Why the cynicism over Pakistan PM's surgery: Dawn

Supporters of Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hold oil lamps as they pray for his early recovery on May 31, 2016 in Multan.
Supporters of Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hold oil lamps as they pray for his early recovery on May 31, 2016 in Multan.PHOTO: AFP

Politics is not, and should not, be for the faint-hearted. 

Men and women seeking to be elected leaders of the people must be able to engage in robust debate with one another and survive the harshest of public scrutiny.

Only from that would emerge a leader capable of delivering the democratic needs and aspirations of the voting public. 

But there does come a point at which rhetorical crudeness crosses over into the terrain of the inadvisable. 

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s heart surgery in London has not been handled well politically or administratively by the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz): No independent, professional opinion on the state of the prime minister’s health has been offered by the government and there has been unnecessary confusion about how the executive is to function during Mr Sharif’s absence from the country. 

Yet, it is troubling that so wild and reckless has the political arena become in Pakistan that several of the PML-N’s political rivals have questioned whether Mr Sharif has undergone surgery at all, the clear implication being that somehow surgery in London was invented as an excuse by the prime minister to draw attention away from the Panama Papers.

On Sunday, Imran Khan exemplified the churlishness of the political discourse by suggesting that Prime Minister Sharif’s heart condition was linked to the conflicting accounts given by his sons regarding the ownership of family properties in London. 

Perhaps the PTI supremo is unaware of his own position as the leader of the second-largest political party in the country, in terms of votes received in the last election, and how his behaviour can influence the public conversation and affect the tone of overall media coverage. 

Simply put, when leaders such as Mr Khan dabble in conspiracy theory or outrageous sentiment, a great number of other people take their cue from them, and the preposterous and the outrageous become the new norm. 

As a victim himself of wild allegations over the years, including by the PML-N, Imran Khan should know better. 

The problem with Mr Khan’s comments is not that it will hurt the PML-N — the party has its own unruly members who need to be restrained in their attacks on Mr Khan — but that it draws into disrepute the very idea of politics itself. 

Politics in Pakistan is far from the sublime, but when politicians themselves make the political process look ridiculous, it is the democratic process that is threatened.
Dawn is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.