This past weekend the PTI government enacted yet another act of what can be plainly termed as theatre of the absurd. First, the prime minister’s much-hyped visit to a so-called Ramzan bazaar was publicised with a solemn announcement that PM Khan truly cares for the poor. Social media users were quick to point out that no vendor prepares samosas, pakoras and jalebis during daytime in Ramzan, as such perishable items are prepared just before the iftar.
Secondly, the sanitised images of the PM’s visit betrayed carefully staged photo op session. Many people on social media have also turned this visit into another instance of criticising the amateurish nature of this media blitz. Admittedly some of this criticism is unwarranted and reeks of partisanship, but PM Khan must question his colleagues who enabled yet another episode of embarrassment for the government. It is no coincidence that while this photo op session was being displayed, the media was reporting how inflation during the month of April was the highest sine February 2020. Not to mention the alarming statistic that rural inflation surpassed the urban price levels. Indeed, the PM must be concerned and we have no reason to doubt that given that he has already made public announcement about his concern for high food prices both in cabinet meetings and interactions with the media. But the response expected by millions of Pakistanis is not PM and his ministers visiting Ramzan bazars but to nab and prosecute the mafia (to use PM Khan’s favourite term) that have been involved in hoarding, profiteering and looting the poor and the middle class. Thus far, no one from the sugar and wheat/flour cartel have been punished for their malpractices over the last 14 months.
As if PM Khan’s staged visit was not enough, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan’s altercation with Assistant Commissioner Sialkot added fuel to the fire. The video where Dr Awan is rebuking the young officer went viral and what followed on social media was an unprecedented resistance by young and senior bureaucrats across the country. Dr Awan may have shot herself in the foot by questioning which ‘be-ghairat‘ (shameless person) had appointed Sonia Sadaf as the Assistant Commissioner — conveniently forgetting that the PM was heading the province and that her very own boss Usman Buzdar was in charge of the administrative affairs. Today Dr Awan tried to salvage the situation by offering a halfhearted apology and regretting the choice of words, but the damage has been done. Not only has the bureaucracy expressed its annoyance over the weak government but the opportunity for public support that the PTI was trying to garner has been squandered. This is why it is important to remind PM Khan and his team that media optics may matter from time to time, but they are no substitute for effective governance and the assurance that a competent team is handling public affairs.