With colossal floods and an almost third of Pakistan submerged, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Imran Khan’s political power show continues unabated. Khan’s city-to-city stopovers, with almost the same speech but with more anguish each time, are facilitated by the governments of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), which are also his ruling turfs.
Despite pressure from public and requests from other political parties, Khan has exhibited absolute inflexibility in giving politics a rest for the time being. At one point in a rally, Khan avowed, “heatwaves, floods and even wars” cannot deter him from his ‘crusade’ against the government.
When there were all-out calls to raise donations for flood affectees, Khan bluntly refused to raise funds, citing he had to collect donations for Shaukat Khanum, NUML University and Al-Qadir University. But later, taking another U-turn in the face of growing public pressure, he raised about Rs5 billion for the victims. Following the telethon, the PTI social media delightedly credited him for amassing whooping amount within a few hours since the public trusts him. The social media warriors then compared Khan’s collected funds with that of Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto’s, terming the latter’s Rs1.30 trillion collected funds ‘bheek’ and Khan’s Rs5 billion ‘blessing’.
As the floods wrecked the country, Pakistan was working towards striking a deal with the IMF to get the much-needed financial tranche, till the PTI struck. The party did its best to sabotage the deal despite knowing that without the IMF support the country could face a default-like situation. Shaukat Tareen, former PTI finance minister, asked Punjab and KP finance ministers to write a letter to the IMF with an apparent intent to upend the bailout. The leaked telephone conversation between Tareen and provincial ministers was justified by the PTI in a ‘marathon’ press conference the following day.
One of the PTI’s strong female voices and MNA, Shandana Gulzar, in a televised interview with the BBC claimed that corruption by the incumbent government is hampering humanitarian aid from reaching flood survivors in the country, a claim against which she has yet to provide any evidence.
Unprecedented floods in the face of severe economic challenges warrants a unified response. Sadly it is not there. Imran Khan is riding on a popular trail and he doesn’t like to let this momentum go away.
Food shortage was imminent after flash floods washed away millions of acres of crops in KP, Punjab and Sindh. Inundated roads led to supply chain issues ultimately leading to higher food and vegetable prices. The onion and tomato prices, which otherwise are homegrown and usually cheaper products, witnessed an unprecedented price surge and shortage. The government was left with no choice but to open borders for importing such daily use vegetables. Meanwhile, when the government mulled over importing onions and tomatoes from India, the PTI linked the move with patriotism and called it stabbing Kashmiris in the back. Fearing from the PTI’s propaganda warriors, the government turned down the idea of importing onions and tomatoes from India but from Iran and Afghanistan.
A meeting called by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to take stock of the situation and to devise a strategy last week was boycotted by the KP and Punjab chief ministers. Reportedly, Gilgit Baltistan Chief Minister Khalid Khurshid Shah preferred to stay away from a meeting and follow up visit of the prime minister in the affected area.
Such arrogant behaviour underscores that the PTI is focused more on the party policy than the state harmony.
Besieged by disaster and shaken by economic woes, the incumbent government needed an extensive support ranging from political opponents to rival neighbouring enemies and cold-shouldered international community. All have put their enmities and interests behind, at least for now, except the PTI which instead of lending a hand, is mulling over all options to rout the government. As a result, the relief efforts might witness a serious setback as the government’s focus would be diverted or divided. And a confused government that would have a political sword hanging on top cannot wholly focus on the ongoing dire situation. Probably this is exactly what the PTI wants.
Unprecedented floods in the face of severe economic challenges warrants a unified response. Sadly it is not there. Imran Khan is riding on a popular trail and he doesn’t like to let this momentum go away. The government, on the other hand, is less focused on disaster but more on the PTI challenge. This approach by either side is going to cost both heavily. Only a collective effort by all to steer the ship through these floodwaters will save politics of tomorrow.