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Darbar politics

June 08, 2014

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ONCE the knife had been unsheathed, it was always going to be plunged in. Now, the first real loss has been suffered. What the boys gave, the boys have taken away: TV news will never be the same.

And whatever happens, the stain will remain: the transition has been hurt — time will tell how badly — and it’s happened on Nawaz’s watch.

Five days, fifteen days, fifty days, it doesn’t matter. A message has been sent: take on the ISI and there will be an immediate and lasting price to pay.

But before that, a principle has been established: at the top of the pile, in the big leagues, there’s room for only one narrative — and it sure isn’t the media that is going to decide what that is.


A principle has been established: at the top of the pile, in the big leagues, there’s room for only one narrative — and it sure isn’t the media that is going to decide what that is. Nawaz didn’t want this.


Nawaz didn’t want this. He had blocked a takedown of Geo. He didn’t want to sanction a suspension. But in the end, that’s exactly what has happened.

Sift through the debris of this most public of crises and the problem is there for all too see: Nawaz has been undone by Nawaz.

Isolated, aloof, plodding — a losing trifecta if ever there was one, but it gets worse when the unforeseen arises and the enemy is deft.

On this there can be little doubt: Nawaz didn’t want to lose this fight; he gets the implications of a controlled media; he knows how this can come back to haunt him.

And yet, right from the beginning, only one outcome seemed likely.

Because Nawaz had no plan. He was unable to react. He was unable to adapt. And his reflexes are non-existent.

Much of it stems from old Nawaz, pre-1999, eclipsing new Nawaz, 2008-2013.

By now the stories are legion. As are the tell-tale signs.

Dar’s budget speech meant Nawaz had to be in parliament. He came alright, but in his own way.

As he walked into parliament, the N-Leaguers applauded. Nawaz ignored them. Not even so much as a glance at his treasury benches.

Instead, as per prime ministerial custom, he worked the front benches of the opposition. Warm handshakes, a hug or two, smiles, waves, short conversations — the cameras clicked away.

Then, he took his seat — again, without so much as a glance at his backbenchers. No matter. Back benchers are a hardened lot. Their boss on the floor of the house means an opportunity to hurry over to his seat and say nice things and ask for urgent favours.

But nobody moved. By now they know better. Nawaz bristles at being accosted in parliament and the surest way for a PML-N MNA to ensure anything he needs done won’t get done is to try and engage Nawaz on the floor of the house.

It’s not just inside parliament though. Outside parliament, there’s a designated point man — he’s the chap the average PML-N MNA must approach, and he will decide whether to convey your message to the boss or not.

Sure, vintage Nawaz, you’re thinking. But it gets worse.

If you’re in, you’re in; if you’re out, you’re out — and there’s nothing you can do once the boss has decided which category you’re in. Even if you’re a minister.

Imagine a cabinet in which ministers have to plot and scheme to get an audience with their prime minister — even if it’s genuine, legitimate, government work they are trying to get done.

Should they approach Dar or should they approach Shahbaz — it’s a week-to-week, case-by-case calculation most ministers have to make when wanting to send Nawaz a message.

Most don’t even have the luxury of access to Dar and Shahbaz, so they are stuck with trying to cajole the super-bureaucrats who have positioned themselves as gatekeepers to the prime minster.

Few get very far. Most come away bitterly wondering if they had just met a civil servant or the prime minister himself.

But what’s worse? Always having been on the outside looking in or being one of the former insiders now frozen out?

The evening of Dar’s speech, there was an especially lonely figure several rows behind Nawaz.

Late last year, he was king of the pile. The adviser who bragged of having helped pick the next chief. The meetings with the boss were plentiful and lengthy.

Then, the adviser had the temerity to let it be known that he wanted a particular ministry. But Nawaz has someone else in mind for that slot when the cabinet reshuffle happens.

Now, the poor chap can’t even catch his PM’s eye. There’s nothing like being jettisoned from the top.

On and on the stories go. Of the self-styled heir to the Mughal throne. Of darbar politics. Of a prime minister who is so isolated, aloof and plodding that he’s unable to react when stuff happens.

The Geo debacle is only part of it. The inside and the periphery of the N-League has the look of a shocked bunch. Like they don’t quite know what happened or why. Like the past few months are only now beginning to sink in.

Like it’s suddenly sinking in that they’ve survived not because of the boss, but despite the boss.

For now, there’s just relief in the PML-N. Talk has turned to the budget — which means another year. Soon Ramazan will be upon us. Then Eid. Then the oppressiveness of August.

Which means: September. Until then, while the enemy plots its next move, the PML-N can breathe a bit.

Unless, that is, they start thinking about if Nawaz will be any better prepared for the next round.

The writer is a member of staff

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2014