Picture the aerial view of the twin cities, Islamabad and Rawalpindi, divided yet connected by the IJP Road, a perfect metaphor for Pakistan’s climate today. The people on the side of Rawalpindi represent the commoners tightly squeezed together burdened with a collapsing economy, illiteracy, and food insecurity among other pains; while the other side, green and lively, marks the splendor of the thriving bourgeois, the elite, the army, and the ISI – three musketeers gambling the nation away.
With the return of the election season, the IJP road is back in business. The affluent are making huge promises to the starving, and reading out the empty rhetoric of the election manifesto, pretending to connect with their problems.
Be it the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), or Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), all successive governments have missed out on critical issues of economic, social, and developmental importance in their prospective agenda for the nation. They sit in their fancy chairs, dictate changes in the constitution of Pakistan, bicker with fellow political contenders, take orders from the military, and make a dramatic exit out of the country in exile or to jail.
The people of Pakistan are hurt and disappointed. They know the “free poll” is wishful thinking; the road to success is through the likes of the establishment. Their slogan “power lies with people” is void. The establishment is in the driver’s seat and will play the facilitator’s role.
Right now the mirage of a level playing field is disappearing as all of a sudden PML-N’s supremo Nawaz Sharif is the establishment’s favorite. Brimming with confidence and set to become the Prime Minister for the fourth time, his party expects a landslide win and to form a government without outside support. The establishment has given him a clean chit even after the Sharif family robbed the whole of Pakistan.
On the other hand, Asif Ali Zardari’s PPP is awfully quiet. The “Mr. 10 percent”, referred to as a weasel by Pakistanis, has been dressing his son for the Prime Minister’s office since 2018. Michael Kugelman, the director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Centre, observes how the young Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari “wouldn’t have shot up to the very senior post of foreign minister without the military’s blessing”.
As the moon wanes on Imran Khan, the innocent workers and supporters of the PTI are in despair learning that powerful constituencies may not allow their favored party to participate in the election. They are tired of defending the red lines of their chief. People’s darling Imran Khan arrived in 2018 as a changemaker and fueled hope for
people. He championed such a strong narrative of ‘they are all thieves’, that after becoming the Prime Minister, he left education, healthcare, sports, foreign policy, and institutional reforms to God, and focused solely on making legal or illegal cases against the ‘thieves’ (opponents) to imprison them. All institutions, including the judiciary, played their part in this disaster.
A commoner wants no ‘Riyasat-e-Madina’. They want food, education, jobs, and national security. They want good relations with neighboring countries. The current geopolitical and diplomatic scenario is such that except for China, which holds the upper hand in the relationship, everyone ignores Pakistan. Instead of improving its alliance with Afghanistan, Pakistan has put its people in jeopardy starting a war with the Taliban by returning Afghan refugees in an insulting manner. Recent years of political turmoil, political alliances and breakups, and blatant undemocratic interventions in politics have left the people with anger and frustration.
Suicide rates are alarmingly high. Mothers are killing themselves along with their children because they have nothing to eat. The local dailies reveal that the cost of a chance at a hospital treatment supersedes the cost of death for people. The rising cost of living has convinced the middle class that the country will cease to exist within the next decade. They too are packing bags and lining outside passport offices, or knocking on the doors of human traffickers for a way to Europe. The harrowing situation has put Pakistan first on the world map for having the greatest number of illegal immigrants turned beggars in the world!
In Sindh, PPP is set to dominate despite the worst law and order situation. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa wants to join with their Afghan brother across the border and could not care less about elections. Balochistan wants to separate desperately from the brutal dictatorship of the Pakistan Army. No one has the motivation to participate in the upcoming elections. Once again confronted with people’s grievances, the players will tear each other down, and try to delude the citizens with their exorbitant theatricals. To the commoner all contestants are equal; equal liars, crooks, and wastrels, belonging to the dazzling side of the IJP road. When the sun sets on February 8, the dazzling side will party, and the rest of Pakistan will continue life in misery.