Pakistan’s entire political history is sad and repetitive in this context.  It seems as if political hypocrisy is in the bloodstream of our body politics.

By Dr. Haider Mehdi

“The Pakistani government’s position is deeply cynical: it is not opposed to the violence carried out against its people, but only to the fact that it does not have the power to carry out such raids itself.”

A careful reading of Eric London’s recent article on drone attacks on Pakistani territory and its civilian population, out of which a few lines have been quoted above, illustrates the level and extent of hypocrisy implicitly engrained in the political culture of Pakistan’s political establishment.

But why should it be a surprise? After all, our history is full of hypocritical conduct, contradictions, deeply flawed political judgments, and a political narrative that is, from start to finish, a sequence of impaired perspectives and unethical-immoral conduct.  Pakistan’s entire political history is sad and repetitive in this context.  It seems as if political hypocrisy is in the bloodstream of our body politics.

A recent example of this hypocritical political behavior is PML-N’s Khawaja Asif’s outlandish accusations against misuse of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital’s zakat funds.

Let me be the devil’s advocate: I intend to defend the PML-N stalwart, Khawaja Asif, as being attitudinally justified in pointing his finger at Imran Khan’s personal and financial integrity. After all, one has to keep in mind that Khawaja Asif is a dedicated foot-soldier in the PML-N party structure and his rise to party leadership is credited to his political behavior, irrespective of its moral-ethical dimensions, as long as he tows the party line. I can well imagine the affable Khawaja daringly sticking his neck out in participating in the party’s decision to commence political assault against PTI’s Imran Khan. “I can do it – I know I will be convincing – It is a job for which I am the best – It is my thing – Let me decimate Imran Khan however I can,” beaming Khawaja Asif must have assured the party’s top leadership between smiles, nods of approval, confident of absolute success and forthcoming appreciation by the “Bosses.”

The question is: How can one solely blame an individual of hypocrisy, flawed political judgment, unethical political conduct or political heresy when the entire political culture and its structure is based on these fundamentals? How can I expect Khawaja Asif to be any different kind of political actor or metaphorically speaking a different type of political animal when one is rewarded for one’s political-ethical bankruptcy, political incorrectness and visionary mind-lessness of the system?  

One only needs to look around: the present-day so-called democratic dispensation had its birth in a proclamation between a military dictator and late Benazir Bhutto in which over 8,000 cases of corruption, fraud and looting of national assets were set aside by a political compromise between the two. Does it make any sense? 

Imagine the PPP’s leadership passed on to a spouse on the basis of a handwritten piece of paper claimed to be in the possession of a domestic helper.  Does it seem credible? Does it make the party’s leadership transition democratic? 

Consider the sitting Prime Minister of the country publicly declaring that he owed his personal loyalty to his party rather than to the nation.  Is that rationally and politically acceptable? 

It is obvious that party “Bosses” in Pakistan carry a long stick and happen to have the last word in decision-making and party management.  It seems that loyalty to the “Bosses” is a prerequisite for political survival, and if one wishes to climb in the hierarchy of the political structure, one must be obedient and complicit – as poor affable Khawaja has been in the past and now in his part of the decision-making strategy to propagate misinformation in his unsubstantiated and unscrupulous verbal assault against Imran Khan. 

But here is lesson to be learned.  It takes a visionary, competent, imaginative, ethically-morally versatile and democratic leadership to overcome the destructive lure of using dirty tactics against national rivals. It takes bold initiatives in accommodating adversaries, joining in multi-lateral and collective efforts to reform and influence national actors, and moving forward towards a respectable, credible and decent political environment in which publicly acceptable political solutions to politics can be reached.  This is how politically civilized leaderships behave and transform a decaying political culture into a mass movement of political reform. 

Indeed, Imran Khan’s PTI is now emerging as a formidable third political force in the country and is an obvious political threat and adversary to Pakistan’s traditional political parties such as the PPP and PML-N. But that threat to political power of traditional leadership of PPP and PML-N in the foreseeable future, in itself, is an indication of the nation’s political maturity and rising political consciousness.  This threat must be viewed in the context of a blessing in the process of democratizing the country.  The traditional ways of politics will have to change. 

What needs to be done in today’s Pakistan is to have greater focus on developing measures and structures that can ensure political accommodation, inter-party compromises on ethical-moral standards to define political campaigning in order to secure a peaceful long-term transition to democracy.  

Indeed, it is obvious that Khawaja Asif is a soulmate to his party’s top bosses and a leading party confidante – to that extent I can manage to defend him. But what happened recently was that Khawaja was overcome by the destructive lure of political rivalry and in doing so, he destroyed his own credibility, compromised his own political judgment, and annulled his own political integrity.  His vicious verbal assault on the misuse of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital’s funds is utterly mystifying.  

A columnist wrote recently: Eat your heart out; donations to Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital funds have increased manifold. 

That is the people’s judgment – How can one defend anyone against ground realities?

Mudslinging based on lies is not an appreciable political strategy in the conduct of democracies. Nations are not built by deceit – they are built by honest hard work and selflessness is serving the people.

That is what democracy is all about. And mudslinging is contrary to democratic norms. 

At the end, I have a question for Khawaja Asif:  Do you see an integrated set of political, moral-ethical strategies or a national narrative in sight to set the nation free from the yoke of hypocrisy, mudslinging, and mendacity in order to drive it forward to a highly inspiring project for democracy based on political decency, political innovation, reinventing itself and respectable national political discourse?

Will Khawaja Asif hold another press conference to share his views on this subject soon?