It is very traumatic to lose trust in something you have believed in for a long time; to admit to one’s self that everything is in fact, not right. But for the past few weeks, this is exactly what I've had to go through.
And, all that mental agony has led to this article.
All is not well with the PML-N government. The external pressures are bad enough, but the added internal strife is now scuttling any lingering semblance of composure. The former, I will get to in a bit, it is the latter which is actually more disturbing, and has kept growing since the time this year's budget was announced.
That seemed to be the tipping point for the ruling party.
While the media focused on discussing the issues effected by yet another IMF-approved budget, the internal trouble the budget caused was hushed up. Few noticed that numerous ministries were flat out ignored when it came to putting the budget together. Most notable was the Planning Ministry, which stood neatly in a corner holding its Vision 2025 banner in hand, wasn't even asked for feedback.
Instead, it was the finance ministry which ran the show.
They singularly championed all decisions involved and bulldozed all other opinions and signs of dissent to dust.
That tipped the balance, and rumours of internal strife started to go public.
But the question is, how did this whole mess begin and why do the most powerful people in the Federal Cabinet do not happen to be elected members?
Below, I offer a possible explanation.
The faulty Punjab Governance Model
Ever since the federal government took over last year, it has been systematically trying to replicate the ‘Punjab Governance Model' at the federal level. For those not familiar with this model, it is actually pretty simple and sheepish in its approach:
The model is based on the philosophy that as most politicians are inherently inept and incapable of doing any good at all, they need to be kept out of the decision-making loop.
Instead, blue-eyed bureaucrats should be utilised to establish the writ of the leader on all matters.
As a result of this model, everything in Punjab now has to go through the Chief Minister and his bureaucrats instead of the 300 plus MPAs. This process concentrates all power into the hands of Shahbaz Sharif and his inner circle of unelected officials (this is why local government elections will never happen in Punjab — they are, by definition, against the idea of centralised power.
This is why the government of Punjab was infamously referred to as ‘Takht-e-Lahore’ by PPP’s Babar Awan i.e. it is run like a royal court).
The problem is, the model barely works at the provincial level. And when replicated at the national level, it rightly ticks off a large number of national level leaders.
Imbalance of power in the Cabinet
At the provincial level, most of the political leadership is so toothless and devoid of options that they cannot imagine to revolt. At the national level, however, the stakes are different.
Politicians at the national level have a better hand to choose from, and a fan following to go with it.
What transpired in the last one year is that the federal-level cloning of the ‘Punjab Model of Governance’ has made the likes of Fawad Hassan Fawad more powerful in the Cabinet meeting room compared to the Interior Minister, Defense Minister and even the Planning Minister.
All of these people have had to scrape and scramble their way to even getting an appointment with the party leader. Add to this the whole budget episode and you have a scenario where the party's top leadership is freely trampled over, ignored and often humiliated by political eunuchs more interested in getting a good ACR than delivering on their pre-election promises.
Also read: Leadership indifferent to PML-N rifts in KP
So, this is the internal pressure the government faces. Its own people ignored and marginalised to a point where they would rather keep mum than defend government actions anymore.
Sadly, the government has only itself to blame.
In one year, a ruling party with a crushing majority has alienated its brain trust, its most vocal elements and a presentable leadership in favour of bureaucrats with zero political loyalty.
How and why things came to stand so is a long and separate story; but to give you a primer, consider that the last time the Mians trusted their party leadership and empowered it, the Chaudhrys back-stabbed them and defected.
The ghosts seem to have stuck around, and teased the Mians into doing all of the above.
Added mischief of external forces
It is almost pointless to try to make things harder for such a government, but that isn't stopping the forces of adversity. They have a plan, and honestly speaking, it need not even be that brilliant given the guilty-until-proven-innocent way this government has been handling itself of late.
It's a simple plan, and its execution even better.
This time around, the approach is to avoid taking the government out in one shot without the alternatives being ready. So instead, the government is pelleted with a steady stream of smaller crises over and over again till it loses balance completely. Hopefully, by that point, the alternatives will be ready and the recycling of former generals, bureaucrats and creation of new ideologues complete.
The usual suspects causing this disruption still don't realise that they are kitchen knives and not table knives i.e. they are used to prepare the meat and not to eat it. Imran and Qadri, each in his own delusional world, serve well enough to cause disruptions even as the powers that be do not intend to use either as a long-term asset.
This time, the overlords have realised that propping up publicly controversial figures has to stop. Now they're in the market for educated persons from the middle class who can be built up into a coherent group of strong nationalist colour.
In simple words, we are back in the early part of the 80s; a bunch of new people will be polished up for a political future. But to get this done right requires time — at least another 18 to 24 months — and till then the regular disruptions will have to go on.
After all the above, I have to say, this government is unfathomable. It has betrayed its loyalists to overcompensate for its immense paranoia and plethora of insecurities. Even with a clear majority, it cannot manage a 35-MNA opposition and acts as if it is perpetually fighting a war of survival when it should be governing like no one’s business.
Of course, the powers that be are unfair in their attempts to destabilise the government, but I have to admit, at least they do what they do when provided the space. I do not blame them for what they are doing given the way this government acts.
When a political leader has to beg a political nobody to meet the party leader, all is clearly not well.