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Just enough ain’t good enough

August 03, 2014


The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

AND round and round in circles we go. Now that Imran is determined to revive the game of musical chairs of the ’90s, you’ve got to wonder, either way, what difference does it make?

Yes, yes, continuity matters. Yes, the democratic project needs to be nurtured. Yes, impatience will get us nowhere. Yes, we’ve seen it all before and realised that while the alternative is flashier, the results are no better.

But let’s get real. Assume Nawaz is chucked out tomorrow. Gone, for a third time. A year after winning for a third time. What difference would it make?

In the game of power you either have it or you don’t — you really can’t share.

Who will turn out on the streets to protest the gross repudiation of the people’s will? Who but a handful of loyalists with nowhere to go will decry his ouster? Who will consider it an affront that cannot be countenanced?

Who will do anything?

Nobody. At most, some folk on the periphery of the political game will understand the damage done to the system, but even they will know deep down that in the game of power politics, Nawaz hurt himself and the system.

What is Nawaz’s sin at this point? Nothing really. Sure, he hasn’t lived up to expectations, but neither has he really screwed up.

The only thing that comes close to a strategic error is Musharraf. But that for the order of priorities and the way he’s gone about it and the reality of internal power structures. In principle though who can say Musharraf shouldn’t be tried?

At this point, Nawaz’s sin is the same as Asif’s was at the same point five years ago: he has won power.

Zardari was considered illegitimate, an insult to the dignity and honour of the land of the pure, a spot on the good name of Pakistan that had to be rubbed out quickly.

But it wasn’t really that. Zardari had power; others wanted that power. In the game of power you either have it or you don’t — you really can’t share.

See how they’ve turned on Kayani. Again, it’s miscast — a power grab and weakness of character: Kayani wanted a second term and wasn’t willing to pull the trigger on North Waziristan.

But it’s not really that. Kayani’s mistake was the perception of a quid pro quo: three more years for him and Zardari got his five years guaranteed. That’s the sin Kayani never really recovered from.

Now it’s Nawaz’s turn. Governance has been poor and the results unsatisfactory. But so what?

Who’s got better ideas here? Imran? Raheel? Qadri? The Chaudhrys? If it isn’t about results, then it’s surely about power. Nawaz has it; others want it — and the others aren’t willing to wait five years.

But if Nawaz’s real sins are few, there is one mistake that makes everything else irrelevant: he ought to have known better.

Ought to have known there is an enemy — which he does; ought to have known the enemy would attack — the jury is out on whether he did; and ought to have bolstered his defence and offence — which he hasn’t.

Collect allies, keep the public on your side, keep the enemy occupied, keep your options open, be alert.

Nawaz has done none of that.

And with each passing day — whether he survives or not — an old doubt continues to nag: does Nawaz really have an appetite for politics anymore? Is the fire in the belly still there?

There have been spurts of action: the March ’09 long march, the last weeks of the May ’13 election, the post-election focus on electricity.

But each of those episodes also emphasised the overall lethargy.

Had Nawaz really become a democrat or was he just unwilling to do what it would take to oust Zardari? Ousting someone is a gruelling task, something the frequency of ousters in the ’90s tended to obscure.

Meetings, planning, scheming, pushing, pulling, feinting, preparing, haranguing, day and night, work, work, work — making an ouster happen is about as difficult as winning an election.

No fire in the belly, no obsessiveness, no total dedication to the cause — and your opponent will survive. Like Zardari did.

So, Nawaz the democrat or Nawaz the long-in-the-tooth lion?

Or take the run-up to the election. A year out, Nawaz seemed peculiarly comfortable with the idea of a coalition government. There was no real attempt to open the gates to the PML-N tent or to expand the tent. What would be would be.

Then, with weeks to go, Imran swung into action, whipping up a media frenzy and preaching his message to massive rallies seemingly everywhere in the country. Only then did we see an energetic Nawaz, replicating Imran’s dash to constituencies and exhorting the masses.

So, Nawaz the hungry PM-in-waiting or Nawaz on auto-pilot, kicking back instead of pressing forwards?

Then there was the business of electricity. Post-election, Nawaz figured out the election had been a referendum on electricity. He disappeared from public and huddled with his energy advisers — for weeks and months.

Together, they came up with a plan, a plan drawn up knowing that it was probably the make-or-break plan for 2018, a plan that would require intense supervision and massive political will from the very top.

A few months on, the energy and focus was gone. Nawaz the governator or Nawaz the shrug-and-sigh PM?

And now this business with Imran, allowing him to drag a fringe demand to the centre stage of politics, from where anything is possible.

Just-enough Nawaz isn’t good-enough Nawaz. Especially if the enemy is relentless and obsessive.

No fire in the belly usually equals being consumed by someone else’s fire. Imran’s got fire.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2014