MINUS ONE – DEMOCRACY ON TRIAL  

STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

Following democracy in Pakistan is a roller coaster ride. It is exhilarating with all the screaming accompanying each rise and fall. When the ride ends you get out with rubbery legs. Rides have a short span and you overcome it soon. Imagine if the ride prolongs for years? It destroys your balance, vision, and ability to comprehend. That is what we go through in Pakistan in the name of democracy.

Take the recent developments. Last few months rumor mills are abuzz that fall of PTI government is imminent. Conspiracy theorists are having a field day. The passing of the  budget was impossible. Their political allies grew tentacles; the public discourse of trigger happy cabinet members didn’t help. An air of uncertainty took root. It was fanned by PML(N) and PPP leaders fomenting discontent.

The media was having a field day. Political pundits forecasted an implosion from within PTI. It fizzled out with passage of the budget. The votes in favor of the bill were greater in number than the previous year. The opposition in their wisdom, or lack of it, walked out giving Imran Khan the opportunity to deliver an uninterrupted speech. He excelled; taking the bull by the horns.

Knowing IK for more than a quarter century, it reminded me of events in the past. In his political journey he was written off multiple times. His opponents would gleefully broadcast that Khan is finished; the bubble has burst, an infatuation has ended. IK has failed to disrupt the two party rule of self enrichment and they could get back to their blood sucking ways.

That was not to happen. In two decades PTI moved up from winning one seat in 2002 to ruling a province in 2013. Finally in 2018 it formed the federal government and in three provinces with its allies. It sliced the chokehold of the corrupt two party system. No wonder the opponents hate him with a passion. His opposition is no longer political, it is personal. The venom in their expressions clearly demonstrates it.

Prime Minister spoke clearly and eloquently defining his position in the National Assembly. He refreshed facts that could fade with passage of time. He opened a can of worms by stating “minus one” will not work because anyone replacing him will continue the process of accountability. A fair warning misread by his opponents and news media assuming he is on his way out.

PML(N), PPP and JUI(F) don’t rejoice prematurely. PTI government will only last till Imran Khan leads it. That is how the cookie crumbles. These sound bites resemble the croaking of frogs in autumn, noisy but without purpose. With a shrinking footprint amongst the voters; they are severely tainted by corruption and their manipulations are rising to new heights.

Firing of Judge Arshad Malik will open a Pandora’s box. All his judgments will be open for review. Is the system being managed to resurrect Shabaz Sharif? Are we headed for governor’s rule in Punjab?

Notwithstanding this political jugglery, PM Imran Khan’s real challenge is somewhere else. It is the quality of deliverables to an expectant populace. During the course of his campaigns he converted the voters onto his reform agenda. They responded by booting out the incumbents. He also raised their expectations where delivery is crawling. It is an uphill task. On his way to becoming the PM he encumbered himself with a lot of deadwood parliamentarians who only thrive on status quo.

Reform Agenda needs dedication and commitment. It is acutely missing amongst his team. It is beyond reason to expect one man to run a country of 220 million single handedly; his team has failed to rise to the challenges. People point fingers at IK for bad team selection. His selection pool consists of incompetent political survivors who sat through multiple parliaments without raising a finger or creating a wave. Those amongst them who are eloquent speak for their own benefit with a strong narcissistic streak. These self seekers are creating unnecessary pressure for the PM.

IK’s next serious challenge is the bureaucracy. It took him a long time to separate wheat from the chaff. On one hand the bureaucrats were petrified of crossing a line that would invite NAB; on the other they had personal affiliations to the past rulers. They did not want to sever their links just in case they come back. Crossing that barrier, his next challenge is the quagmire of policies and rules crafted to benefit the elite and not the general public.

The biggest challenge is the ability to deliver change through a system that is totally engineered to benefit the vested interests. The archaic, unrealistic laws, obstructive courts, cumbersome procedures and corrupt execution machinery are geared up to create obstacles rather than facilitate democracy. It is democracy on trial not PTI attempting “Tabdeeli”. IK is navigating his way through a swamp infested by alligators.

What are our options as a nation? Bring down Imran Khan? Who do you replace him with? It is the system that needs a complete overhaul. IK must change the laws and bring in ruthless accountability. Clean up his own stables and take a leap forward to crush the cartels and mafias. IK has embarked on that route by exposing the sugar, energy mafias and corrupt politicians. It is refreshing start; stay the course IK. As a nation we have to be patient; undoing seven decades of destruction and disruption will take time.

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