Recalling the Banana Republic


Iftekhar A Khan

Without going into the nitty-gritty of the ignominious conspiracy hatched by the economic wizard Shaukat Tarin, let’s agree ours is a land of surprises

The arrest of Shahbaz Gill created such uproar that the PTI chief Imran Khan felt impelled to question if Pakistan was a banana republic. In his tweet, he asked, “Descending into a banana republic. The civilised world will be shocked at our levels of barbarism. The worst part is an easy target has been chosen to make an example of through torture & without a fair trial….” Khan criticised the arrest of his ‘Chief of Staff’ by associating it with the lawlessness of a banana republic. No doubt, Gill is the man after Khan’s heart.
To show wholehearted support for Shahbaz Gill, the PTI chief staged his party rally at F9 Park in Islamabad. In his fiery speech, he crossed the red lines and threatened the high police officials and the judiciary. He even named the Additional Sessions Judge Zeba Chaudhry who, according to Imran Niazi, knowingly didn’t release Gill on bail. It resulted in his alleged torture. Imran was however booked on charges of terrorism for threatening senior police and judicial officers and his live speeches on TV were banned. After attending the court for his bail when he left the court he commented: “Is this a banana republic? Is there any law here?”
Imran Khan wanted to incite people against the prevailing administrative and judicial systems in the country by comparing them with those practised in a banana republic. An American writer O. Henry coined the term ‘banana republic’ in 1904. He described how the banana state-operated. First, among the main clauses that Henry enunciated was “Typically, a banana republic has a society of extremely stratified social classes, usually a large impoverished working class and a ruling class plutocracy, composed of the business, political, and bureaucratic elites.” Is there any resemblance between the systems of governance in our country with what Henry called the banana republic? It’s a matter of anyone’s opinion. But Imran seems convinced it’s so.
When Imran Khan was removed from power through a vote of no-confidence, his popularity had already gone down. The PTI in its nearly four years in power messed up almost all spheres of the administration. The economy suffered the most. The radical changes that Khan had promised to make a Naya Pakistan before coming to power became a story of the past. Supremacy of rule of law was ignored even though he often said in his speeches that ‘there’s one law for the rich and another for the poor’. Imran has certainly proven right if we look at the treatment extended to him by a bench of a higher court in a contempt case against him.
It’s generally believed that ‘change’ is a constant factor. In our case, it can be rightly claimed that ‘uncertainty’ is a constant factor instead. The luck took an about turn. The PMLN in coalition with other parties took over power seemingly to make hard economic decisions to follow IMF dictates for the grant of a loan. A rise in prices of utilities and household commodities shot up; PMLN’s popularity among the people plummeted. On the other side, the PTI whose popularity had sagged at the time of its removal from power took an upward swing. Let’s make it clear it wasn’t so much to support Imran Khan as it was to make the PMLN and its coalition partners realise how the escalation in prices affected the middle class and lower layers of society.
As if the crisis faced by the nation due to the devastation caused by torrential rains resulting in heavy floods were not enough, a shocking scandal hit the limelight. Just when the nation needed foreign funds more than ever, especially to cope with the aftermath of the destruction caused by floods, a conspiracy to stop the flow of IMF funds surfaced. The scandal mainly involved the sharpshooter Shaukat Tarin and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa finance minister Taimur Jhagra. Finance Minister Punjab Mohsin Leghari didn’t seem to agree with the sinister plan. In the audio tape leaked, Tarin is heard advising the two finance ministers to disassociate their provinces from the IMF loan package on the way.
Without going into the nitty-gritty of the ignominious conspiracy hatched by the economic wizard Shaukat Tarin, let’s agree ours is a land of surprises. One may not agree with any of Imran Niazi’s pearls of wisdom, but his analogy of a ‘banana republic’ seems to hold true. Question: was the situation during his stint as the PM any different?