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Team N takes centre stage

June 09, 2013


CALL it Shargasm. Everyone seems to be having one.

Did you see what Sharif did in Balochistan? Unbelievable. Get a load of Sharif’s sangfroid? Superstar. Can Sharif be the man to fix Pakistan? Believe. Everyone’s gone a bit Noon-ie it seems.

The why is easy enough to figure out: the land of perma-crisis threw up an unexpected and pleasant surprise — a stable mandate for a man who’s walked part of the talk already.

Long battered by crisis but now blown over by the tendrils of statesmanship, the Sharif love fest is hard to begrudge. Let him have his honeymoon period — though this being us, an emotional lot, it’s almost as if we were there on the wedding night.

Still, wanting to fix something and actually being able to fix it are two very different things — and the Sharif camp knows it.

Happenstance can be a funny thing. Hours before he was sworn in as one of the big boys, a Sharif loyalist was to be found all by himself, lost to the world. Was he asleep in his chair, head bowed on the table before him, enjoying a siesta? That would be a troubling metaphor.

No, no, he swore, he was just lost in thought. What about? I heard them talking on TV about us inheriting a crown of thorns, the loyalist said grimly.

Rambling being the best way to learn anything in this land of ours, a question came to mind: how did Sharif convince Zehri to relent in Balochistan?

You don’t even want to know what we had to do to get him on the plane, the loyalist said, referring to Zehri’s attendance at the Murree meeting where Abdul Malik was anointed the next CM of Balochistan.

Zehri had taken an oath from every assemblyman who won on a PML-N ticket in Balochistan — they would do what he said, not what the party asked, the minister-in-waiting explained.

So how did Sharif convince him? Don’t ask, the loyalist said, but let me tell you a story: when a few of us had gathered to discuss what the party should do in Balochistan, Zehri simply said, my father is Doda Khan Zehri, who is Malik’s father? The room went quiet, the loyalist continued, and a few of us just looked at each other.

Zehri, for the uninitiated, was essentially saying, I’m a sardar and Malik a wretched commoner.

Well good for Sharif that he prevailed on Zehri but you’re in line for a big job at the centre, how’s that looking?

I don’t even know which ministry I’ll be getting, the loyalist said. Surely not, everyone in town is talking about it. Nope, portfolios haven’t been discussed with us, the loyalist insisted.

OK, fine. But you guys had a pretty good idea it was your turn next, the party must have done some homework on what needs to be done in the different ministries, right?

Haan maybe some like Ishaq knew what they’d be handling but most of us didn’t, the loyalist said. There wasn’t much thought put into it or preparation.

And there it was — the gap between hope, hype and reality.

Perhaps one of the more unsettling things about this round of the N-League is that the party itself isn’t sure, even now, why it won by the margin it did.

You want the winner to know, to anticipate, to have a precise pulse of the electorate that elected it. Without that pulse, you can’t be sure which way to proceed.

Take electricity. Everyone agrees that the election was a referendum on electricity — but which part of the electricity sub-problem mattered most?

Say what? Pretend you’re Khwaja Asif for a minute and work through this.

Duh, you think, the near-total absence of electricity was the problem — get them, the people, electricity as quickly as possible.

So you rope in your buddy Mansha and other special interests and they present their elaborate plans. Great, boys, let’s do this, you as Khwaja Asif say.

Electricity starts to flow again but a funny thing happens: the price of electricity creeps upwards and the special interests grow fatter.

There’s no wanton corruption to speak of but the people are starting to grumble again — they have more electricity but they sure as hell can’t pay their inflated bills and why are these fat electricity cats growing fatter on our hard-earned incomes anyway?

The urgent fix — more electricity, now! — slowly exposes other parts of the electricity problem: cost and income distribution. You as Khwaja Asif thought you were in line for the Nishan-i-Pakistan but suddenly it looks like you’re headed the way of Raja Pervez.

Or more electricity, but to whom in the near term? For homes, to iron the kids’ school uniforms, or to business and industry to keep people employed?

Everyone lives at home and everyone needs a good night’s sleep, you as Khwaja Asif quite reasonably think, so you switch on more lights and fans at home and turn off the lights in factories and businesses.

Except you discover that families would rather have gainful employment than a good night’s sleep and uncreased school uniforms. The people are still pissed off and you as Khwaja Asif are bewildered by their reaction.

True, it’s a qualitatively different problem, going from the realm of utter ineptitude — essentially, the last five years — to one of trying and yet not necessarily succeeding. But it would still leave us with a pretty big problem.

Once the Shargasm fades, as it inevitably will, we may find Team N to be exactly what some have long feared it is: yes, it will roll up its sleeves, yes, it will get down to business, but maybe it still doesn’t quite know what goes where and how to make it all work.

A doer and trier, but not quite a winner yet.

The writer is a member of staff. Twitter: @cyalm