is no sign of the prime minister changing his original decision thought to be influenced by ‘hidden powers’. Such is the predicament of the leader who rose to power on the promise of changing the country and strengthening institutional democracy.
We seem to be witnessing a new phenomenon in Pakistani politics — a dangerous confluence of populism and occultism. While the government claims to act for the people, it has deviated significantly from even basic democratic norms. The Vawda phenomenon is a manifestation of a culture that negates pluralism and democratic tolerance. It is not surprising that the party leadership has never taken any action against the ministers who routinely display such uncivilised behaviour. In fact, it seems that the top leadership encourages their practices.
While in the opposition, Imran Khan had blamed corrupt politicians, mafias, and oligarchies for having appropriated power from the legitimate owners ie the people. He is using the same mantra to cover up his government’s ineptitude. He has used populism as a political tool to mobilise mass support. But like other populist leaders, he has failed to deliver on his promises. The PTI government’s policy on critical issues is vague and often contradictory.
Imran Khan’s populist slogans had worked because of our chronically infirm democratic process and weak institutions. But that may also go against a populist government failing to reverse the situation. Growing public discontent and increasing dissent in the ranks are a clear manifestation of the perils of populism.Unlike in other countries where populist parties returned to power with an absolute majority, the PTI government has been in a disadvantageous position, and is dependent on disparate allies and the powerful security establishment. One of the PTI government’s biggest failures has been its inflexible approach, despite being a coalition government. Because of its stubbornness, the PTI has allowed the opposition greater space.Given the current crisis of governance and ineptitude, the emerging cracks in the coalition are not surprising. Sensing that the government is now on a weak wicket, the allies have raised the stakes and are demanding a larger share in the pie. The situation in Punjab is particularly precarious with the coalition government surviving on a razor-thin majority.
There are ominous signs of the opposition parties, particularly the PML-N, bridging differences with the security establishment. Given the shifting sands of Pakistani politics, nothing can be ruled out. These are the perils of populism. But things become more complicated when this is mixed with occultist tendencies.
A few short days ago 86 Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) workers were each handed 55 year-long sentences by an anti-terrorism court for rioting and resisting the police. The verdict was celebrated across the country; finally, the group gets what it deserves, a just punishment for taking the law into their own hand and blackmailing the government based on their own hardline interpretation of Islam. Yet, that watershed moment shone brightly for a few days only; the TLP is back to strong-arming the government, and more disappointingly, the government is all too willing to surrender without a fight. The saga surrounding the release of the Pakistani movie “Zindagi Tamasha” is a dismal display of how weak this government has become. It starts from the beginning; the director of the film, Sarmad Khoosat, starts receiving threatening calls and messages from the TLP to pull the film from cinemas. The government instead of investigating and arresting the perpetrators of a clear crime of blackmail decided to halt the release of the film for “reconsideration”. Why reconsider when the film has already been approved by all censor boards in Pakistan? Why can’t the government follow its own laws? More fundamental is the question of who is the TLP to “raise concerns” about the release of a film that does not concern them. Why are such a small group of people afforded such enormous importance, more important than the government’s own institutions? After bending over backward so far that their backs must certainly be broken, the PTI’s solution is more slavish pliancy. Instead of sticking with the opinion of the censor boards specifically designed for the purpose the government decides to arbitrarily form a new committee to review the film; comprised of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII). Some reports suggest that TLP members might be part of this new Frankenstein’s monster of a film review board. Why must the CII be dragged into this? The constitution gives the body only one role, give advisories on legislation, no more. The government cannot make up powers on the spot. Since when has the CII been competent enough to pass judgment on the suitability of films? Will everything in this country be approved by a council of clerics from now on? Can no discussion be had – in film or otherwise – about the role religion plays in our society without hardline fanatics descending upon the conversation? The government needs to answer. The government’s shameless surrender to political forces wielding the name of religion is a travesty. https://nation.com.pk/22-Jan-2020/a-shameless-surrender
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has said that his party doesn’t need to topple this puppet government, as it will collapse on its own, while “we continue to serve the people”.
Bilawal expressed these views while addressing a gathering at the inauguration of the new 100 MGD water plant in Dhabeji. Calling out the double standards and hypocrisy that prevails in the federal government, he said that policies being followed were indicative of how it had bifurcated Pakistan.
He said the people of Sindh should not be punished for upending the plots of the selectors in the general elections. He added that whilst in Punjab, the inspector general (IG) is replaced with astonishing regularity, but when it comes to the powers vested in the government of Sindh by its people, the law changes and suddenly the province is beholden to those in Islamabad.
“Is Sindh still a colony that the viceroy in Islamabad needs to give approval for the daily affairs of the province?” he asked.
The PPP chairman said that the selected government had been in the power for over a year, but during this time the federal government has yet to complete any of the development projects it promised. “The incompetent government is dividing the nation, damaging the federation and instead of abusing others, it should pay heed to its assigned duties,” he added. He went on to say that the slogan of “Not two, but one Pakistan” was chanted by Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had taken on the institutionalised cartels which were running the country and redistributed wealth, creating a sizable middle class. He said the PTI government may take much pleasure in plagiarising the slogan, but its policies had decimated the poor and middle class in favour of the prime minister’s crony capitalist friends.
He added that the Sindh chief minister, an elected official accountable to the people of Sindh, should have enough room to create his own team to help him govern. He went on to say that the rise of street crime in Sindh had led to public outcry. And since the provincial government is accountable to the people it is only fair that the police be accountable to it. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that only an elected government can hold the police accountable. He said that despite all the conspiracies and limited resources, Sindh’s government is striving to serve the people to the best of its abilities. He said that solving the shortage of water is amongst the government’s top priorities.
He said the Sindh government had completed the work of lining over 1800 kilometres of canals to prevent the loss of water. “Sindh also has the largest number of reverse osmosis water plants in the country, providing safe and clean drinking water across small villages and hamlets across the province.” He pointed out that 101 villages of Achro Thar, a traditionally arid desert area, were now being supplied water through the Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Fresh Water Project, a pipeline that stretches over 240 km. He also added that work was underway to tackle the shortage of water in Lyari.
The PPP chairman said that Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced that he would set up desalination plants in Karachi, but did not spend even a dime, though the Sindh government with limited resources had taken steps to eradicate the water shortage in Karachi. He said that the federal minister had acknowledged on the floor of the assembly that the water share of Sindh was being stolen, but the issue had not been resolved as yet.
He pointed out that the policies of the Musharraf regime had left the country food insecure in 2008, but within a year, the PPP government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, had transformed Pakistan from a wheat-importing country to a wheat-exporting country. The PPP chairman termed the present government a revival of the Musharraf regime and said that the country was now facing the same crises which the country was facing during Musharraf’s rule. “This government is a hostile government in every respect. It is hell bent on persecuting the poor and trampling on their rights as long as their friends and backers could make a quick buck. The present rulers have no empathy or even idea of the trauma and pain inflicted on the children, women and elders of those made homeless by the wrecking balls of their anti-encroachment drives. ” Bilawal said that according to the constitution, the first right to the resources of a province rest with the province itself. By overriding this right, the federal government is weakening the federation and the tearing the very fabric that holds this country together.
“We are not threatening anyone but telling them that we will not compromise on the rights of the people.”