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Crisis state

March 23, 2014


AFTER a while, the details become meaningless. Nisar did this. The TTP said that. Nawaz insisted on blah. Army said X, but meant Y.

Who cares? The dogs of war and the peace brigade will work out something between themselves. Violence will go down. Pakistan will become a scarier, uglier, more miserable place to live in.

Then, a mini, temporary reckoning. Things will stabilise, for a while. Then, instability again and the cycle being repeated, in slow motion or fast forward.

But why blame Nisar? In a parallel universe, Dar is reinventing the laws of finance and economics and national accounting — and for what?

A few months, folk say, before the inevitable slide of the rupee. So that’s the challenge then, for Dar to prove the naysayers wrong and stretch a few months into a year or two or maybe more.

It’s been done before, the last years of the Musharraf era full of rumours of an artificially propped up rupee via dodgy remittances and quiet State Bank interventions.

But, really? That’s the great boast of the country’s latest finance czar? That he propped up the rupee?

Forget Nisar and Dar though. They are what they are and they’ll do what they must. Zoom out.

What is it with these civilians?

They must rule. They must be the ones in-charge. The system must not be tampered with again.

But once we agree that the civilians are the ones who should be calling the shots, that still leaves the issue of figuring out why they aren’t making the right calls.

And, honestly, it’s a helluva mystery.

Take the big two: Zardari and Nawaz.

Other than conspiratorial whispers about how his plans for re-election were dashed by the powers-that-be, Zardari has been pretty accurate about what went wrong in his five years and why.

He figured out that the election was a referendum on electricity. He got that he shouldn’t have given Kayani another full three years. He recognised the economy was mishandled and that BISP-style handouts can only get you so far.

And Nawaz. He said absolutely everything right for five years. He didn’t put a foot wrong. Then he won, and won big. And since then, he’s crumbled before our eyes — reduced again to either a pitiful or malign figure, depending on your political orientation.

How? Why do they seem to get it when not in power, but are so powerless to do anything about it when in power?

The obvious answer: they don’t really have power.

The boys, the establishment, the permanent state, the status quo, old order, whatever you want to call it, still loom large. There is no room for the civilians to manoeuvre.

Except, that’s simply not true.

Yes, the boys can push back. Yes, when their core interests are threatened, they can roll out a DPC or Qadri, or awfulness in Afghanistan.

But that’s not the same thing as being in charge.

If they want, the civilians can assert themselves. If they want, the civilians can direct policy. If they want, the civilians can find a reasonably cooperative partner. On many things.

And yet, nothing. Nothing good, anyway.

With Zardari, five years ago, you could say that he didn’t give a monkey’s wrench about the party, that the PPP was just a vehicle to power, that power meant money, and that he was obsessed with property and his eye-watering deals.

OK, fine. But then he got it, he understood what went wrong, he offered the most sober, reasonable, honest assessments of the mistakes and what could be done differently — and he got a second chance in Sindh. Now, at least, there was nothing to stop him.

He had delivered on what even BB couldn’t — a full term. By 2018, the party would be Bilawal’s. He could count his millions if he liked or be the wise old man who doled out favours to a few close friends.

So, step back, let the party revive itself, and give Bilawal a truly meaningful inheritance: a new Sindh to use as a springboard to national power in 2023. Do the right thing.

But again, nothing. Or just a vicious hammering over Thar and the MQM back in the fold, anyway.

What’s stopping Zardari in Sindh? Other than Zardari himself?

But what about Nawaz? This awfulness of talks with TTP or fixation with propping up the rupee — you get your one year or two years, sure. So what? Then what?

Get through the next three-six months, three or four quarters at most. But that was exactly what the third-term PM had vowed he wouldn’t do after two tumultuous stints in power and a decade in exile.

And yet, here he is, presiding over precisely that again.

Money? He’s got enough of it, as does everyone on his team. Enough in the sense that they can comfortably make more without having to obsess over it.

Party? Nawaz is the party. Punjab voted for Nawaz, not for a party.

Fear? He’s got a hand-picked chief, a reasonable chief justice, a friendly opposition — and an Imran who just last May he destroyed in a straight fight in Punjab.

What’s stopping Nawaz in Islamabad? Other than Nawaz himself?

Once upon a time, the problem was the system. But as the system settles down, the next problem has emerged: leadership.

The country has none.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm