Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


The oldest game

Updated August 17, 2014


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

TIME to sift through the detritus. IK? Got no plan, thinks he can win. That makes him a loser. Nawaz? Qadri was personal; Imran was politics.

But is this all the politics he — Nawaz — has got?

Breathe. What was the original threat to this government? That street agitation was being encouraged by the boys to either kill off Nawaz’s mandate or oust him. Straightforward enough that.

So, for Nawaz: wait for the enemy to come to you or take the fight to him? Three-term PM decided on the latter. And that’s when the danger escalated. Cause Model Town happened, shutting down Lahore happened, barricading Islamabad happened.

Round and round it goes, the civ-mil riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma that is also quite simple.

The pressure began to recede not when the marchers failed to materialise, it began to recede when the government stepped back and said, go ahead, guys, show us what you’ve got.

Until that moment, for some reason, the government had made the storyline about what was being done to the would-be protesters instead of what the protests could achieve.

What was that reason?

Closer to Aug 14, it became apparent that Nawaz had two things on his mind: this was being orchestrated by the boys; he was willing to pretend it wasn’t authorised at the very top.

Bluntly, the PM thought sections of the mil-intel establishment were out to get him, but that Raheel and Zahir hadn’t signed off on it.

What that tells you is a further two things. One, that old myth about a unified army, top to bottom, is a myth that the political leadership doesn’t believe.

Two, Nawaz can still play tricks. By pushing back fiercely against the I-Day rallies, but suggesting that Raheel or Zahir weren’t behind them, the de-escalation option — on both sides — remained open.

Now what?

It’s the next part that’s revealing. Nawaz’s circle thinks he has to tough it out till October, when a spate of retirements will trigger a reshuffle among the boys that can take some of the pressure off.

But does Nawaz really believe that this is the hangover of the Musharraf-Kayani era that is out to get him or does he know — and knows that he can’t say out loud — that Raheel, Zahir and everyone else, they’re all the same, and they all either fear, loathe or are suspicious of Nawaz?

Because, on the opposite side, if it is in fact true — facts? What are those? — that it wasn’t Raheel or Zahir who conceived of or authorised the attempted street putsch, exactly how unhappy could they really have been with events if they let events play out till the very end?

And round and round it goes, the civ-mil riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma that is also quite simple: the civilians aren’t up to scratch yet; the boys have an old playbook; the game will continue, until something else replaces it.

For now, the game is here. And Nawaz ain’t winning.

So, is this it? From here on out the memory will linger on, battle lines drawn, Nawaz pushed into survival mode, focusing on a domestic economic agenda, leaving the big-boy stuff to the boys, like Zardari did?

It’s a long time to wait: 2018.

At least in 2009, the military overhang was still monstrously large and the democratic transition in the hands of an electoral novice and political liability.

Then — short-change though it did the country — at least something, survival, was better than nothing. But successive five-year terms of the same? It is an unhappy thought.

What can Nawaz do to salvage his third term? Well, he can stop being Nawaz. But a born-again democrat being re-birthed a fifth of his way through a third stint in power? Shed the advisers, ditch the bureaucrats, bring in some fresh blood — it’d still be the old Nawaz making the final call.

It’s not just the ponderousness, the slowness of response and the visceral need to crush opponents. It’s the personalised nature of all that is happening.

Musharraf — personal. October 1999. And all that happened afterwards. But October 1999.

Qadri — personal. He made him, he financed him, he will teach him a lesson.

Imran — challenge to personal fiefdom, Punjab. To boot, sponsored, in Nawaz’s mind, by the institutional foe and unleashed again on behalf of a personal enemy, Musharraf.

Nawaz is what everyone thought Zardari would be. Unable to forget, unwilling to forgive and unfit to lead. Except Zardari learned, Nawaz hasn’t in three tries.

Hit the re-set button and start the countdown anew. 2018 — unless a miracle happens.

But back to the present, back to the opponents, back to Islamabad. The immediate danger is almost gone; can Nawaz though be magnanimous and engage his political foes?

Qadri left Islamabad in Jan 2013 after working out an important-sounding but meaningless charter with the PPP government and sharing a laugh with Kaira. Will Imran get the same courtesy?

Wander around the sites of freedom and revolution in Islamabad and, if you are of a certain, decent bent, a particular wave of emotions will wash over you.

To see Imran, this version, and Qadri, all versions, in action is to feel a mix of pity, resentment and anger — 67 years on, is this the best we’ve got to bring down a government?

Qadri is a zealot, Imran obsessed with power — whether they are carefully deployed assets or independent opportunists, surely Pakistan deserves better.

Or perhaps not. Because to watch this version of Nawaz — the only version? — in action is to feel fear. Is he really the best of what the democrats have to offer?

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2014