By Chris Cork
With 2017 fast fading and an election coming into ever-sharper focus there is a real sense of political drift. The effects of the Panama Papers affair are deep and visceral. Preoccupation with extended outcomes has meant that not only are balls being dropped they are not being picked up again, and there are nowadays some large balls rolling around. The ruling party may or may not be in the midst of a dynastic crisis, and the visit to Saudi Arabia by both the Sharif brothers may or may not have been part of a reconciliation process with the establishment. Or they may have just popped over to attend to their numerous business interests. Many speculate and nobody knows outside a very narrow circle.
This comes at a time when increasingly acid exchanges between Washington and Islamabad burn closer to the bone almost daily. The $255 million that the Trump administration has now blocked are in truth, peanuts. American aid to Pakistan has been dropping steadily in recent years and a $255 million is neither here nor there, symbolic but not a game changer. What is far more worrying is the possibility of Trump blowing the gaff — laying out in detail that which would normally be hidden, the secret intelligence that may be used to support American accusations in respect of Pakistani ‘lies’ and ‘deceits’ over many years — and many billions of greenbacks. Given the Trumpian predilection a possibility for the grand gesture is no longer beyond the pale.
Then there is the national debt, a burden that is unwittingly carried by every one of us. A recent float of government bonds failed to raise what was anticipated and we will be knocking on the door of the IMF before long. Although tax collection has increased in this fiscal year, the revision of tax legislation and the widening of the tax net to include the wealthiest have gone nowhere. Nor are they going anywhere in the weeks and months before the polling day. There are more watts in the wires than there were three years ago — but it is a cool season, consumption is low and the infrastructure under minimal pressure. Demand is going to peak in the summer and will coincide with the peak of electioneering, in the dark. Security is improved to be sure, but the National Action Plan is dead as a dodo and nothing has been done to address a growth of extremism as the country lurches to the right politically and culturally. The terrorists have gone back to their day jobs — for now.
Then there is the winnowing out of the minorities, the honour killings and the pitiless onslaught of rampant misogyny blighting the lives of women everywhere, and beyond a beleaguered corps of social activists nobody in the political world is doing anything at all. Complete radio silence. Let’s not kid ourselves that all these nonsensical dharnas and long marches are worth anything more than a new set of batteries for the megaphone — the only one that has really mattered was Faizabad, and we all know who won that round.
Pakistan needs to do more. More for itself and not the Americans. But there is a capacity problem, a skills deficit that hobbles us. At every level there is a shortage of competencies — politicians for the most part have nothing but a well-filled cushion holding their ears apart. Policymakers twiddle their thumbs and gaze skywards as they sit in their cobwebbed offices, men and women with little to do and nowhere to go. And if I see yet another upscale café opening with the same damn menu as every other damn upscale café that has opened in the last few years then I might just have a red mist moment of my very own. If anybody spots me going in the direction of a freshly-minted eatery carrying a large and poorly concealed axe — call the police.
So c’mon everybody, lets join Brad and Janet and do the Time-Warp again. Dance our way into 2018 and the parallel reality of Pakistan, a place where nothing ever happens. Oooh! Look at the time! Pass me my meds will you, there’s a sweetie. And turn the light off. Thanks.
(The writer is editorial consultant at The Express Tribune, news junkie, bibliophile, cat lover and occasional cyclist)