Back from the precipice

Updated Sep 15 2014


The writer is a lawyer.
The writer is a lawyer.

The reiteration of khaki resolve to not use dharnas to dabble in politics is cause for relief.

Imagine if the press release post the corps commanders’ meeting had neither issued instructions to the government nor spoken of abiding by “national aspirations” and had simply reminded everyone that the khakis are under oath to “uphold the Constitution”, which embodies the “will of the people” and to not “engage … in any political activities whatsoever.” Would that leave any room to drag the military’s good name into this political squabble?

Do the khakis not realise that Pakistan has a long history of military coups and interference from behind the curtain?

Is it then fair to begrudge critique of the military’s role in politics?

Do any ISPR press releases exist blacklisting Geo TV or expressing disquiet over the Musharraf trial?

Are khaki views on these matters a secret?

Despite repeated court orders, Geo’s transmission has not been restored. Cable operators across Pakistan are risking their licenses to ensure Geo’s blackout. Is this a coincidence?

There emerged a ‘meray aziz humwatno’ moment after the attack on PTV when the government’s writ seemed non-existent. That it did not happen is no small mercy.

But the dissipating fear of imminent military intervention must not encourage the Nawaz regime to test khaki resolve any further.

The ‘long march’ and dharnas have exposed the vulnerability of our constitutional order. In defending themselves, the Nawaz regime and parliament have cashed out most of their legitimacy and political capital.

And let us not forget that many who find praetorians to be more damaging to our future than failing politicos are only reluctant defenders of the ‘system’ as it exists.

Imran Khan could still walk away from D-chowk politically much stronger than when he arrived.

Imran Khan made some poor choices this past month (eg associating with Tahirul Qadri, using foul language, and calling for civil disobedience, the non-payment of taxes and the use of hundi, etc.).

Also Read: PTI to mark completion of one month

But he could still walk away from D-Chowk politically much stronger than when he arrived if he can end this phase of his movement constructively by securing meaningful electoral reform, the initiation of electoral audit by a non-partisan commission, and reaffirming his commitment to changing the system while working through it.

IK’s critique of how our state and its institutions continue to fail us resonates with ordinary people. What our power elite probably fails to appreciate is the disquiet, and the ferocity of it, that citizens share for the manner in which our country is being run.

And desperation can cause people to develop a blind spot for the limitations afflicting individuals who emerge as symbols of change.

The many failings of the then chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, were overlooked by people as the need for rule of law, constitutionalism and un-perverted justice resonated with ordinary people and they saw the return of the chief justice as a means to that desirable end.

No allegation — taunts of being a PCO judge, stories of Arsalan Iftikhar and nepotism, the love for protocol, etc — hurt Mr Chaudhry at the time.

Today it is Imran Khan’s Teflon moment.

You can throw anything at him — skeletons from a past life, Jewish ex-wife, the embracing of pro-dictator politicians, contradictions, U-turns, impossible demands, unsubstantiated allegations, self-righteousness, etc — and it doesn’t stick.

It doesn’t stick because he is selling a dream that people wish to wake up in: accountability of corrupt elites, a functioning justice system, a parliament that protects the interests of those it represents, and so on.

On the one hand you have moth-eaten structures, patronage-driven politics and its apologists. On the other you have a foolhardy IK who possesses charisma, inspires hope and wants to remake Pakistan.

Not just ordinary Joes but middle-class folks who must work the system on a daily basis want to give IK the benefit of the doubt.

We live in a predatory state where the system conspires in your favour if you are a have and against you if you are a have-not.

We have a political class whose survival and success depends on monopolising and abusing state largesse and patronage.

We have a bureaucracy whose power and nuisance emanates from its ability and proclivity to deny people their rights and state services. We are at the mercy of a justice system that further perpetuates the social and economic inequalities within society.

Life in Pakistan offers you an alternative: you can struggle to emerge a predator or remain a hapless prey. A prime motivation to become someone important — bureaucrat, judge, general, parliamentarian, etc — is not your aptitude for the job but acquiring the ability to ward off attacks from other predators.

There is so much wrongdoing all around that you would be consumed in a day if you chose to fight it each time. You would be pulled in by quicksand if you didn’t learn how to make compromises and paddle through the rot.

Exceptions apart, you are so used to having muck all over you by the time you climb up the ropes that you are no longer alive to the urgent need to cleanse yourself and your surroundings when you make it to the exclusive club. It is a vicious cycle.

But it is not sustainable.

Those who understand this don’t want IK to fail altogether, even if they don’t want him to succeed while working with tainted allies and pursuing failed ideas and misconceived means.

The writer is a lawyer.

Twitter: @babar_sattar

Published in Dawn, September 15th , 2014