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Shades of grey

“There’s no black and no white, just shades of grey…” goes the quote, and nowhere is it more applicable than the mystifying battlefield of Pakistani politics.

Nearly six month into its term, the PTI government is still trying to find solid footing. There has been a range of missteps, and a range of positive outcomes, but the relative inexperience of the first-time premiere and his ragtag team of ministers and advisors is increasingly apparent. Critiquing a government after six months is as arbitrary as performance indicators after 50 or 100 days, but it is necessary. Six months into its term, the government’s biggest achievements seem to be promises of reforms, promises of restructuring, promises of improvement, and promises of a new Pakistan. In all fairness, they should be given the benefit of the doubt, and more time to see what they can accomplish, but as it stands, there isn’t a lot to go on.

The media is a tool designed to keep power and governments in check; its role is to call out misgivings, give voice to public grievances, and identify policy blunders. However, media in Pakistan is less concerned with tangible critique and analysis, and excessively enamored with sensationalism, mudslinging and catfights. It seems to thrive on political friction, administrative rivalries, and revels in the government’s apparent trouble in penetrating a dense bureaucracy, forged over decades in the eternal fires of corruption and inefficiency. One could make the argument that the media is indifferent in its treatment of political parties, but all parties are not created equal. The media would have you believe there is nothing but black and white, but the media itself is ultimately a business, and as any business, it needs to be profitable. But there is no black and no white, just shades of grey.

The media is a tool designed to keep power and governments in check; its role is to call out misgivings, give voice to public grievances, and identify policy blunders. However, media in Pakistan is less concerned with tangible critique and analysis, and excessively enamored with sensationalism, mudslinging and catfights. It seems to thrive on political friction, administrative rivalries, and revels in the government’s apparent trouble in penetrating a dense bureaucracy, forged over decades in the eternal fires of corruption and inefficiency

Other mainstream political parties would have us believe in a victimhood narrative, where they are being specifically targeted and persecuted, while those currently in power are not. They poke fun at the inexperience of the new regime, and take comfort in the fact that the structures they have carefully put in place to fuel their own decadence and corruption will hardly facilitate the newcomers. They want us to believe that this government will topple on its own, and they will watch, pointing and snickering from the sidelines. But there is no black and no white, just shades of grey.

The left wants us to think this is a fascist regime, installed and engineered by the establishment, and anything and everything they do is tainted and sinister. The (far) left believes in a nexus of shared power between the military, the state, and the judiciary, driven primarily by the same shadows that have haunted Pakistan for 71 years, and hurtling towards the same indicators that put us on the path to ruin. The left would have you believe in the above being black and white. But there is no black and no white, just shades of grey.

The right, post the Khadim Rizvi fiasco in November, is laying low.

Finally, there is the PTI itself. Doe-eyed and optimistic, still inebriated on their electoral victories, and ever-optimistic. The PTI would have us believe that there have been no missteps, and that everything is catering to a single, unified vision for a better future. They would have us believe that they do nothing but laudable work, that they are fixing broken-for-decades systems, and that their many shortcomings are purely the fault of predecessors. The PTI still believes the dam fund was a brilliant idea (which currently stands at 0.52 percent  of the conservative estimate of the money needed), brushes over any allegations of misappropriations or mismanagement, and is quick to toss unwanted facts out the window. Like everyone else, they would also have us believe in the white of their knight. But as we have established, there is no white and no black, just shades of grey.

We live in the age of social media, where our biases are constantly reinforced and our perceptions are cemented by content that is in tune with our prejudices. But the fact of the matter is that no one is 100 percent  right all the time, and no one is 100 percent  wrong. Believing that your perspective is the One Truth, and that everyone else, by virtue of their beliefs or opposition to you, and inherently false, is a betrayal of collective conscience and intellect.

“There’s no black and no white, just shades of grey…” writes Kate Mosse in Citadel. “But the small betrayals lead to bigger ones, and morality is eroded.”

The writer serves as a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad

Published in Daily Times, January 18th 2019.