October 30, 2023
ISLAMABAD – ONE is reminded of Friedrich Nietzsche’s words in the current environment of persecution in our country: “But thus do I counsel you, my friends: distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.” In this impulse to punish those who dare to defy state institutions, there appears to be a method to the madness. A journalist on the run was assassinated in Kenya; another was kidnapped from Sialkot and released after months of illegal detention as a physical and mental wreck. Political activists of a party which is being brutally dismantled go missing, only to re-emerge with the same script of loyalty to a state institution and condemnation of those ‘inciting’ violence against the sacred cows.
Two prominent politicians and erstwhile favourites of the establishment have been made examples for other ‘recalcitrant’ ones. The head of a political party was the latest “to be dragged in front of a camera” to put the blame of violence against the state on a leader in whose cabinet he was interior minister. Another prominent one out of favour was lately the chief minister of Punjab.
He is not allowed to come out of jail despite repeatedly being granted bail in cases registered against him by different state departments. Even women political activists and supporters are not being spared. They are being punished for protesting the illegal arrest of their leader. Who is to be blamed? Those carrying out illegal arrests, or those protesting illegality?
German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said: “The worst human trait is to enjoy the suffering of others.” We, too, seem to have become insensitive to the worst possible human rights violations blatantly prevalent these days. The anger of the victims may reach a boiling point and they will be constrained not to suffer in silence anymore. This state of persecution must come to an end.
Current politics is witnessing reverse engineering. Protective bail — in cases in which a political party leader had been declared an absconder — was granted even before he set foot in the country. The fugitive was officially seen off by our high commissioner in London; the VVIP lounge in Islamabad was opened, where the interior ministry provided biometrics facilities for filing appeals in the Islamabad High Court; and he was received on the Lahore airport tarmac by the commissioner and police chief of Lahore, who are supposed to represent a ‘neutral caretaker Punjab government’.
His speech later that night was like a victory speech before ‘coronation’. This paper’s report on the return of the native and the large public meeting he addressed pointed out that what Lahore missed was “PTI-like youthful gaiety”. A PML-N party leader ruefully conceded that their supremo was not as relevant to youngsters as he used to be. The comparison with the PTI’s Oct 30, 2011, rally was quite clear, when the city “witnessed massive day-long noisy and lively celebrations on the roads. All main arteries were taken over by motorcyclist youth, playing party songs, honking horns of vehicles and all kinds of buses, vans and coasters ferrying party men to different points and creating a psychological impact”. Nawaz Sharif made a “distasteful and unacceptable comparison between his women supporters, and those of the PTI” by declaring that the former are more ‘decent’ than the latter. This deep-rooted misogyny in our society finding expression in a key leader’s discourse reflects lack of inclusivity that may affect his female support base.
While his speech reflected his keenness to “sell populist pipe dreams”, his call for “harmony among all constitutional institutions and political players for the betterment of the country” conveniently ignored the major political adversary. This paper’s concern over Nawaz Sharif “being hand-delivered another stint in power” and hope for a fair contest is quite pertinent.
Two prominent political parties are openly critical of the lack of a level playing field during the current run-up to the national polls. “Elections delayed are elections denied,” said the chairman of a major party, who expressed concerns over the mounting influence of a “new form of dictatorship”, adding that “manipulated power transfer lies at the root of political instability”. The party’s spokesman stated: “If elections are to be held to bring a specific party to power, it would be more practical to simply hand them the throne and avoid wasting billions of rupees on a sham process.” A key leader of the ‘favourite’ party has admitted having “managed things”.
The present caretaker governments stand exposed in implementing pre-poll manoeuvres to facilitate the electoral success of the favourites. “When the Constitution has vested the responsibility of holding transparent elections with the Election Commission of Pakistan, what was the purpose of interim governments?” questioned CJP Qazi Faez Isa during a recent hearing. The caretakers’ concept was introduced by military dictator Zia in 1985, who did not implement it upon arbitrarily removing the government of PM Junejo. Our democratic neighbour to the east relies on an independent election commission to hold elections on a regular basis, and despite strong political parties, no one alleges partisanship or doubts the impartiality of the electoral watchdog.
The so-called puppet caretakers are a national embarrassment. These clueless status seekers selected by the deep state need to be consigned to the dust heap of the university where they were incubated and hoisted over our benighted people. I strongly recommend doing away with this mockery of an interim government set-up for holding ‘free and fair elections’ in our country. The experiment conceived by a dictator has failed. All efforts should be made to ensure institutional autonomy and the independence of the ECP.
It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong, said Voltaire. Therefore, can I impudently suggest to the string-pullers to spare this nation the farce of going through yet another politically engineered and rigged election.