An Opinion Piece on PTI

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By Dr. Ali Minai: I think PTI has played both positive and negative roles, which I will explain below. Unfortunately, after the recent events, their negative role has completely swamped the positive, and PTI is now a danger to Pakistan.

PTI’s positive contribution is that, after decades of political stagnation and national despair, it brought dynamism, a sense of national purpose, and hope to the people of Pakistan – especially to the middle class. This was a tremendous achievement and promised to change the country for the better. Unfortunately, instead of taking this path, the whole thing became infected with the ambition and arrogance of its founder, who turned his movement into a cult of personality and allied with exactly those forces that he had criticized in order to achieve power. Which brings me to the negative contribution.

There are, in fact, several negative contributions, but two stand out to me. First, PTI has fostered a culture of unprecedented vulgarity and hate that has destroyed our centuries-old traditions of civility and respect. PTI was certainly not the first party to inject vulgarity and hate into Pakistani politics, but in the past it remained confined to a few individuals and private encounters. Now, thanks to social media, that toxic culture has infected our entire society and is eating away at the social fabric of Pakistan.

The second issue is that, by putting all its emphasis on corruption, PTI has convinced people that it is the central problem of Pakistan, and that solving it will fix everything else. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, corruption is a significant problem, but it is pervasive, diverse, and non-specific. There are a thousand kinds of corruption and it’s impossible to chase after all of them. There are much more specific core problems that, if addressed, will also reduce corruption in process or as a consequence. Some examples of these problems are – not in any particular order:

  1. A taxation system that is designed to perpetually enrich a small elite and prevent the country from ever becoming a functioning economy that can provide basic services to everyone.
  2. An unequal rule of law with wanton disregard for civil rights and human rights by those in power.
  3. A dismal and unequal educational system that leaves the vast majority of children behind, and even for those it does serve, provides only superficial training rather than a true education.
  4. A society that, in opposition to all modern societies, insists on regressing towards greater religious intolerance and obscurantism, actively discouraging critical thought and open debate.
  5. As a corollary to 4, a turning away from rational ideas and evidence-based decision-making in favor of ideological and emotional choices.
  6. A budget with ridiculously unbalanced and impractical priorities such as minimal support for education and a huge defense budget.
  7. A complete lack of any coherent and comprehensive national socioeconomic strategy that would force the elite to make hard choices. For example, asking whether the stuff Pakistan makes and grows is the best use of its resources.
  8. An unsustainable and uncontrolled population growth rate – especially in the poorest segments of society.
  9. The looming existential threat of climate change that, over the next 30 years, will completely disrupt the systems that the country relies on for everything – above all water. What will happen to Pakistan when snow caps decrease, rivers dry up, and monsoons fail? Planting trees is not going to solve these problems. It will need science and technology, but 90% of the country thinks that prayers are the solution.
  10. Finally, a problem that is at the root of many of the others listed above: Almost universal ignorance of history, ideas, and alternative ways of thinking. This forces the society into making bad choices, blinds it to possible solutions, and makes it susceptible to crazy conspiracy theories that are so rampant in Pakistan.

The list can go on.

A Pakistani youth. Illustration by Sadia Tariq

Was PTI addressing any of these problems? Hardly at all. Will any other government do so? Not likely. Societies take decades to turn around, but no leader in Pakistan is willing to think beyond the next election.

Finally, I say that PTI in its current mode is a danger to Pakistan, because it is flirting with fascism; and even the most corrupt democracy is a thousand times better than fascism that promises the moon, and societies can fail to learn that lesson at their peril.

Dr. Ali Minai is an alumni of Cadet College, Hasanabdal. He is a tenured Professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Cincinnati. He has to his credit 8 books on the subject as an editor. The author is an accomplished poet in Urdu. His collection of poetry, Khamoshi, was published in 2017.

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