The Day After

  • Time to face stark realities


Prime minister Imran Khan after a warm and effusive summitry with the US president Donald Trump was given a hero’s welcome when he landed in Islamabad early Thursday morning. Perhaps a little overwhelmed the prime minister remarked that he felt like returning after winning the cricket World Cup.

Notwithstanding the euphoria created in the ruling party circles as a result of the visit, hopefully the stark reality that Pakistan is still a hard country to govern will not elude them. For the time being a newly created culture of ‘mubarak salamat’, amid a pervasive ethos of self-righteousness is the evolving official mantra.

Unlike the World Cup that our cricketing hero won in 1992, this time there was no trophy to bring home. Undoubtedly after a long time a warm rapport has been established between the leaderships of both the countries.

Washington’s wish list includes talks between the Taliban and the regime in Kabul and ultimate withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan. This is the minimum that is expected from Islamabad to deliver.

The Taliban have expressed their willingness to visit Islamabad for talks with Prime Minister Khan. This is a big breakthrough. Now Pakistan has to do the convincing to persuade the Taliban to talk to the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani.

Easier said than done, this is a daunting task as the Taliban have always considered the Kabul regime as a quisling of the Americans. Nevertheless, if Islamabad’s efforts to persuade the Taliban to broker a ceasefire with Kabul succeed, it could pave the way for a broad-based regime in Afghanistan.

‘New Pakistan’ seems not very different form the old. Perhaps the crowning glory was Khans US visit

President Trump is however keen to clinch a deal with Kabul before his re-election bid next year. In an election year, this will be a big feather in his cap.

Pakistan is the pivot in this equation. Thankfully, unlike in the past, the civilian and the military leadership are working in unison to enable a political solution of the Afghan imbroglio.

The army and the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) chiefs accompanying the prime minister to the US capital was a good move. This was an implicit recognition of the deep-rooted security ties between Washington and Islamabad as well as the military’s pronounced footprint in the present Pakistani system of governance.

The US president made a surprising disclosure in a presser at the White House in the presence of the Pakistani premier. According to him Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi implored him to play a mediatory role on Kashmir. This has created quite a furore in New Delhi.

The Indian ministry of External Affairs predictably denied any such request being made by Modi when he met Trump on the sidelines of the Osaka G20 summit a few weeks back. Admittedly the request goes against the very grain of India’s ad nauseam position that the Shimla accord in 1972 precludes international mediation on the issue.

However, as the US president’s economic advisor Larry Kudlow said last Wednesday that the US president does not lie. The mystery deepens as the Indian prime minister has avoided speaking on the subject.

The proof in the pudding is in eating it. If the US were able to bring New Delhi to resume long stalled bilateral talks with Islamabad, it would mean that Trump’s behind the scenes diplomacy with New Delhi has succeeded.

But it seems highly unlikely that after the recent hiatus over president Trump’s disclosure, New Delhi would be willing to resume talks soon. In any case the Indian polity as well as the media are behaving like a jilted lover after- in their perception- being used as a bulwark to China and then later discarded.

On the other hand, it will be naive on part of Islamabad to assume that Washington will abandon its strategic partner for the sake of ties with Pakistan. Well-grounded US-India’s defence, economic and trade ties can’t simply be disrupted by a transactional overture towards Pakistan.

Khan at the outset of his Washington visit while addressing a big gathering of US based Pakistanis had vowed that he will not spare money launderers and thieves no matter how high and mighty. He threatened to withdraw air conditioning and television facilities from the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif incarcerated at the Kot Lakhpat Jail Lahore.

It will be indeed sad that if post US visit, repression of political opponents and gagging of the media increases manifold. Special assistant to the prime minister on information Firdous Ashiq Awan on the eve of Khan’s arrival in Islamabad dropped a bombshell by announcing the government’s intentions to set up special media courts.

Awan was perhaps echoing her boss’s intention expressed in Washington to enact a regulatory mechanism for the media. This is a cynical move to control the media by setting up special courts ostensibly for the benefit of media workers.

Thankfully media bodies including the PFUJ (Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists) have categorically rejected Awan’s proposal. The question however that begs an answer is why is the government so overly keen to browbeat the media?

As it is, interviews of prominent opposition politicians are being prevented from being aired, news channels have been handed out notices for political coverage and some of them put off air or their positions on the cable changed without assigning reason.

The other day press a conference of PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz was banned on all news channels. The usually pliant media owners promptly complied. Suddenly it transpired from trolls on the social media that certain news channels and anchors have become a security risk.

Ironically all this is happening on the watch of a person who has been a major beneficiary of a free media. It was the hapless media that re-launched the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) in 2011. I interviewed him for SAMAA TV on October 30 on the eve of his mammoth public meeting in Lahore.

In 2014 the media gave saturated live coverage of his months-long dharna. Neither the PML-N government nor its predecessor the PPP government tried to suppress Khan’s rather excessive coverage by the media. But now ironically the shoe on the other foot is hurting.

Khan’s arrival from Washington coincided with the completion of one year since his victory at the hustings. While the government celebrated it as day of thanksgiving the opposition observed it as a ‘Black Day’ holding countrywide rallies.

Under the given circumstances, the APC (All parties Conference) put up an impressive show in different parts of the country. Surprisingly quite a few TV news outlets instead of entirely blacking them out, mustered up enough courage to give adequate coverage to these rallies.

Sadly, the ruling party on its first anniversary being in power has nothing much to show far. ‘New Pakistan’ seems not very different form the old. Perhaps the crowning glory was Khans US visit.

Blaming the former PPP and PML-N government for the country’s current travails has almost become a broken record. Rising indebtness, inflation, unemployment and engine of growth at a standstill are some of the stark realities of the past year.

Silencing the media or repression is not the substitute to good performance. Khan along with his core advisors (sans the quintessential sycophants) should have a brain storming session to change course. Perhaps the cool heights of Nathia Gali that he loves so much are a good place to ponder.