The performance of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government has so far only invited ridicule.
Barely a fortnight into the tenure of the new Imran Khan-led government in Pakistan, none can figure out the direction it will take on any front, be it economy, foreign affairs, security, welfare or human rights.
Far from inspiring confidence, the performance of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, so far, has been theatrical and successful only in rousing ridicule or fear for the future in the public. One controversy breaks on the heels of the previous, and the honeymoon of the new government looks all but over.
Social media is abuzz with biscuit jokes because of silly, optical austerity measures that the PTI has adopted. There are also the helicopter jokes because of Khan’s daily dashes to his private estate on a helicopter that his government first denied, then defended it as a weekend activity, and finally justified with a Rs 55 per kilometre bill. Meanwhile, real issues remain out of focus.
One of the foremost concerns for the government should be the fact that the country is already on the G7 countries’ Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list for money laundering and terror financing, and can be black-listed soon if measures to combat terror financing are not taken up, increasing Pakistan’s isolation and economic difficulties. There has been no word on the government’s policy in this regard. Instead, foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi angrily rejected the US State Department’s version of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s first phone call to Khan as being ‘contrary to the facts’. The State Department had said, “Secretary Pompeo raised the importance of Pakistan taking decisive action against all terrorists operating in Pakistan and its vital role in promoting the Afghan peace process.”
The US first reiterated that it stands by its read out, and then sent the transcript to Pakistan to ‘satisfy’ Islamabad that the State Department’s release was not ‘incorrect’, deeply embarrassing Pakistan domestically and internationally. Pakistan has now announced that it will ‘bury’ this issue in a U-turn on the chest thumping ahead of Pompeo’s visit early next month.
It would be pertinent to remember that in January this year, the US suspended security support to Pakistan in its war on terror to be resumed only upon ‘decisive action’ against the Haqqani Network and Afghan Taliban operating out of Pakistan. The obstinate attitude of the new government towards combating terror and unnecessary lies have left the public bemused and concerned.
In an earlier blunder, Qureshi had invented talks offer from PM Modi saying, “Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has written a letter to PM Imran Khan in which he indicated the beginning of talks between the two countries.” The foreign ministry had to eat a humble pie after the Indian media refuted this claim. It is worrisome that instead of framing policies to resolve serious issues facing the country, the new government is relying on easily discoverable fibs.
On the $2.2 billion monthly current account deficit that Pakistan faces, Khan repeatedly talks of his plan to “bring back looted money” and appeals for charity to overseas Pakistanis, both seriously puerile plans that make for good rhetoric but not effective policy. Pakistan has lost more money over the years than the looted wealth that might actually exist, with the National Accountability Bureau’s and the Supreme Court’s populist wild goose chases abroad.
One of the most serious apprehensions about this government’s future course arose just a couple of days ago when the federal minister for human rights Shireen Mazari wrote a stinging rebuke to Brad Adams, Asia director, Human Rights Watch, in response to his letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan. The Human Rights Watch had written to Imran drawing his attention to several serious human rights concerns including enforced disappearances, curbs on freedom of expression, censorship, religious persecution, death penalty, and military courts, etc. The scale and severity of human rights violations in Pakistan make it an existential issue of democracy for the country.
Instead of a dignified response and a vow to take a corrective path to uphold Pakistan’s commitment to human rights, which would have greatly reassured Pakistan’s own citizens, Mazari wrote a hostile letter back. As anchorperson Ajmal Jami correctly stated, “It is a routine exercise that international monitoring organisations write letters to the heads of state of signatory countries after they resume office and air their concerns as did International Human Rights Watch.” But Mazari’s knee-jerk partisan response, as if to a political opponent, appeared entirely undignified and inappropriate. More importantly, the whataboutery and somewhat unlearned nature of her response was alarming for the non-hypernationalist, humanist Pakistani citizens.
“I may have missed your monitoring reports on these so would appreciate if you could refresh my memory,” wrote Mazari in reference to Indian atrocities in Kashmir, and Israel’s in Palestine. Needless to say, the HRW has done stellar monitoring work in over 90 countries including the two referred to. She also drew Adams’s attention to restrictions on Muslims’ religious freedoms in Europe. Clearly, these are valid human rights violations, but not ones the Pakistan government is answerable for.
Lawyer Reema Omer expressed her dismay on Twitter saying, “Unfortunate that Dr Mazari is unfamiliar with HRW’s global work that doesn’t just highlight rights issues in Kashmir, Palestine, Europe, but also countries that PK conveniently ignores like China, Russia, KSA. Disappointingly antagonist start to her tenure.”
Journalist Murtaza Solangi echoed my concern by saying, “She is the minister of Pakistan, not Israel or India so she would be judged on what happens in Pakistan, not what happens elsewhere.”
As a Pakistani citizen, I desperately hope that the PTI government will soon replace nationalistic rhetoric, optics and stunts with real work and get on with resolving genuine governance and policy issues. I hope I am not left holding my breath for the next five years.
The author is a columnist and human rights defender based in Lahore.