The Maulana‘s ultimatum

  • In the wake of Tezgam inferno

The Tezgam inferno near Liquatpur in southern Punjab on Thursday morning can be termed as one of the most horrendous tragedy in Pakistan Railways’ history. Most of the 73 people, belonging to the Tableeghi Jamaat, were roasted alive in the hellfire.

Within minutes of the tragedy, the railways minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed in his signature imperious style dismissed it as the fault of a passenger. According to him the passenger was using a gas stove within a compartment to cook breakfast.

How the worthy minister without visiting the site or waiting for even a preliminary inquiry report reach this rash conclusion is not known. The enigmatic Sheikh has been widely criticized for his insensitive remarks.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Azadi march has reached Islamabad, ostensibly its final destination, but in the process the cleric has touched quite a few raw nerves in the government as well as within the opposition

He has simply brushed aside calls for his resignation in a cursory manner. According to him he has been a federal minister eight times so he isn’t too keen on clinging to his job and will only resign when his conscience demands it.

The Sheikh quite brazenly claims that under his stewardship the railways have been run in the most efficient manner. The minister, like some of his colleagues, needs a reality check. On his watch there have been at least 100 major and minor train accidents in which scores of lives have been lost and millions of rupees worth of rolling stock has been damaged or destroyed.

But the hapless Sheikh refuses to budge even an inch. But why should he? He has the full support of his boss – the prime minister.

It is the favourite pass time of the electronic news media to try to hold Khan accountable by showing selective clips of him spewing fire and brimstone while in the opposition. For example on the day of the Tezgam tragedy there was hardly a news channel that did not show the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) chief on various news channels demanding the resignation of the railways minister following a train accident back in January 2017.

But this is the nub of the problem. Khan refuses to be judged by his past pronouncements audaciously claiming that taking U-turns is a sign of a good leader. Unfortunately this self-righteous mindset has permeated from the very top to the bottom.

Obviously this sanctimonious attitude has adversely impacted governance. Ineptitude and a pervasive tendency to work at cross-purposes has become the hallmark of this 15-month old PTI government. Significantly, one fourth of its 60 months tenure has already passed.

Unless there is a drastic reset, this unique style of running the state ship will remain the norm with all its appended consequences. The populace- suffering the major brunt of the government’s flawed policies- can no longer be mollycoddled by the oft-repeated mantra that it is all the fault of effete and corrupt past rulers.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Azadi march has reached Islamabad, ostensibly its final destination, but in the process the cleric has touched quite a few raw nerves in the government as well as within the opposition.

The government surely pressed the panic button when through Pemra (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) a ham handed attempt was made to gag media anchors. After a strong reaction from media organizations and even from senior members of Khan’s own team the draconian missive was withdrawn.

The special assistant on Information and Broadcasting Firdous Ashiq Awan was visibly upset that her cabinet colleagues openly castigated the uncalled for proposed restrictions on the media. The hapless in-charge of the government’s information monolith and its chief spokesperson however did not get much of a sympathetic ear from the prime minister.

Ms Awan dominates the airwaves 24/7, but rarely makes any sense. That is why she was forced to tender an unqualified apology when summoned by the Islamabad High Court for contempt of court.

She had cast uncalled aspirations on the honourable court for granting bail to the ailing PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif.

But the whole episode begs a larger question. If on one hand the government claims that it has left it to the courts to decide Nawaz Sharif‘s bail petition on health grounds, then why complain about the outcome? Swathes of pro-PTI social media trolls buttressed by the prime minister and his special assistant implicitly castigated the courts, wrongly accusing them of having double standards.

The main problem confronting Khan’s dream team is that it is yet to get it’s to get its act together; most ministers behave as if they are still in the opposition.

That is why a free for all political discourse dominates the political landscape. For example the Sheikh of Lal Haveli is a self-styled expert on every subject under the sun from foreign and security policy to civ-mil relations. Just like a bad comedy show host he excels in one-liners, rarely in good taste.

Though strictly not out of bounds, foreign minster Shah Mehmood Qureshi quite often pontificates on domestic political issues. He rarely visits foreign capitals even in this time of an existential foreign policy and security crisis engulfing the nation.

Similarly minister of science and technology Fawad Chaudhry has yet to reconcile that he is no longer spokesperson of the government. He loves to give his unsolicited opinion on matters that do not concern him anymore.

Unfortunately the prime minister himself has made no attempt to curb the juvenile attitude of his cabinet colleagues. He seems to be quite oblivious or simply unwilling to follow parliamentary norms and traditions.

Khan’s message obstinately remains: “I will not give any NRO nor will I spare the corrupt. They will all be in jail and Riasat e Medina banaoon ga (will make Pakistan like Medina).”

In the meanwhile the government is being run by ordinances rather than proper legislation. The parliament has been rendered meaningless as the ruling party refuses to interact with the opposition members and vice versa.

The Maulana‘s Azadi March has also exposed the chinks in the opposition’s armour. Shahbaz Sharif, the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, quite unnecessarily threw a spanner in the works by unilaterally making himself absent at the culmination of the Azadi march on Thursday evening.

His lame excuse for the no show was to mourn these who died in the train inferno the same morning. But neither the PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) nor the ANP (Awami National Party) bought it.

The Maulana addressing the mammoth rally on Friday did not spare the military establishment either, giving a two days ultimatum to the prime minister to resign. Implicitly threatening he said, “If we feel that the institutions are protecting these illegitimate rulers, then after a time limit of two days we should not be stopped from forming an opinion regarding the institutions.”

The military‘s spokesman while responding to the JUI-F chief, cryptically stated that the opposition should understand that the Army is supporting a democratically elected government not any one party.

Maulana, in response, has pointed out that the army being the only institution to have responded to his previous statement exposes them and that they should stay out of politics.

Unfortunately in this case the perception has become a reality that the Army is not only supporting a legitimate government it is actually mentoring it. The PTI, it is perceived, has been consistently propped up even before the 2018 general elections were announced.

Nonetheless, it is difficult to support Maulana’s putsch to oust the government through street power. Both the PPP and the PML-N have thankfully announced that they will not be part of JUI-F‘s sit in.