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Beyond the march: The powers that (won't) be

Updated August 12, 2014


None of these are part of the long-term plans of the powers that be.
None of these are part of the long-term plans of the powers that be.

A complex long game is finally afoot.

After testing the waters in March and then again over the last few months, it seems the push for the big revamp is finally happening. I'd say get ready for some fundamental, long-term changes to the political system now.

A lot more is going on than what meets the eye. This complex game has long-term ramifications for the Pakistani state and will shape the future for the next few decades at least. The cycle of events which has been kicked off is not unfamiliar, but looks substantially upgraded from its previous versions.

We are in for a systematic shift from the current political system to a sustained and curated political system which will culminate in a whole new set of players at the national chessboard.

Simply put, we'll have new political parties with a new cadre of politicians created to fit the requirements of the next 20-30 years.

Also read: Herald Exclusive: Divided they rule

The 2013 elections really disappointed in terms of the change they were supposed to usher in. Existing political parties, it was hoped, would reform themselves and evolve into actors able to stand the test of time; groom future leaders from within; strengthen the democratic system.

What we ended up with was far from that.

Strengthening democratic norms took a back seat and parties went back to power politics, ignoring the needs of the country.

The PPP and PML-N quickly reverted to their royalty-based model i.e. you would not be a leader unless you were born one, while the PTI chose to remain a cult of personality, instead of transforming into a proper political voice.

As for the MQM, it is and most likely will always remain a proxy for certain powers, so expecting democratic ideals from them is just misplaced optimism.

The 30-month plan

It was at this point that the powers that be launched their ambitious project to do what they had last done in the early 80s i.e. changing the fundamental dynamics of future politics in Pakistan and rewrite the rules of the game.

The approach was simple: review the government's performance after 12 months; if the existing staff of politicians realise their shortcomings and evolve, then let things be, but if they stick to the same path, then proceed to the 30-month time limit plan.

In this case, it seems the 30-month limit was decided upon. In a post I wrote in July, I mentioned that we have 18 to 24 months left before this is wrapped up for a fundamental game change. That timeline was based on the 30-month time limit.

But before I explain what the changes that we are headed for are, it is pertinent to understand how and why we got here, how we'll proceed and where we will end up.

We got here quite simply due to the inept governance of the PML-N, no two ways about that.

I have written consistently since March on the way PML-N is shooting itself in the foot. Burying their heads like ostriches, PML-N consistently ignored the major political problems it faced to focus on economy and building infrastructure.

The hallmark for the last one year has been their characteristic indecision, the biggest example being the months and months of dilly-dallying before the eventual launch of the operation against TTP. Add to this internal differences within the PML-N, and the story writes itself.

Meanwhile, the PTI chose to ignore the province it won to focus on the province it lost. Maybe it is age or trauma or just the Pervaiz Rasheeds equivalents in the PTI who convinced Imran Khan he should be prime minister when we all know that even if every controversial constituency were to be awarded to him, it still wouldn't be enough to land Immy Bhai in the PM office.

As for the PPP, it was holed up in their strongholds of Sindh and Washington DC, quietly biding their time, preparing the launch of the second of Benazir’s kids.

Against this backdrop, the powers that be started with getting their toolkit in order.

Imran and Qadri were activated to create a ruckus big enough to weaken the government. At no time are any of these two individuals serious contenders for any leadership role in Pakistan. They are mere tools to get a job done.

Ideally, these two would have created enough commotion over time to force the government on the back foot and bring the business of governance to a halt ala Thailand. It would have taken about six months to get to that point.

From that point onwards, it would have been a discussion on how to address this problem and the need for a unity government. That would fail miserably again and given the crisis was not being resolved, public frustration levels would peak and calls for a stable government get louder as the energy and jobs crisis got worse with the economic meltdown, all due to perpetual political instability.

Happening today: Islamabad may be sealed tonight

If the ideal plan hasn't happened, something like it has, as the ruckus of Imran and Qadri has managed to bring things to this point.

Battle for Punjab

It is crucial to realise that all of this plays out mostly in Punjab, as that is the true bone of contention here.

The battle is to get Punjab out of one-party rule and make it fair game again just like it was in the late 80s and 90s. The opposition would kick in to action and we would end up with a national stability government.

The stability government will be technocrat heavy and will essentially rewrite the rule book for future politics. By this time new people would be scouted and thrust into the public eye for a good two year period. By then the Sharifs, Imran Khan and Zardari would be too old to be anything more than a shell of their former selves.

Newer faces with newer party alignments will be there – like the early 80s – to lead this country for the next two to three decades. No Sharif, Khan, Qadri, Bhutto or Chaudhry would politically make it to the other side for the simple reason that they would have too much baggage.

Imran would have too many failed attempts, Sharifs and Bhuttos would have too many attempts, Chaudhrys would have Monis and Qadri would be back in Canada.

That's where we are headed.

The powers that be will never directly seize control nor will they ever really leave the political system alone. Those hoping for a clear-cut solution are stuck in the past and need to update their fetishes to include technocrats.

I once hoped our political parties would have cared for the system enough to become professionally run organisations as opposed to family-run businesses, but I guess that was unrealistic on my part.

Had that happened, we would not be entering this nearly three-year long transition period.

Pakistan needs patriots, not party loyalists.

Pakistan needs democracy, not autocracy.

But most of all, we need governance, not just promises of governance.

So here we are, repeating history, hoping for a different result yet again.