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PTI rabbit from PML-N hat

Updated March 22, 2015


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

AS goes Karachi, so goes national political stability. That used to be true, but not any more: the MQM isn’t what it once was. And yet, suddenly, out of nowhere, we have a PTI-PML-N deal in Islamabad.

So, is there some life left in the old truth? Well, possibly in the other half of it: what do the pols think the boys are really up to?

The surreal events in and around Karachi have not exactly come as a surprise. The rumour mill has been churning and the whispers about the impending unravelling of the MQM — or possibly just this version of the MQM — have been going on a while.

But it’s one thing for the rumour mill to churn and whispers to grow and quite another for them to begin to prove true. Especially given the thrust and direction of the theories.

Essentially, if conspiracies are to be believed, taking on Altaf is only the first step. After the MQM, a similar push is to come against the PPP, specifically, Zardari and the ribald bunch of misfits who surround him in the province.

What’s the endgame here or the exit strategy if things go wrong or the likely MQM and PPP response? Pabulum, all of it.

One theory has governor’s rule as the vehicle for an attempted PPP purge, another that governor’s rule will be the capstone of Operation Clean Up Sindh. Either way, big things are in store.

Hang on a second, you’re thinking, that doesn’t make any sense. Governor’s rule would require Nawaz to sign off on it and would be routed through the civilian side of the state. How the hell does that help the boys?

Besides, what’s the endgame here or the exit strategy if things go wrong or the likely MQM and PPP response? Pabulum, all of it.

Quite likely. But politics is a funny business, often driven by fear. Forget whether the MQM deserves it or not or whether the PPP has become a caricature of itself — what would you be thinking if you’re in the N-League in Islamabad?

You’d see a bunch of dominos lined up. First, the MQM — with the bonus of winning public support for taking it on. Next, the PPP — with the bonus of winning public support for taking it on. Final step, an already survival-moded N-League?

It’s not so much an exotic theory as base survival: the N-League can see the perfect storm brewing, if it doesn’t act.

Imran had already promised a month more and he’d take to the streets again. Karachi has been rocked and will take a while to settle — if it is allowed to settle at all. April is around the corner, the temperature is climbing and the electricity sector is still a mess.

You’re the PML-N. You can’t do much about electricity just now. You can’t do much about Karachi, Nisar’s babbling notwithstanding. Which leaves — Imran.

Three is worse than two, so why not give Imran his damn commission? And, magically, there is now a commission — or going to be anyway.

The commission will keep Imran off the street, the commission will ensure Karachi is not burning at the same time as Lahore and Islamabad, the commission will keep Punjab quiet.

Ah, but what happens if the commission finds the smoking gun? Wouldn’t Imran lay waste to Lahore and Islamabad?

It is a gamble, but then everything’s a gamble in politics. The trick is to try and mitigate risk. And the PML-N has two things going in its favour.

To begin with, they’ve already wrestled the PTI to a draw in a crucial area: the scope of the commission. The PTI wanted it narrow, the PML-N wanted to go big — the assumption being that it’s easier to prove shenanigans in individual constituencies than overall fraud and a stolen mandate.

Now, effectively, both of those things will be the commission’s mandate — allowing the PTI to claim vindication in the micro scenario and the PML-N in the macro picture.

A micro-macro split would suit the PML-N because it would produce no clarity — and without clarity the N-League can soldier on. It’s the PTI that needs clarity.

Which brings us to the second part: if, like the PML-N, the PTI can also see the perfect storm that is brewing, why would it opt for the commission now and not wait for the storm to consume the PML-N?

Here’s where the N-League, Dar mostly, has been canny: they’ve let the PTI do their work for them.

The story of the dharna and the PTI’s quest to topple the PML-N government was, within the PTI at least, a story of Imran’s ambition versus a moderate, pro-parliamentary bloc.

Some among the PTI moderates were driven by principle. All, however, were driven by pragmatism: they couldn’t see how Imran’s strategy would work — or work to the PTI’s advantage first.

But as long as Imran was raging, the PTI moderates had to go along. Why imperil your access and inner-sanctum status when the boss is breathing fire?

Eventually though logic asserted itself. When Imran’s raging and breathing fire failed, the moderates began to chirp up.

Stay inside parliament, they said. Focus on KP. Oppose the PML-N from within the system. Eventually, the soothing words began to work on the dragon boss.

Through it all, Dar kept the PTI moderates engaged. The rabbit has been ready in the hat a while — it seems it took the crisis in Karachi to convince the N-League now is the time to pull the rabbit out.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2015

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