Dawn Editorials 8th June 2023

Infinite jest

IF this government’s political record were to be described as dark comedy, its economic management would be a daytime soap opera centred on a bad romance with the IMF. Will they; won’t they? Nobody seems able to make up their minds. One wonders what Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif recently whispered in the IMF’s ears that he was able to so earnestly proclaim on Monday that Pakistan remains “very hopeful” of a deal before the month is out. Just days ago, the finance ministry and the lending agency had been bickering: the IMF had suggested it may not loosen its purse strings if political stability was not achieved “in line with the Constitution and the rule of law”, which prompted an angry pushback from Q-Block. To ramp up the tension, someone then ‘leaked’ to the press that the government had decided to forego the stalled programme after all, and may consider negotiating a new one once the fiscal year lapses. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar made a dramatic re-entry after his mystery hiatus to reassure observers that Pakistan was certainly not — never, ever — going to default, no matter what globally respected ratings agencies and economists say. The confidence left many marvelling at his boundless optimism: it was truly a wonder that Mr Dar could see a silver lining in the dumpster fire that is Pakistan’s economy these days.

The prime minister now wants everyone to believe that a deal is once again within reach. Perhaps it would have been easier to take him seriously had the matter not already become a running gag. Mr Sharif, as leader of the opposition, had once remarked that “beggars can’t be choosers”. Since then, his government has managed to force most of our industries to their knees simply because it has repeatedly failed to address fundamental issues and concerns raised by its most important creditor. How long must this dog and pony show go on?

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2023

Lawyer’s killing

THE shocking murder of Supreme Court lawyer Abdul Razzaq Shar on a Quetta thoroughfare on Tuesday raises a number of disturbing questions, especially with the accusations and counter-accusations that have emerged after the killing. The fact that the slain advocate had filed a petition in the Balochistan High Court calling for a treason case against PTI chief Imran Khan has also added to the mystery behind his murder. Razzaq Shar was headed to court when assailants sprayed his vehicle with bullets. Some members of the legal community believe the late lawyer was shot due to a family feud. However, PML-N leader and aide to the prime minister Attaullah Tarar was quick to level serious allegations against the PTI, holding the party chief responsible for the crime. The PTI shot down the allegations, and levelled charges of its own, blaming the prime minister and the interior minister for the lawyer’s murder. Meanwhile, it was reported on Wednesday that the advocate’s son had nominated the PTI chairman in the murder case.

The state should make it a priority to uncover the facts and bring the killers of Razzaq Shar to justice. Mr Tarar’s jumping the gun and blaming the PTI in great haste is not the way to go about; without a fair investigation, it will be taken as political point-scoring on his part. It is unfortunate that, despite a heavy security footprint in the province, violence is never far from the surface in Balochistan, including Quetta. This includes sectarian violence, as well as tribal and family feuds which are settled through the gun. Therefore, a thorough and credible probe is essential to unmask the killers and their motive. Moreover, both the state and PTI need to exercise caution in such a volatile and polarised political atmosphere. Lobbing accusations of murder against individuals — public figures no less — must not be done frivolously; if such allegations are made without concrete evidence, the atmosphere will be further vitiated. In order to scotch wild rumours, the law must be allowed to take its course. Razzaq Shar is the second high-profile lawyer to be gunned down this year; in January senior advocate Latif Afridi was murdered in the Peshawar High Court bar room. Only a prudent and transparent investigation can reveal the facts behind Razzaq Shar’s slaying and quell speculation.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2023

Qureshi returns

PTI VICE chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi has been granted his freedoms back. Given how brazenly the state has targeted the party’s leadership while denying them due rights and liberties, one wonders why.

On Tuesday, he simply walked out of Adiala Jail after a Lahore High Court bench set aside his detention order. There was no police escort waiting for him outside to whisk him away on an erstwhile unknown charge, as has been the norm for other PTI leaders.

Nor did he address a press conference to denounce Imran Khan, the PTI, or politics altogether — the usual price for liberty paid by those who have deserted.

Instead, Mr Qureshi used his brief appearance before the media to reiterate his commitment to stand by the PTI chief’s side and to assert that he still holds “the flag of justice” in his hands and wishes to see the party succeed.

Those speculating that Mr Qureshi had only been allowed to walk because he was needed to relay an important message to Mr Khan may be on to something.

Mr Qureshi had announced a planned meeting with the PTI chairman on Wednesday, in which, he said, he would be sharing his political analysis and seeking guidance from Mr Khan on the path forward.

There was speculation that the message he was actually taking to Mr Khan was simple: excuse yourself from politics, or continue to watch your party be decimated by the state.

If true, this would be a tricky dilemma for Mr Khan. Mr Qureshi was named heir by Mr Khan himself; choice number one would see him seize the prize of the campaigning and considerable effort put in by Mr Khan into reviving his party post the 2022 vote of no-confidence. Choice number two could leave Mr Khan isolated and perhaps years away from a comeback to mainstream politics.

Presenting a popular public leader with such choices is, of course, unfair; not to mention it is unlikely to dent his actual power. The ‘minus-ing’ of popular politicians has been tried many times before, with the usual result that it creates lasting problems and resentments instead of providing enduring solutions.

What our powerbrokers continue to not understand is that political legitimacy is not conferred by the state that it can be taken away by it too. It is drawn from public support and can only be contested through the democratic process.

Taking the PTI chief out of the elections process may satisfy a few egos, but doing so will also make those who are lawfully entitled to make the decision regarding his political future resentful of the state. Why would anyone risk alienating a very youthful population for very short-term goals? One hopes there are better options on the table instead.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2023

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