The nation should rise to face the catastrophe – 14 Sep 2022

Imran Khan’s constant use of addressing the military leadership by the synonym ‘neutrals’ is not appropriate

When one-third of the country has been submerged by floods and millions of people overnight deprived of basic necessities and forced to take refuge in open skies or at best makeshift tents the response of leadership in alleviating their sufferings becomes crucial. It also provides a rare opportunity for the masses to assess its leadership and their order of priorities. The world too and especially the major powers, financial institutions, human rights organisations, UN affiliated and other global relief and donor agencies are closely watching how the country’s leadership is responding to the crisis.

It is surprising that Imran Khan, who justifiably can take pride in having a huge following and invaluable experience in social work has prioritised holding massive public rallies and conducting politics as usual. Khan’s insistence that national elections be held soonest possible, failing which he plans to launch protest rallies is incomprehensible. True, postponement of elections would probably give some time to the PML-N and PPP leadership to improve their prospects in the coming elections provided they are able to show genuine improvement in the economy and governance. But the prospects of that are remote considering the limitations that they are working under — a broad coalition with differing priorities, a rebellious opposition unwilling to relent and the mega challenge of floods. The most significant factor being the floods, as one-third of the country submerged and people living in camps and in the open, desperately looking for assistance. Any negligence or diversion of government and other agencies will be at the cost of the lives of our people. This aspect cannot be overlooked by the opposition either. Moreover, it is not feasible for millions of displaced persons to exercise their vote. The election commission too has stated they need more time to complete electoral rolls especially of remote areas and include new eligible voters. To blame the ruling party merely because it does not conform to PTI’s present priority of holding elections soon would not be fair. Undermining election commission’s credibility without any evidence and sound basis has serious consequences for the future of democracy and the stability of the country.

Imran Khan’s constant use of addressing the military leadership by the synonym ‘neutrals’ is not appropriate. It could be construed as demeaning and is certainly demoralising both for serving and retired personnel. For BJP and other Pakistani ill-wishers, it must be a treat the manner in which military is being characterised by the leader of a major political party. It has serious consequences otherwise too. Whilst our brave officers and jawans are engaged in defending the borders and in skirmishes with militants and hostile forces laying down their lives, such sarcasm is misplaced and demoralising. Ridiculing and rubbishing political opponents with highly aggressive and demeaning way is also not in the interest of the country. Apart from lowering the prestige and dignity of the political class among the masses, it undermines our fragile democracy, lowers the country’s image in the eyes of the world, compromises its stature, inhibits investment and much more. The fear is that it could set a trend of defiance and disrespect for institutions. Until recently the judiciary has been praised or criticised by Imran Khan in public on the basis of whether the verdict was in their personal or party’s favour or against it. Whereas, it is expected that the leader’s priority should be to strengthen institutions, ensure that rule of law prevails and compete with political opponents within the ambit of law and the constitution. All the major political parties, PTI, PML-N, and PPP, have transgressed from expected norms when the verdicts have not been in their favour.

Another area of concern is the deliberate neglect of the parliament and other democratic institutions. With politics being conducted on streets and a major opposition party on a war path we are heading for more trouble. In this scenario, the role of the army leadership gets more demanding and we are back again wherein political parties are seeking its support to leverage their side. The bureaucracy’s functioning also suffers as the officers are looked upon as being close to one party or the other. Whereas, bureaucrats are supposed to be apolitical and should serve the state irrespective of who is in power. Over the years there has been politicisation of bureaucracy and it would take deliberate effort to make the institution apolitical. Their role during the flood emergency is critical and should be given full support.

The economy is going through a difficult phase and conforming to IMF requirements would require modicum of political stability and understanding by major parties and institutions. With these political conditions and serious economic crunch, aggravated by floods, we would be living in an illusion if we think that our democracy is prevailing and we are on the right track. The army leadership should also revisit its policy and stay away from politics. Besides, being in compliance with its constitutional obligation, it will allow it to remain above board and free from criticism.

One wonders if our leaders of all hues realise that their policies and practices fall far short of the expectations of its people and our ideals.

Floods have given rise to several issues and are likely to have an impact on foreign policy as well. It will be influenced by the issue of increasing poverty, pollution, climate change and the migration of people in large numbers. The country will need foreign assistance and the Prime Minister has given a call to the international community for help. Cargo planes from Turkey and United Arab Emirates were among the first to assist. A few countries, US, China, Britain, EU and multilateral organisations have responded positively and more aid is likely to follow. But the foremost responsibility of rising to the task of supporting the flood victims financially and in every possible way rest on those Pakistanis who can afford to contribute financially and by assisting in relief and rehabilitation efforts.

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