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EDITORIAL: The prime minister stated the obvious yet again when he lamented that the country’s elite had gotten too used to escaping accountability and living above the law. But to only mention the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and sugar barons as representatives of that group, as he very predictably did, grossly understates the problem. For all of Pakistan’s major political parties are dominated by that same elite, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) being no exception, just like those same sugar barons that he mentioned are always in government no matter which party is in power; present times included. This is what happens when the law applies differently to the powerful and the weak, something that Imran Khan has made, and continues to make, a lot of noise about, and rightly so. Yet such are the facts of life in this Islamic republic and it only makes matters worse that not many governments have ever seemed bothered about it. PTI did, but only till it came to power. Because in the half electoral cycle since it hasn’t even tried to create an environment where the haves and have-nots get the same treatment.

This problem will not go away so long as the government’s response is directly proportional to the nuisance value of the other side – that is, the elite that is not intimidated by the law. Then it finds innovative ways to increase that nuisance value and get more privileges. And there are, broadly, three ways to get your way in these parts. Nothing like a little bit of political clout, of course, because then all you need is to make a few phone calls for those privileges. Another way is to simply buy your way through, which is why it is little surprise that those with a lot of money to throw around, often of suspect origin, have the fewest problems getting things done. Or you could know somebody in a powerful position who could make all your problems go away. This has gone on for so long that it has unfortunately become part of the popular culture and it is also why PTI’s ‘crusade’ against corruption attracted so many honest, hardworking Pakistanis when it started.

This culture will have to change or the rule of law will never apply equally to all citizens and the important work of dedicated nation building, which we are in desperate need of, will never really take off. And it’s not as if PTI has not had the opportunity to set the forces of change in motion. The PM mentioned the sugar mafia because it has consistently outmanoeuvred the government and managed to manipulate end prices to its advantage, just like what has been happening with a number of other commodities. If only the government had moved immediately with full force, instead of promising to use all the might of the state and coming up empty for two-and-a-half years, it would have signalled to all hoarders and manipulators that it meant business. Instead it took the longest time getting off the mark and then openly invited criticism by throwing aside all concerns about conflict of interest and rewarding some of those under investigation with privileged positions in government.

Imran Khan once appeared like the kind of leader who didn’t mind tilting the apple cart if that’s what it took to bring it back on track. Yet things haven’t quite turned out as expected so far. Hopefully, this matter is still somewhere high on the ruling party’s priority list. And even if it gets going now, there is enough time before the next election for results to at least start showing. All that remains to be seen is if PTI has the political will to take this particular bull by the horns simply because it is the right thing to do and it promised endlessly to do so.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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