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Three, two, one

Updated August 24, 2014


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

If they can, they will. If there’s an incentive — power — and there’s opportunity — a rickety system — someone will attack.

Defence — plugging the holes — is usually ex-post, after the event, because ex-ante, before the event, it’s the attacker who has the greater incentive to find the vulnerabilities.

Simply, democracy will be attacked as long as democracy is weak, and the weaknesses will be found by the attackers more often than they will be by the defenders.

Frustrating as it is to watch Nawaz & co flail around and struggle to stay upright, it is also true that the foes they are contending with are many and the avenues of attack innumerable.

Start with Imran. He’s tough to defend against because he’s unpredictable and bound by no rules. He’s like that guy who’ll stand and throw fistful of mud after fistful of mud at a wall until something sticks.

Immediately after the election, Imran tried the electoral-fraud fistful of mud. It didn’t stick. Then he switched to electricity. It nearly stuck — but Nawaz offered to let him take charge of Pesco and Imran backed down.

The defence needs to be more alert, hungrier, fiercer, nimbler than the attacker. Nawaz & co failed that test

Then he found a fistful of mud that stuck and stuck for a while — attacking the government for not engaging the Taliban in dialogue. It was a potent line of attack given that an internal war is unpopular.

Eventually, Nawaz owned the dialogue option and Imran had to find something else. That’s when he returned to electoral fraud, but this time the fistful of mud was better moulded: four constituencies.

PML-N had a look, shrugged and went back to business. But that narrow, focused demand stuck — and struck a chord in the wider public and political arena. What’s the harm in having a look at four constituencies? It was damaging precisely because it was innocuous.

Thirty-five seats, recounting every vote cast, altogether fresh elections — those options seemed far too disruptive and were easily swatted away. Four constituencies was the fistful of mud that stuck to the wall of Fortress Sharif and stayed in place.

From there, Imran had something he could build on. More and more mud was flung until a mud ramp began to take shape and storming the castle became a possibility.

That’s what got us here.

If it wasn’t this, it would be something else. If it wasn’t something else, it would be another thing altogether. Something, anything — if the attacker is persistent and willing to try anything, the vulnerabilities will eventually be exposed. Especially if the system is weak.

Which means the defence needs to be more alert, hungrier, fiercer, nimbler than the attacker. Nawaz & co failed that test. They failed to spot the danger, failed to neutralise an incipient threat, failed to scrape off that first fistful of mud that clung to the walls of Fortress Nawaz — and now are facing the biggest of crises.

Imran won’t go away because Imran has time and possibility on his side. It’s in the nature of weak systems. Imran is simply showing us what’s possible when the system is weak.

Turn to the boys. Three mistakes Nawaz made: Musharraf; keenness on India; and siding against the ISI in the media wars. Which is fair enough ’cause what is power without ruffling status quo feathers?

The problem for Nawaz was the weak democratic system, which meant that pushback didn’t have to be direct. The attack could come from above or below or behind or from the sides — it never had to come from the front, the only thing Nawaz seemed to have prepared for.

The problem with Nawaz and the boys isn’t that they don’t get each other or understand each other, it’s that they precisely understand each other and know what the other is up to.

For the boys, there are three red lines: the leadership; the perks and the sprawling empire; and national security and foreign policy on India, Afghanistan and the US.

Nawaz ceded two, but went after the third: the leadership. Trying Musharraf is a Trojan horse, the thin edge of the wedge, putting the civilian cat among the army pigeons.

Get Musharraf and the door opens, not for mass trials but for collective demotion, of a slow road to ordinary-citizen status, vulnerable to the same whims and damage that the political class is.

The boys know this, Nawaz knows this — and only one side can win. It didn’t have to be this way. It could have been the strong system of the boys versus the weak but united system of the civilians.

Except, Nawaz is the go-it-alone sort. An emperor with a vulnerable kingdom and not the means to defend it. If only a valiant fight, the good fight, was a winning fight.

Perhaps — and oh the things, the many things that could be different — the worst thing to have happened to Nawaz was winning that damn election outright.

Zardari proved a survivor, a sustainer of coalitions, because he needed to be. The electoral maths post-May 11 meant Nawaz needed no partners. The emperor could do as he pleased.

And he did. And the system hit back.

If they can, they will. They can, so they have. Nawaz thought he could and there was no one to tell him that he couldn’t.

1990-1993; 1997-1999; 2013-2014?

Three years, two years, one year — terms one, two and three have proved one thing: if they can, they will. And they grow less patient with time.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, August 24th, 2014