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EDITORIAL: Perhaps the only sure thing that the prime minister’s near two-hour long broadcast, in which he took questions from the public, achieved was proving critics right that he can do no better than react like a fast bowler, when he’s been hit for some, and come back with a bouncer. For, there was nothing really novel about the whole show except the threat that if forced from office, “I will pose a greater danger to you”.

Everybody knows who that was meant for. But even if PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) spokespersons can be taken for their word, for once, and the opposition was really the intended audience, then, did the PM mean that he would do much worse to them from the streets than he could from the office? Was this even properly thought out? Nevertheless, this was the first time that a sitting prime minister made a remark, much less a threat, about the likelihood of being sent packing.

The word on the street, quite as expected, is that the PM exhibited a fair amount of frustration, which only confirms that there is indeed a fire behind all the smoke, about rumours that refuse to dissipate, of some sort of deals between the so-called establishment and some opposition parties sometime in the future. That, in part, also explains the PM’s sharp assault on Shehbaz Sharif. Nothing new about not wanting to shake hands with him, but for the head of government to go on record and say that it’s OK for him to talk to the likes of TLP (Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan) and Baloch insurgents but not the legitimate, constitutional leader of the opposition because of his alleged, not proven, corruption is not only legally and morally wrong, it also exposes yet another chink in his armour.

That’s because he, for all intents and purposes, wouldn’t lower himself to so much as talk to Shehbaz, yet he has no qualms about doing business with the people he railed against in Sindh, or the people he called thieves in Punjab, or even the politician he dubbed not fit enough to be his servant — all of it on national television — just so the show goes on.

Former accountability czar, Shahzad Akbar’s exit at this time is also very telling. Rumours that the captain was going to shuffle the batting order for the last, decisive innings might be true after all. Akbar’s end actually came a lot later than most people, even party insiders, expected because for all the tough talk and press conferences, his asset recovery unit couldn’t recover a penny in almost four years; and clearly even the PM had had enough of it. There’s already talk of more chips falling, with the opposition as well as sections of the press predicting a domino effect.

It’s also no surprise that the PM continues to brush aside all problems as someone or something else’s fault, like corruption by previous governments or international commodity price trends. Even the odd person that did confront him in the phone calls asked about the ruling party’s failure to highlight the good it’s done, not its failure to do much good, which is pretty much in line with the government’s chosen strategy of denial and defiance. It will surely have a lot more to deny, and also to dump on to previous administrations, once the effects of the mini-budget begin to show.

One way or the other the PM will have to do something to justify the boast that not just this, but also the next electoral cycle will see a PTI government or else his threat will not echo for long.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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