Jan 1, 2012

Truths and half-truths

Jumping on the bandwagon of Imran Khan is the latest fad in Pakistani politics. On his part, the erstwhile skipper is willing to admit to his “XI” anyone who matters. Until quite recently, a common criticism of Imran Khan was that his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), was a one-man show and that it didn’t boast of a single political heavyweight other than the leader himself. In order to become a significant force, the argument went, a political party must have a critical mass, and since the PTI was well short on that account it remained a non-entity in national politics. Whether Mr Khan himself had been selective in choosing his team or frontline politicians just shunned him is open to debate. But the criticism held water. However, now the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Notable political leaders are making a beeline for the PTI and the former speedster, to borrow idioms from his own dictionary, is claiming one prized scalp after another after his fiery spells in Lahore and Karachi. Thanks to him, erstwhile rivals from Multan as well as Kasur have sunk their differences and become friends, at least on the face of it. And it seems more surprises are in store. The PPP and the PML-N, watch out! One can hardly find fault with Imran Khan’s swelling the size and muscles of his party. In a democratic dispensation, if a political party is to capture power, it must win the electoral race; and in order to do so, it needs to field candidates who have a sizeable vote bank. The PTI fought electoral battles in 1997 and 2002 and on each occasion was routed. The reason: the party didn’t have winning horses. But now it has several, whose number is on the increase. The novelist E M Foster classifies characters in a work of fiction into flat and round. The former remain what they are, while the latter change in the course of the story. Mr Khan has also matured as the plot of the Pakistani political drama unfolded itself during the last few years. Kudos to him. Imran Khan is running the gauntlet of criticism of his adversaries for being the new political face of the establishment-a charge that he denies vehemently. The validity or otherwise of this allegation aside, the same charge is being levelled by those who themselves owe their rise to power and glory in the past to the backing and blessings of the establishment. If selling one’s soul to the power behind the throne in Pakistan’s political system is a sin, easily the majority of notable politicians, including some of the celebrated icons of democracy, are sinners. The PTI leader is also under fire for welcoming turncoats from other political parties to his fold. But, again, change of loyalties has been a common practice in Pakistani politics and parties not only keep their doors open to defectors but also encourage defections. Most of the men and women who have thrived on the political scene, past and present, were turncoats. Several persons who grace the present federal cabinet were important members of the Musharraf government. And, but for the turncoats, the PML-N government in Punjab would have fallen apart. That said, one may point out some contradictions in Imran Khan’s avowed programme. To start with, he talks about bringing about a revolution in Pakistan. Nice. But revolution is not mere regime change. It’s complete overthrow of the existing social and political order. Electoral politics has seldom, if ever, ushered in a revolution. Elections, at best, are a means of reforming the socio-political order; they are not meant to replace it. Worse, Imran Khan has joined hands with those who have the highest stakes in the preservation of the status quo. These people are opposed even to political reforms, to say nothing of revolution. The skipper’s claims of effecting a revolution with the help of such people is as ridiculous as MQM leader Altaf Hussain’s call on the generals sometime back to lead a revolution. Imran Khan wants to make Pakistan an Islamic welfare state. Again, a nice promise to make. But the devil lies in the details. The welfare state is essentially a Western concept born after the Second World War in response to the challenge posed by the growing threat of communism then. Assuming that the notion of an Islamic welfare state, like that of Islamic socialism, is not self-contradictory, some questions need to be answered. What type of Islamic state does the PTI leader want to construct? Would he follow in the footsteps of Gen Ziaul Haq and inject another heavy dose of religion into politics? In a multiethnic society like ours, religionisation of politics is a dangerous game to play, in that it enthrones one creed over the rest, which leads to the latter’s alienation. In case of Pakistan, which is already facing the menace of religious militancy on a horrendous scale, marriage of religion and politics will spell only disaster. As for the welfare state, it is on the eclipse, if it has not already passed away. The fundamental problem in creating and sustaining a welfare state is how to finance its expenses growing out of its multifarious role. At a time when governments across the globe are struggling to contain the burgeoning budget deficits, a promise of establishing a welfare state seems to be a very bold one-to say the least-even bolder in case of Pakistan with a persistently narrow fiscal space. Thus, though a welfare state is a goal worth pursuing, its creation will require both a quantum leap in public revenue and a drastic cut in non-productive public expenditure. If it comes into power, would the PTI be able to achieve that? Would the party, for example, cut back significantly on defence spending or introduce agriculture income tax, given that many of its frontline leaders come from the feudal class? Come on, skipper, you need to be more honest with the people. Imran Khan is a staunch critic of drone strikes, because they are a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and kill innocent people. Hardly anyone will question this. But what about the activities of foreign militants in Pakistan? Don’t their clandestine activities violate our sovereignty? By the same reasoning, what about the death of soldiers and civilians at the hands of the militants? Don’t these deserve to be condemned with as much force as the predatory raids? But the PTI leader seldom, if ever, speaks against the activities of alien militants and suicide attacks. All he does is to attribute these to Islamabad’s alliance with Washington. Bewailing at drone strikes and winking at suicide terrorism is at best speaking only half the truth.

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