By Imad Zafar
Not long ago, elected Pakistani leaders were routinely smeared by comparing them to godfathers in the “Sicilian mafia” and the like, and accusing them of corruption without such charges being proven in a court of law. And yet today, the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) regime under Prime Minister Imran Khan with the backing of the military establishment is facing a serious crisis of governance and economic turmoil, while corruption is increasing instead of decreasing.
Recently a report by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) alleged that Imran Khan’s cronies Jahangir Khan Tareen, Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar (federal minister for food security) and Samiullah Chaudry (Punjab provincial minister for food) were responsible for creating artificial shortages of sugar and wheat and earned hundreds of billions of rupees by selling these commodities at inflated prices.
The PTI-led government’s ally Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) was also named in the report as Chaudry Moonis Elahi, the son of Chaudry Pervaiz Elahi, Speaker of the Punjab Assembly, was also accused of making a profit. So the image created through certain sections of the press about Prime Minister Khan being honest has been tarnished, as this report strongly suggests that he has been rewarding his cronies.
Then last Friday, Khan announced a relief package for the construction sector, giving the sector the status of the industry. At a time when the world is going through a recession due to a pandemic, and when even in Pakistan players are afraid to invest because of the uncertainty of the future in a post-Covid-19 world, providing relief to the construction industry that will eventually benefit the already-billionaire property tycoons and cement-factory owners is only a waste of time and resources.
However, with Imran Khan’s close friends like Aneel Musarrat and Abdul Aleem Khan in the property sector, it does not take rocket science to find who will benefit from this relief package. Yet at the same time, doctors fighting the coronavirus have not been provided adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), and private-school teachers, who number around 1.5 million, are facing financial distress as they have not been paid, but there is no relief package for them.
So a government that has failed miserably to provide any relief to the masses or to cope with the pandemic crisis now has been accused of allowing its cronies to benefit from an artificial wheat and sugar crisis.
Amid the growing public anger, instead of firing Khusro Bakhtiar from his ministry and immediately ordering an inquiry against him, Khan has made him minister for economic affairs instead, while Samiullah Chaudry has resigned as Punjab food minister and sugar magnate Jahangir Khan Tareen remains above the law. No one has been arrested, nor has the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) shown the same enthusiasm it has had in the past for dragging opposition members into court despite the lack of any conclusive report like this or any solid charges.
If instead of this hybrid regime a genuinely elected government were ruling the country, by now it would have been dislodged on the basis of a report like this one from the FIA on the wheat and sugar crisis, and for rewarding its cronies through relief packages, and for setting up an amnesty scheme for those who want their black money to be turned white without facing any consequences.
After all, if Imran Khan’s government is marred with corruption charges, the ultimate beneficiary is the establishment, as now the weak prime minister cannot dare think about cutting defense spending. As well, Khan has been given a harsh reminder that he remains only a puppet, and this scandal is a kind of punishment for his unwillingness to go for a nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of Covid-19 despite the establishment being in favor of it. However, Khan may be able to weather the storm for now as his backers have no choice but to keep supporting him as no one in the opposition wants to come into power and take on the burden of the failures of the PTI regime.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also weakened the economies of the US and Saudi Arabia, so the establishment will not have quick access to substantial aid or loans to prevent the economy from weakening further. So it will be hard for them to keep Khan in power if the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Washington and Riyadh are not able to bail them out again by providing hefty loans.
The writing is clearly on the wall, that no matter how much support is provided by global players, it is a dead-end street for Khan and his backers, as the global recession means no substantial economic growth for Pakistan, which will only add more miseries to the common people’s lives.
The lack of popular support behind the current hybrid regime means more turmoil on the economic and political fronts, and sooner or later the establishment will have to take a back seat and sacrifice Khan on the power chessboard to save itself from being thrown out of the game. Until then, Khan and his cronies are safe, but as soon the odds change – and they are changing very quickly – this FIA report will only add to the charge sheet against the PTI regime.
It is now time for those who fall for the rhetoric of “accountability” that is meant only to undermine popularly elected leaders to realize that the real “mafia godfathers” are sitting in the current government, which is the product of a rigged political discourse engineered by the invisible forces.
It is the deep state and puppets like Imran Khan and his cronies who are mafiosi within the state and blatantly looting the exchequer of the country with the help of a greedy section of the media fooling the masses.
Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.