. . . . . .  

Our enemies must be chortling at the spectacle of us, a nuclear power, at war with itself.

Survey the battlefield. Our president - the human symbol of our nation - displays his partisanship, like his medical qualification, for all to see.  Less a president than a temperamental dentist, he chooses which patient to treat and which political cavity should decay. His erratic health determines the day he can attend surgery.

His constitutional representatives in the provinces imitate his bias. Instead of captaining the ship of state while it is battered by storms, they are determined to unsettle it further by refusing to perform their constitutional duties.

The Indians took insurance against such temptations when they provided that governors would be appointed from states other than the host state. The closest we have come to exercising neutrality has been when, during military regimes, governors were appointed from a pool of ‘apolitical’ corps commanders.
In Islamabad, we have a National Assembly running full-speed on a single track, using a system designed for two. 

In Punjab, we have a Provincial Assembly rendered dysfunctional because of a clerical error. The resignation of the outward bound chief minister was addressed to the prime minister instead of to the governor. Everyone knows Buzdar obligingly would sign anything put before him without proofreading it.

This technicality has allowed Governor Punjab Cheema to refuse to administer the CM’S oath to Humza Sharif, elected by a one-sided provincial assembly, even when his father Shehbaz Sharif obtained the prime ministership from a similarly halved National Assembly.

The new PML-N government has been quick to expose the suspected wrongdoings and negligence of the former PTI government. It follows a tradition in politics. Blame your predecessors until your own mistakes grow too large to bury.

Our new prime minister is hyperactive, not unlike Mrs. Indira Gandhi. She too was ‘a constant communicator, a constant traveller, disposed of government files at lightning speed in between rallies, lived on a frugal diet [,] and never ever missed a political moment.’

He criss-crosses the country with the unstoppable energy last seen when Dr. Henry Kissinger shuttled across continents, putting out bushfires his country had started.

Dr. Kissinger would never have used an Assistant Secretary of State to convey an incendiary message over lunch to an outgoing Pakistani ambassador. The National Security Committee reviewed the ambassador’s memo on 31 March 2022. The committee agreed the message constituted ‘blatant interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan’ and decided that a ‘strong démarche’ should be delivered to the U.S.

After the change in government, the same high-powered NSC on 22 April, (attended this time by Ambassador Asad M. Khan who sent the note), ‘after examining the contents of the communication, reaffirmed the decision of the last NSC meeting. The NSC was again informed by the premier security agencies that they have found no evidence of any conspiracy. Therefore, the NSC […] concludes that there has been no foreign conspiracy.’

After such decisions by the NSC, will the U.S. take our petulant démarche seriously? Should we take our own Janus NSC seriously? One is reminded of a Baluchi sardar who was asked whether elephants gave birth to live young or laid eggs. His sage reply was: ‘An elephant does both. Depends on its mood.  For who can dare question an elephant?’  

Yet, despite the NSC’s findings, former PM Imran Khan still repeats his mantra that an insidious ‘foreign conspiracy’ ousted him. He wants us to assert our sovereignty by ridding ourselves of meddlesome Uncle Sam.

That is easier said than done. The Government and in parallel the Establishment have been addicted to U.S. aid and Coalition Support Funds. Over 2002-18, Pakistan received $34.2 bn., of which economic aid amounted to $11.3 bn., another $8.2 bn. was security related, and CSF reimbursements to the Establishment came to $14.6 bn.

That bonanza is over. Currently, the Biden Administration has reduced aid proposals to $89 million, for development and pandemic-related projects.

If the reaction of countries to the change in government in Islamabad is any barometer, there is a trickle of goodwill flowing towards Pakistan - from China, Russia, Great Britain, even India. The IMF is opening its purse strings. The Chinese will revitalise the CPEC. The Russians offer aid which should not offend India. Britain will reinforce its relationship with the Government and the Establishment in development, social and defence sectors. And India may well jumpstart a dialogue.  

At this fragile time, can Pakistan risk another turbulent general election? Shehbaz Sharif’s government wants to complete the term Imran Khan was denied. Imran Khan wants a second innings so that he can annihilate the opposition, in an eleven-wicket haul.

Unfortunately for him, Uncle Sam does not play cricket.



[DAWN, 28 APRIL 2022]


28 April 2022
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