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A new script

June 02, 2013


AND with it, perhaps now will start to die the conspiracy theories.

As parliament was sworn in, the normality of it all belied a fundamental shift: for the first time ever — and really, ever — a civilian parliament begins its term with the confidence that it will complete its term.

And before that, the election that produced this parliament was freer and fairer than most that have come before it. And before that, the election itself happened, on time, on schedule.

Neither of the chiefs intervened: not Gen K, not CJ Iftikhar. The US stayed clear and the Brits squeezed Altaf. The Taliban threatened, but didn’t quite wreak havoc — the low-level violence only serving to deny the public the undiluted rejection of the PPP and ANP.

And after the election, a mandate was born at the centre — and in Sindh, a chance at redemption; in KP, an opportunity. Balochistan was a black hole but Sharif’s equanimity has rescued some credibility for the un-credible elections there.

Why? How did the stars align so — reasonably promisingly instead of visions of the apocalypse?

Nobody knows, and perhaps nobody knows because there’s really no one pulling the strings anymore.

Ah, but there’s the PTI, still crying conspiracy, swearing an election was stolen from them, by the US, by the army, by the Sharifs. And there is Zardari, sullenly alluding to dark conspiracies by a new kind of establishment.

Except no one really believes them.

It helps that the Noon-ies are as surprised by their margin of victory as anyone else — conspirators tend to look either smug or defensive. Surprise is a more difficult emotion to fake.

If there is a hidden hand, it’s the hand of the people, of Pakistan itself, nudging the country towards something better, or at least a shot at something better.

But it’s hard to figure out why.

Was it always there, repressed, forced below the surface by a leadership too callow and selfish to let the people show them the way?

We don’t have the psephologist to explain, the historian to elucidate, the scientist to postulate. All we have is a hunch that it’s new, an urge to push on, upwards instead of in circles again.

Where did it come from? The forces were supposed to be centrifugal, the tendency towards disarray and confusion, the impulse towards passive gloom, the result implosion. A fractured, regionalised electorate was supposed to be the final nail, or just one or two short.

But the divisions are neat, and curiously enough, workable. Each gets to play in his own pen and the animus is at a minimum — the provincial devolution ensuring there are enough toys for everyone without necessarily looking at Big Brother Punjab with envy or resentment.

If the people are a mystery, and a pleasant one at that, the leadership is a bigger one. Finally, we have leaders who appear to mean what they say.

AZ, NS, Gen K, CJ Iftikhar — for five years, all pledged to let the democratic system run and let it lead to wherever the people wanted to take it. Other than Sharif, none seemed credible. And Sharif only seemed credible because it was his turn next.

But when his turn has come, Sharif hasn’t put a foot wrong. The campaign was dignified, the controversies few, the concessions to excess minimal. With victory under his belt, there has just been sombreness and seriousness.

Before that, Zardari didn’t try to steal the election. He thought he could buy it but when it looked like that wouldn’t work there was no crooked Plan B, no desperation or disruption.

The big X factor was supposed to be CJ Iftikhar. But after the RO phase and all the silliness over initial disqualifications, the superior judiciary just quietly went away.

The cries of rigging were a godsend for the X factor — grounds to stall the results and wade into the electoral arena. Centre stage beckoned. But nothing. Just silence, much to the chagrin of the aggrieved, some right, most wrong.

And Gen K, the chief-for-life, the sponsor of memogate and Tahirul Qadri, the man and the institution with the most to lose were Punjab’s most popular man to return to power — again, nothing.

Elections on time, the ISI kept under wraps in Punjab — which alone decides the country’s electoral destiny — and a chief ready to ride into the sunset.

Leaders who meant what they said. That will take some time to absorb.

The international establishment, led by the US and Britain in Pakistan?

The theory was they had too much to lose. The Afghan drawdown is around the corner, a dignified exit necessary. Pakistan looms as the Next Big Problem: Fata a hive of conspiracy against American interests; Punjab’s extremism a worry for Britain struggling with its own Muslim problem.

Pakistan was too important to be left to its own devices. The civ-mil imbalance too real and messy to not prefer one over the other or play favourites among the civilians.

But, again, nothing. There was no leverage to begin with, yes, no NRO-type deal to imagine and foist off, but there was no attempt to find some either.

Left to our devices to choose, by forces internal and external, and then choosing well, or at least clearly. It makes no sense, at least Pakistani sense.

Yes, the world hasn’t changed entirely, the transformation isn’t complete, the old order lingers, the challenges extant, disillusionment is likely — but it does feel like we need a new playbook altogether to understand this place. The folk trying to understand Pakistan have to catch up with the people who are Pakistan. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm