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A slow surrender?

Updated August 25, 2013

IT’S an old trick of Nawaz’s: the more you see, the less you know. And he’s at it again.

DCC, NSC, CDNS, none of it matters really until you get the A, B, C right. I.E. It’s not the name that matters, it’s the configuration and the quality of the decisions that do.

Before the election, Nawaz seemed to be on the right track.

The NSC was anathema because it represented all that the politicians had come to loathe: institutionalising what was the de facto arrangement of power — military on top, the civilians thrashing around below.

Before the election, Nawaz seemed to get that the DCC is more miss than hit not because of its existing configuration, but because it didn’t have the right ammunition.

Give the DCC a proper secretariat, a dedicated staff that can help the principals make sense of things, and much of the fog would automatically lift — at least on the civilian side, because the military already has all the paper-churning backup it needs in GHQ and Aabpara.

That was before the election.

After the election, are we witnessing a slow surrender?

Nawaz being Nawaz, it’s never easy to say. Inscrutable and insular at the best of times, he’s taken it to a new level this time — just ask any of the desperate PML-N leaders always asking around about what their boss is thinking, or even up to.

But there are some clues to what Nawaz is thinking, if not planning and doing.

First, you have to go back to the basic Nawaz mould. He did and seems still to consider himself heir to the Mughal throne.

Ardeshir Cowasjee used to tell a brilliant, possibly embellished, tale about this particular tendency of Nawaz.

The prime minister’s office once rang up Ardeshir to inform him that Nawaz wanted to pay a visit to the splendid Cowasjee home in Karachi. He wasn’t told why, but since no one says no to a visit by the prime minister, Ardeshir agreed.

When an advance team arrived at his home to secure it and map out the visit, an objection was raised.

The little wooden door through which all visitors entered the Cowasjee home required everyone to stoop a bit, to avoid banging their head against the beam above the door.

The prime minister doesn’t bow his head before anyone, Ardeshir was told by the prime ministerial advance team, you’ll have to use a different entrance to receive him.

Heir to the Mughal throne means Nawaz will only do things when Nawaz is ready to do them.

The election, Nawaz decided, was a referendum on electricity, so that was his first priority. When terrorism quickly forced itself to the front of the queue, Nawaz’s default response kicked in: I’m not ready yet, I’ve got five years, I’ll deal with this in my way, on my own clock.

Terrorism, India, Afghanistan, Punjab, intelligence, police, CDNS — they’re all inter-linked and nowhere has the Nawaz imprint been made yet.

If it rested at that, perhaps it would not matter that much. But there is one significant difference between Nawaz 3.0 and the earlier versions: while he’s not ready to decide, he’s letting others decide.

It matters less that the leaner, supposedly more focused CDNS will have one more civilian member than uniformed; what matters is that the uniformed members can be expected to speak as one and they alone have a semi-institutionalised form of decision-making and input-taking.

How that squares with Nawaz’s pre-election promise of the civilians leading and the military following isn’t hard to figure out: it doesn’t.

The second clue to what Nawaz is thinking was doing the rounds for weeks and confirmed in his speech this week: he and his team had no real idea how bad things were.

That things were bad was obvious enough; just how bad they are has only dawned on the N-League leadership after coming to power. Reality has caused Nawaz to pause, to take stock first before figuring out what has to be done.

Politics is of course, and unhappily, supreme here. The right thing to do is secondary to the politically advantageous, or least disadvantageous, thing to do.

The go-slow approach — for now — is less about figuring out what to do, but about figuring out how to fit the new, post-election, since-coming-to-power information into the political matrix of decision-making.

Yeah, for example, dialogue isn’t going to go anywhere, but take it off the table quickly and what could that mean for peace in the realm — Fortress Sharif, Punjab?

The third clue comes courtesy the very small circle that speaks to Nawaz on such matters. Call it the ‘C’ choice: confrontation or co-option.

Confrontation is off the table, Nawaz’s aides claim. Don’t think about it as wresting power back from the army, they explain, think of it as finding ways to take everyone along.

Even talk of co-option makes Nawaz’s aides squeamish; they’d rather not frame civ-mil relations in a way that suggests one side emerging ahead of the other. Seen from that perspective, the CDNS makes sense.

An institutionalised role for the army; a decision in which there was some give-and-take (no NSC, but significant say); a group that presents a joint front; a body that allows one side, the military, to press its case, while the other side, Nawaz, makes up his mind — it gives the veneer of forward movement, while allowing the state of suspended animation to continue.

Essentially, the heir to the Mughal throne keeps his robes, while the original power centre doesn’t have to get its guard up. A neat, temporary arrangement, if ever there was one.

Except, passivity on the civilian side can lead to that most familiar of denouements: where everyone begins to see the heir to the Mughal throne is dressed in the emperor’s clothes.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm