Unarmed protestors aligned with the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) have been killed at a checkpoint in North Waziristan. Two MNAs belonging to the PTM have been arrested and their whereabouts remain unknown. The president of Pakistan has filed a reference against a Supreme Court judge widely considered to be independent-minded and critical of the establishment. A media blackout means no detailed coverage of these events. As these developments unfolded this week, the government was conspicuous by its silence; while the occasional spokesperson and legislator has taken to the airwaves to speak against the PTM and its leaders, the Prime Minister himself and the party’s senior leadership have chosen to keep their mouths shut.

This is unsurprising. If it was not clear already, it should now be painfully obvious that the PTI government has very little control over the country it is ostensibly governing. On matters of foreign policy, internal security, and even the economy, the Prime Minister and his team can evidently do little more than timidly look on as the machinery of the state is deployed to pursue a profoundly anti-democratic agenda. Indeed, if not for the seriousness of the issues at stake, it would be funny to see social media dredging up old tweets by PTI leaders – including Imran Khan – sympathizing with the PTM and celebrating Justice Qazi Faez Isa. While the Prime Minister and his team have long suggested that taking U-turns is a hallmark of great leadership, apparently demonstrating a capacity to change course as and when circumstances evolve, it increasingly seems that the government’s flexibility is derived from its complete and utter spinelessness.

Naya Pakistan was supposed to be different. When campaigning for power, Imran Khan was fond of claiming how his government would bring an end to the corruption, injustice, and inefficiency that have plagued Pakistan since its creation. There were some who, from the very beginning, believed that the PTI would never really be able to deliver on these promises; the party lacked a coherent ideological vision, was stuffed full of turncoats and relics from the country’s political past, and displayed an affinity for authoritarian force that belied its stated commitment to upholding democracy and ensuring accountability. Yet, given that millions nonetheless endorsed the party’s populist message of change, it is worth asking what the government now thinks of itself. As it presides over a shambolic economy and unrelenting attacks on the democratic rights of Pakistan’s citizens, do the PTI and its leadership reflect on the promises they have broken and the faith they have betrayed? Or was the plan always to provide a façade of legitimacy as the country’s true powerholders reasserted their position within the country’s broader political framework, with the PTI just warming seats in parliament while getting fat off the land in much the same way as it accused its opponents of doing in the past?

The Pakistani state has never really cared for the average citizen. If there is one thing that defines the country’s history, it is a profound contempt for the needs, rights, and aspirations of the common man. It is a history in which the state has long made use of violence and coercion to silence dissent and discipline the citizenry, with scant protection from the arbitrary exercise of power by the state. Indeed, the missing people who have been the focus of so much attention and state repression these past two decades simply represent the latest instance of the state’s lack of concern for the law, just as the marginalized status of so many of the country’s minority ethnic and religious communities is but the continuation of decades of official neglect and indifference. Similarly, the government’s announcement that it will create a Rs. 20 billion ‘support’ fund for the stock market – essentially a bailout for the already very rich – at a time when IMF-dictated austerity is savaging the lives of the less fortunate represents more of the same that Pakistan has seen from the very beginning. This is a country where being rich, possessing the right markers of identity, and professing the right kind of status-quo politics, yields every kind of benefit. For everyone else, the poor, those born into the wrong community, and those engaged in any kind of dissent, there is the lash and the bullet.

When Imran Khan finally broke his silence on Friday, it was to do two things; tweet banal words of encouragement to the Pakistan cricket team at the start of the World Cup, and to lecture the OIC on the need to combat global Islamophobia. As he said these words, journalists were being arrested or muzzled for reporting on events in Waziristan, judges were having their good name dragged through the mud, opposition politicians and activists were being beaten in the streets of Islamabad, and petrol prices were being raised on the eve of Eid. Less than a year into his term, Imran Khan has led a government that has clearly failed to deliver on its radical rhetoric, ceding policy space to the establishment, yielding the narrative to a jingoistic troll army on social media, and giving up the moral high ground to an opposition that is, itself, far from perfect. As always, Pakistan’s issues will not be solved by more of the same, by returning to the failed policies of the past that have brought the country to this juncture. Repression and coercion have not worked before and they will not work now; political problems require political solutions, whether they involve organizations like the PTM or questions about the distribution and allocation of the country’s resources, and such solutions can only come through effective political leadership and will. The Prime Minister apparently lacks these at present, and one can only hope it emerges in the days and weeks to come.