IT was an odd question, enough to startle even Lady Margaret Thatcher. Visiting Pakistan in March 1996, she addressed a select audience of Pakistan’s elite in Lahore. The mood she created descended suddenly into bathos.
During the Q&A, someone reminded her of the days of the British Empire, when peace reigned across the subcontinent, trains ran on time, and corruption was not a qualification for public office. He then begged her: would the British consider returning to rule us again? His wish has been granted — 164 years after the East India Company relinquished control, and 75 years after our nominal independence. We are once again being governed from London. Leadenhall Street has given way to Stanhope Place.
Nothing could be more disheartening for Pakistanis than to see their latest prime minister and key members of his cabinet decamp to London to consult their party supremo for guidance. To watch the younger Sharif stoop to receive the benediction of his elder brother said it all. The visit exposed the bankruptcy of policy within the ruling coalition. Too many critical decisions which should be taken in Islamabad are oscillating between London, PM’s House in Islamabad, and Bilawal House. The country has too many captains attempting to steer our ship of state clear of the hazards ahead. Some fear that our Titanic stands an even poorer chance of survival.
Dangerously, London Sharif and Islamabad Sharif seem to have conflicting views on how to handle the economic meltdown, when to call for general elections, and how far to go in exposing Imran Khan. Regarding the economy, experience has shown that IMF and World Bank secondees tasked to improve our economy were not economic wizards. They peddled snake oil when they should have been administering curative medicine — however bitter its taste. Some never stayed long enough to; others outstayed their welcome.
In India, P. Chidambaram (finance minister on four occasions between 1996 and 2014), when asked once how he would put the economy right, replied: “By doing it.” Too many Pakistanis long for such simplicity of approach, for deeds not words, policies not promises.
The disintegration of nearby Sri Lanka is a warning. Internal ethnic divisions, sustained economic mismanagement, and a horrendously uneconomic port (part of China’s ‘string of pearls’ strategy) — each has a parallel in Pakistan.
Regarding general elections, opinions are divided on whether the present government should call for premature polls. Elections are costly, distracting and risky. The PML-N and its allies feel that it may be too early to reap an unsown harvest. The PTI is keen to convert its noisy jalsas into votes. The establishment, meanwhile, is positioning itself on the precarious perch of neutrality. Having disassociated itself from Imran Khan’s failures, it has no wish to be held responsible for the present government’s dyslexia.
Rational Pakistanis feel disconcerted by two recent public statements.
In one, Imran Khan, speaking at Sialkot on May 14, revealed that there had been a plot to kill him. As an insurance, he said he has recorded a video and stored it in a “safe place” in which he has mentioned each and every character that was behind the “conspiracy” to oust his government.
Those old enough will recall Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s testament If I Am Assassinated. Bhutto scribbled it in “a stinking death cell” using paper resting on his knee. It was smuggled to India and published there in 1979, the year of Bhutto’s hanging.
Imran Khan should read it. He will find spent cartridges in the same smoking gun.
Bhutto asserts how he had “stridently denounced colonialism from every platform with tireless vitality, passion and conviction”. He mentions that “plotting had started before the elections in March  and the coup matured slowly as the result of a deal between the army and PNA, and between both of them and a ‘foreign power’ (or powers)”.
Bhutto accuses his opponents of “revealing bank statements of PPP’s accounts, of defamation and innuendo”. Bhutto defends his reliance on funding: “Elections do require funds. Money is to an election what gasoline is to an automobile.”
The second public statement to rattle the public’s attention was made by the DG ISPR on May 8, in which he defended against civilian attacks the Pakistan Army, its chief, its Peshawar corps commander, and its neutralist stance. It was an unprecedented ultimatum by the Pakistan Army to civilian Pakistanis. Does this signal a tactical retreat to cantonments?
Mr Bhutto, in his final testament, warned of the dangers of coup-gemony — whether of military coups or civilian ones. He repeated his warnings in political speeches and in courts of law. “I cannot fight the battles of Pakistan from a death cell.” No more than Imran Khan labouring under death threats.
F.S. Aijazuddin is author at Dawn. Views are personal.
The article first appeared in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper.