Talk is cheap. Earlier this week, more than a few members of the PTI were left red-faced as they faced the same accusations they had leveled against all of their political rivals for much of 2014; allegations of rigging in the KPK local government elections, coupled with incidents of violence on polling day, demonstrated how even the PTI, for all its talk of change, is ultimately embedded within, and constrained by, the same institutional and societal context that frames the rest of mainstream Pakistani politics. While it is undoubtedly the case that the ECP should share some of the blame for what happened in the elections, it would be incorrect to suggest that the PTI can simply be absolved of any responsibility. Local level politics in Pakistan has long been characterized by factional conflict between powerful elites competing to receive and disburse patronage; ensuring that polling staff are adequately trained and prepared is the ECP’s job, but reigning in its politicians, candidates, and workers is a task that the PTI must perform itself.

If there is a lesson to be learnt here, it is that empty rhetoric and sloganeering are not sufficient to overturn the logic of rent-seeking, nepotism, and opportunism that shapes electoral politics in Pakistan. Like the parties it rightfully lambasts for their incompetence and corruption, the PTI would do well to reflect on its own shortcomings and initiate the structural reforms, within itself and the province it governs, that are necessary to break the stranglehold entrenched elite interests have on politics. It is not possible for a party to espouse the politics of change while simultaneously achieving electoral success by relying upon people and procedures wedded to the maintenance of the status quo. The same is true for Punjab and Sindh; as both provinces gear up for their own exercises in local democracy later this year, it would be entirely unsurprising to find the PPP, PML-N, and other mainstream parties attempting to influence the outcome by manipulating the electoral process and facilitating the pursuit of power by the same old faces and their factotums. As the ruling parties in all of the country’s provinces continue to claim credit for re-introducing local governments to Pakistan, it is important to remember that this, in and of itself, is meaningless. In the absence of broader reforms aimed at challenging those who have traditionally wielded power and influence in Pakistan, and creating more egalitarian and inclusive mechanisms through which to encourage popular participation and representation in the electoral arena, this year’s local government elections will be little more than business as usual.

This past week also saw another illustration of just how cheap talk is in the Land of the pure. Apparently, Pakistan did quite well in the fiscal year 2014-15. Indeed, it did so well that the Finance Minister felt confident enough to claim that the country was now well on the path to economic recovery and growth. The budget for 2015-16 is full of promises; more development spending, more revenue collection, more exports and, given that this is the PML-N we are talking about, more trains, planes, and automobiles. Behind all the spin and the selectively displayed numbers, however, it was possible to discern a few sobering realities; Pakistan failed to meet its growth targets for the previous year, it continues to remain reliant on foreign donors (who already claim 31% of the budget as debt servicing), spending on health and education is stagnant (and the lowest in the region), manufacturing and agricultures are anemic, the tax-to-GDP ratio is still dismally low, and the working poor who comprise the vast majority of the population are about to be hit hardest by the withdrawal of subsidies on electricity and other public services. Furthermore, the fixation with the China-Pak Economic Corridor, and the assumption that it is the panacea to all of Pakistan’s economic ills, demonstrates the poverty of policymaking in this country. For all its rosy targets and talk of success, the simple fact of the matter is that there are no backup plans in case China is unable to play the messianic role that has been ascribed to it by the government; as always, the expectation seems to be that it is enough for Pakistan to just keep on limping forward with the status quo.

However, all of this pales in comparison with what can only be described as the kerfuffle that erupted over allegations that a young fashion designer named Nida Khurram had plagiarized the designs of a Portuguese illustrator. As Ms. Khurram promptly became the target of considerable (and not entirely undeserved) opprobrium, a lot of the vitriol directed towards her veered away from a discussion of fashion and focused, instead, on how her case somehow reflected poorly on Pakistan as a whole and was, in fact, emblematic of the collective moral failures of the nation. Fashion, it was claimed, had let Pakistan down.

Over the years, as the fashion industry in this country has grown, a number of frankly remarkable claims have been made about its place within society. At different points in time, leading luminaries within the industry have claimed that fashion fights the Taliban, is the key to Pakistan’s economic success, is instrumental in projecting a ‘soft’ image of Pakistan abroad, and showcases the potential this country has. More cynical and less starry-eyed observers might also point out that for all its PR, fashion in Pakistan is little more than a disconnected bubble of elite vacuity that operates with ruthless corporate precision in its quest for profit.

Is fashion a means through which talented individuals can express their creativity? Absolutely. Is there a market for all of this, and are there people who take fashion very seriously? Sure, and there is nothing wrong with that. But does that mean fashion is somehow intrinsically connected to the everyday travails of ordinary Pakistanis, and that its producers and practitioners are soldiers on the frontlines for the battle to save this country? Perhaps not. As the ever-increasing number of fashion weeks, product launches, and parties should demonstrate, replete with red carpets, photographers, and fancy people hoping to impress their fancy friends with pictures in various Sunday magazines, fashion in Pakistan might as well exist in a parallel universe.