A mess made by ar­ro­gance

The Pak Banker - - EDITORIAL - Ayaz Amir

NO one should be sur­prised. Mian Nawaz Sharif has a well-honed tal­ent for shoot­ing him­self in the foot. With the PIA pri­vati­sa­tion fi­asco he and his clos­est ad­vis­ers have done it again, turn­ing a man­age­able af­fair into a full-blown cri­sis. True, PIA, once a sym­bol of pride, had be­come one of the na­tion's big­gest white ele­phants. There was not much pub­lic sym­pa­thy for it - for its de­clin­ing stan­dards and for be­ing a bur­den on the pub­lic purse. But hand it to this govern­ment and its man­age­ment skills that in the space of a morn­ing it swung pub­lic sym­pa­thy in favour of the work­ers. Its hamhanded tac­tics have also en­sured the suc­cess of the PIA strike. To be­gin with there was un­rest only in Karachi with pi­lots still fly­ing and sta­tions like La­hore and Is­lam­abad un­af­fected. But when shots were fired and two strik­ing work­ers lay dead on the pave­ment, with sev­eral more in­jured, ev­ery­thing changed. The strike spread and flights were grounded as pi­lots joined the strik­ers.

There are prizes for id­iocy here and they go to two knights: 1) the in­for­ma­tion min­is­ter, Per­vaiz Rashid, who with his usual gift for say­ing the wrong thing at the wrong time de­clared a day be­fore the strike that those tak­ing part in it would have their wings cut and face the treat­ment re­served for thieves when they break into a house; and 2) the Rangers pushed by God knows who to take up polic­ing du­ties out­side Karachi air­port. As Ranger jawans were seen on TV screens swing­ing their sticks over the heads of pro­test­ers, much of the grat­i­tude and good­will earned by the force for restor­ing peace in Karachi seemed to be go­ing down the drain. The Rangers are now protest­ing fu­ri­ously that they were not the ones to fire at the pro­test­ers. But the ques­tion to ask the DG Rangers, Maj Gen Bi­lal Ak­bar, now quite a pub­lic fig­ure in Karachi be­cause of his fre­quent me­dia ap­pear­ances: what pushed him into this mess? And if he had to go in why couldn't his jawans have con­ducted them­selves with greater poise in­stead of be­hav­ing in a man­ner more suited to the Pun­jab Po­lice when it is in one of its crazed moods, usu­ally against the weak and de­fence­less?

What­ever the Maj Gen now says they must be wring­ing their hands at Ranger HQs. Let no one be sur­prised if el­e­ments at the re­ceiv­ing end of the Karachi op­er­a­tion re­joice at this out­come. The Sindh govern­ment has given a fur­ther 90-day ex­ten­sion to the Rangers in Karachi. This no longer mat­ters as much as it would have in other cir­cum­stances. The Rangers have their pow­ers on pa­per. But their abil­ity to con­duct fu­ture op­er­a­tions in Karachi has been se­ri­ously un­der­mined by th­ese events. Does the PML-N re­alise the soup it has got it­self into? Be­fore this af­fair it stood on top of the political sit­u­a­tion with noth­ing to op­pose it. There were those who were al­ready say­ing that it was on course to win the next elec­tions - in 2018 - and rule Pak­istan for an­other seven years. Some­times even a day is a long time in pol­i­tics. On the evening be­fore the strike there was not a cloud on the PML-N's hori­zon. By next morn­ing when two peo­ple lay dead in Karachi it was a dif­fer­ent hori­zon. The govern­ment is here and it is stay­ing and not about to go. But its im­age has been bat­tered and its com­pe­tence, never a strong suit, called into ques­tion once more.

Op­po­si­tion par­ties which had noth­ing to hold on to are sens­ing their op­por­tu­nity and seiz­ing upon the PIA strike as some­thing with which to hit the govern­ment. And the govern­ment far from be­ing alive to the dan­ger has been slow to re­act. It seems to be sulk­ing, as if to say…how dare they do this? If Per­vaiz Rashid was do­ing what comes best to him, the gusto for the mis­judged state­ment, the prime min­is­ter should have been more ac­com­mo­dat­ing and flex­i­ble. At least he should have given this im­pres­sion. But he has been as in­tran­si­gent as his in­for­ma­tion min­is­ter. If the threats, open and veiled, had worked it would have been a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. If the charged stick of the Es­sen­tial Ser­vices Act had worked again mat­ters would have stood dif­fer­ently. But th­ese tac­tics have badly back­fired, se­cur­ing the unity of PIA work­ers which ear­lier wasn't there and giv­ing an op­por­tu­nity to Imran Khan and oth­ers to seize upon this mess and make of it what they can. It's all of a piece and fits in neatly with the PML-N's past. Left to it­self the PML-N has not shown much tal­ent for gov­ern­ing, even if there's no deny­ing the fact that Nawaz Sharif is the luck­i­est political fig­ure in Pak­istan's his­tory. Big­ger and bet­ter lead­ers with more go­ing for them have fallen by the way­side or been de­stroyed by cir­cum­stances. He has pros­pered and so has his party…but not by abil­ity, which is an im­por­tant point to note. Call it the align­ment of the stars or the power of sheer luck. Be­nazir Bhutto had the PML-N on the run in her se­cond turn as prime min­is­ter.

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