PAKISTAN’S political discourse is suffering from a crisis of civility — one which does little to bring relief to citizens who face numerous challenges. Day after day, politicians and leaders use language for each other that is excessively strident and overly personal.
While politics and politicking are intrinsic to a democracy, the present trend of hounding, name-calling and labelling of opponents as traitors are a far cry from the issue-based debates which are essential to a parliamentary system. For instance, in recent days several government spokespersons have generously used the word ‘traitor’ to describe Nawaz Sharif and other members of the PML-N after he and the party launched a verbal onslaught against the government and military establishment.
Similarly, Mr Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz too have hit below the belt and referred to the prime minister in unsavoury terms. None of this is helpful. In the cacophony of deafening attacks, politicians from both the ruling party and opposition have lost sight of the bigger picture.
When there is nothing but an open-ended blame game, many issues of immediate and long-term importance are sidelined and politics serves not the people but self-interest. Such inflammatory rhetoric gives rise to dangerous polarisation, which weakens the foundations of democracy. It also makes conversations among members of the public tense and further deepens divides.
Both the government and opposition must remind themselves that they are here to serve the people and protect their interests. The entire aim of public debates between members of the government and opposition is to find solutions to our most pressing challenges. Therefore, the mutual civility which is so obviously lacking in our national conversation is critical for productive national dialogue and constructive solutions. At present, our country’s challenges are exacerbated by the inability of our politicians to engage in civil discourse as they are too busy firing salvos at each other to score political points.
This cycle of attacks and counter attacks must wind down for the greater good of the public. Political parties must reflect on how they can play a role in constructive engagement, as this noise and viciousness hurts the political process and strengthens undemocratic forces. No doubt, each party has its own set of rabble-rousers but they also have saner voices. Perhaps it is time for these voices to prevail upon others within their own ranks.
The ruling party has a responsibility to take the lead and is very much a part of the problem. The opposition, too, can tone down its rhetoric so a halfway meeting point can mark a new beginning. Indeed, its main role is to question the government of the day and hold them accountable, but it should be able to do that in a more meaningful manner. Both owe it to their electorate to restore civility and engage better, as dysfunctional politics will hardly solve the myriad problems faced by the public.
CONSIDERING that the second wave of Covid-19 has already started confronting shaken health systems across the world, Pakistan must remain on guard. While this country has mercifully dodged the devastation some of the world’s Covid hotspots have endured, there is no reason to be complacent. This was the thrust of the prime minister’s tweet on Sunday, in which Imran Khan urged people to wear masks in order to “avoid a spike”. Indeed, winter is approaching and viruses find a more favourable atmosphere to spread during colder weather. According to figures released by the National Command and Operation Centre, the number of active Covid-19 cases is nearing 9,500, whereas there were just over 6,000 cases last month. The Pakistan Medical Association has also sounded the alarm, saying that people’s relaxed attitudes may cause an increase in infections.
Soon after the threat Covid-19 posed to the national health system became clear earlier this year, different pillars of the state responded in different fashion. For example, the federal government was seen to be reacting slowly, whereas the Sindh administration was quick to announce lockdown measures. Though these measures severely affected daily life — with economic and educational routines paralysed — the pain was necessary and manageable, compared to what the situation may have looked like had Covid-19 spread rapidly in the country. With the right preventive measures and perhaps some luck, Pakistan escaped a catastrophic situation that many in our region — such as India and Iran — as well as those farther afield — the US and European states — had to face. However, the challenge the coronavirus poses has not gone. Wearing masks and following other SOPs, such as regular handwashing and social distancing, are indeed simple steps that can go a long way in keeping a second wave at bay. Moreover, with much of the public abandoning SOPs, there is a need to step up awareness campaigns and prevent crowding at workplaces, markets and educational institutions. And while larger lockdowns may be an option considering the severity of the situation, perhaps mini lockdowns can quickly be put in place in areas where a high number of infections are being reported. As the PMA has said, the fight against Covid-19 can only be won if people act responsibly and follow SOPs, and the state implements rules strictly. Pakistan must be ready to face the second wave and defeat it through preventive steps.
Funding for tribal districts
THAT the much-touted 10-year development plan for the seven merged districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has failed to take off in its very first year doesn’t show the PTI government in a good light. A report in this newspaper says the federal government had released only Rs37bn in the last fiscal out of the Rs72bn it had pledged under the Tribal Decade Strategy 2030 to fast-track development in the underdeveloped areas. The performance of the provincial government is even worse as it released just Rs1bn out of the Rs11bn it had promised for the uplift of the ex-Fata districts. The actual utilisation of the funds on the ground is believed to be very little compared to the amount released to the departments. Other factors may also have contributed to the extremely slow start of the 10-year development strategy, but non-availability of funds is the major reason for the project’s failure to take off.
In the last two decades or more, the economy of the former Fata districts has taken a serious hit because of the long years of the war against militancy in the region. Vast numbers of residents were left without home and livelihood. The slow start of uplift schemes in these districts means that the people of one of the country’s poorest regions will not have access to schools, hospitals, roads, clean drinking water, and other public services for a longer period than they may have anticipated. More important, many may lose confidence in the government for failing to make good on its commitments. Indeed, Prime Minister Imran Khan is deeply interested in implementing development works in the merged tribal areas. It is, therefore, quite surprising to see the bureaucracy creating hurdles in his plans. The merger of the tribal districts with the settled areas of the province had brought a ray of hope for the people. It is the responsibility of the government to keep their hopes alive by according top priority to the development of this region by removing financial and administrative snags in the way.