Midlife tantrums

The Pak Banker - - EDITORIAL - Asha'ar Rehman

COULD it be that mo­ment again? Half­way through his se­cond term in the of­fice of prime min­is­ter was when Mian Nawaz Sharif started to be­tray those wor­ry­ing signs. It ap­peared that if he had his way he would rather be amirul mom­i­neen rul­ing with the aid of a coun­cil that was ready to give a nod of ap­proval to his schemes. It is in­evitable that some of us are re­minded of that ten­dency to over­rule each time the cur­rent, third govern­ment of Mian Sahib uses force to re­solve an is­sue. Which is very of­ten.

Half­way through its term, the govern­ment could be egged on by an urge to speed up mat­ters. One con­se­quence of this pos­si­ble re­al­i­sa­tion is that ev­ery­one who is some­one in govern­ment is found scold- ing some­one else to con­vey the mes­sage.

Much has been writ­ten on the of­fi­cial stub­born­ness to see through the or­ange train in La­hore, ig­nor­ing the calls for nec­es­sary mod­i­fi­ca­tions. In re­cent times, the au­thor­i­ties in Pun­jab, par­tic­u­larly in La­hore, have not been too shy of brow­beat­ing the pri­vate schools into fol­low­ing the of­fi­cial dik­tats on se­cu­rity. This has been a long scary les­son in what lit­tle faith you can re­pose in those at the helm of the state un­der the cir­cum­stances. The im­age of a po­lice of­fi­cer au­thor­i­ta­tively lec­tur­ing the school man­age­ments on how they must ar­range for the se­cu­rity of the stu­dents re­flected a sad re­al­ity that could hardly be off­set by the vows by the prime min­is­ter etc about win­ning the war.

Var­i­ous rea­sons were cited for the schools' re­luc­tance to abide by the pro­posed rules which pre­scribed pun­ish­ments for those ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions demon­strat­ing any lapse in se­cu­rity. The truth was that the stern hand with which the po­lice of­fi­cers and the pro­vin­cial min­is­ter for education dealt with the sit­u­a­tion was not only vis­i­ble to the school own­ers but also to the stu­dents and their ex­tremely wor­ried par­ents.

This was a state which had no ap­par­ent qualms about pass­ing on its re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect its cit­i­zens to those who claimed to teach and im­bue in stu­dents the right, de­sir­able val­ues. On view were schools which re­fused to take on se­cu­rity re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, help­ing to cre­ate a chill where none ac­tu­ally was pro­vided by the nat­u­ral el­e­ments. The im­age of the vi­cious mas­ter wield­ing a stick re­fuses to go away as obe­di­ence is de­manded by oth­ers in re­spon­si­ble govern­ment po­si­tions. Not least of them is the prime min­is­ter who was re­cently heard re­peat­edly warn­ing the disobe­di­ent em­ploy­ees of PIA of se­ri­ous con­se­quences.

When a govern­ment wants to dis­play its de­ter­mi­na­tion to ex­e­cute a scheme, it might want to pre­tend that it was not lis­ten­ing to the voice of the dis­senters. Ours hap­pens to be on a dif­fer­ent wave­length al­to­gether. It chooses not to be in­dif­fer­ent. It is suf­fi­ciently ap­palled by the pro­test­ers to want to smother the noise then and there.

Only the naive would have ap­proved of the loud warn­ings the of­fi­cials threw in the di­rec­tion of the PIA strik­ers in an at­tempt to de­ter them from com­ing out strong on the streets. The fear on the con­trary was that th­ese 'threats' would lead to ten­sion to the ben­e­fit of the more ad­ven­tur­ous among the demon­stra­tors, pro­vid­ing some cred­i­bil­ity to what was deemed by many to be ini­tially an un­pop­u­lar cause.

The old say­ing about how gov­ern­ments tended to fa­cil­i­tate move­ments against them with their de­sire to fall back on the heavy ham­mer was proven true. Prob­a­bly the dilemma in the of­fi­cial eye was that any ad­just­ment to the dire tone with which the ag­i­ta­tors had so far been ad­dressed would be deemed a sign of weak­ened re­solve. If any­thing the voice that must com­mand obe­di­ence from the sub­jects needed to be raised a few notches.

The prime min­is­ter could well have avoided warn­ing the strik­ers of ar­rests and jail on the day when two pro­test­ers had fallen to bul­lets fired by the 'un­known'. Ac­cord­ing to one opin­ion, Mr Nawaz Sharif had so far been the lone man in his govern­ment who was mak­ing a con­scious ef­fort to not be overtly bossy in his ap­proach to gov­ern this coun­try. The harsh re­marks about the PIA strik­ers could well lead to an un­der­stand­ing of grow­ing des­per­a­tion in­side the govern­ment.

This needs to be tack­led. Usu­ally, when one plank of a party or a govern­ment ends up cre­at­ing too much heat, the sit­u­a­tion is sought to be brought un­der con­trol by ac­ti­vat­ing an­other sober and less ag­i­tated strain within. The min­is­ters who have been in the thick of it and are an­gry are asked to step aside and in their place an­other set is asked to take over the job of pub­lic en­gage­ment. Who forms that se­cond, dam­age-con­trol group in the PML-N, which could help the party avert that path of ar­ro­gance that has cost it dearly in the past?

The task of find­ing the in-house fire­fight­ers in this case is a tough one. The qui­eter ones, the less im­pa­tient, are hard to find in a party that has come to be as­so­ci­ated with loud­ness - man­i­fest in colours red and or­ange, in speech and ges­tures, most def­i­nitely in the out­right re­jec­tion of the other view. The qui­eter one, the dis­senter in the in­stance, could well turn out to be an­grier than the lot, de­ter­mined to live in a past ruled by ac­ri­mony. The last time Chaudhry Nisar Ali spoke he was still cross with the PPP, whereas the cur­rent party re­frain tar­gets the PTI.

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