The PML-N’s best friend

Published November 16, 2014
The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

PARLIAMENT saved democracy. No, the opposition saved democracy. No, the government saved its own skin. No, the script writers balked. No, Qadri and Imran failed.

Everyone’s got a theory. But few want to state the obvious. There is one — and only — reason we still have an elected government and parliament: Raheel Sharif didn’t want to take over.

The general’s Kayani moment came on Aug 30. Mayhem had broken out. The government had lost all control. TV screens were filled with smoke. Constitution Avenue was burning.


Imran may be the greatest gift the PML-N has ever received — once it became clear Raheel wasn’t going to take over.


If he had wanted to, on that one night, on Aug 30, Raheel could have become the fifth dictator in the long and ignominious history of this country. Raheel chose not to. And all the squabbling and yammering and arrest-warranting in the world will not change that fact.

There is a corollary: these decisions — like the one not to take over — are not revisited every few weeks or even months. Barring something catastrophic or staggeringly unexpected, Raheel’s decision is done.

That fact and corollary also present opportunities for others. For the PML-N, it knows a military takeover isn’t on the cards. Which, if you’re the PML-N, ie petty and personal, means you can sock it to the enemy.

So now we’re stuck with this awfulness of the anti-terror persecution of Imran and his buddies. There is nothing — nothing in the world — terroristic about what happened on Constitution Avenue on Aug 30.

Crimes were committed. Parliament was nearly desecrated. The law was broken. But they were political crimes and every single one of those crimes could be investigated and prosecuted without recourse to special investigators or special laws.

So what is the PML-N up to? Why this, why now? In a word, or two rather: Nov 30. They don’t want a massive crowd in Islamabad, like Imran has pulled in elsewhere.

A big crowd in Isloo would not be the end of this government. A big crowd in Isloo would not reignite Imran’s fading challenge. But a big crowd would irritate the N-League. And that, quite depressingly, is why we are here: national politics reduced to what pisses off a federal government.

On to some of the stuff the government should be doing. The N-League is on a PR blitz. Things are happening on the energy front. Affordable electricity will be ours by the time the next election rolls around. Load-shedding will be manageable. Pakistan will be bright again.

But the PML-N has got nothing — nothing close to what they claim anyway. Three countries Nawaz has been to in recent days. And the most amusing — you gotta laugh because the alternative is, well, so much darker — of stories are circulating in Isloo.

All those energy deals? So desperate is the N-League to get things signed that it’s taken to trying to cart Pakistanis abroad to sign local deals in third countries. Y’know, for optics — cause it looks bad if the PM is running around trying to drum up investment abroad and nothing real gets signed.

And all those important meetings abroad with high-profile hosts and serious agendas? Amusingly, some very relevant Isloo-based folk didn’t even bother to make the trip — so pointless, photo-op-ed and last minute were the trips.

Essentially, Nawaz can force his A-team to go along because, well, he’s the boss — the other side of the table though doesn’t have to take any of it seriously.

The truly depressing thing about electricity is not the scale of the problem — but just how seriously the government had taken it, and still achieved nothing.

Remember that long ago time, the halcyon days of the PML-N’s third term, when the honeymoon was still on, the distant summer and autumn of 2013?

Remember how Nawaz didn’t do anything but work on energy, holed up in day-long meetings with his energy advisers?

Remember how Nawaz got that May 2013 was essentially a referendum on electricity — the reason the PPP got walloped and the electorate chose the safe, competent hands of the PML-N over the mercurial, untested hands of the PTI?

Well, many have forgotten. And the PML-N would prefer it stayed that way. Because the longer this silliness of — and now with — the PTI continues, a dirty little secret will remain unspoken, unheard and unrecognised: the PML-N was out of its depth, not up to the task of fixing Pakistan, long before Imran turned up the heat.

The N-League had no plan when it took office. After a bit, a very short bit, it became apparent it didn’t have the capacity to develop a plan. A bit after that, it became apparent that it didn’t have the will to develop a plan. And a little bit after that, it became apparent that it didn’t have the urgency to find the will to develop the capacity to have a plan.

Imran has made everyone forget that. Imran changed the topic. Imran made it about silly stuff rather than the deep, structural and continuing problems of the state and the PML-N’s inability to fix any of it.

Imran may be the greatest gift the PML-N has ever received — once it became clear Raheel wasn’t going to take over.

No investment? Blame Imran. No electricity? Blame the dharna. No capital metro bus? Blame Imran. No policy? Blame the dharna. No vital appointments? Blame Imran.

Had Imran not happened, folk would have started to figure out the PML-N doesn’t know how to fix Pakistan or doesn’t want to. And re-election would have been in jeopardy.

So the longer this drags out, the more you have to wonder: does the PML-N really want Imran to go away?

Because if Imran goes away, there’ll be no one left to blame.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2014

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