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Petulant PML-N

August 16, 2015


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

THERE are several variations to it. Forgive and forget. That’s usually impossible. Forgive, but never forget. That takes assuredness.

And then there’s the PML-N: don’t forgive, but pretend to forget. The only ones they fool are themselves.

Mushahidullah has spoken, the heavens have shook, life will never be the same again. Until the next crisis.

Politicians are funny folk. They tend to chafe when others encroach.

Here’s the thing about the PML-N: even when they want to be honest, they do the dishonest thing.

You knew in an instant the army would react. It has, under the present leadership, nearly perfected the art of doing politics without being perceived to do politics.

Zarb-i-Azb, dharna, military courts — they get what they want and they get it while looking good and with no one blaming them. Heck, people cheer them on.

Get what you want and get cheered doing it — it’s the best of all worlds.

But politicians are funny folk. They tend to chafe when others encroach. And eventually they say something impolitic and unwise.

Stupid can also be sly though. Forget what Mushahidullah said and ask yourself this: what did it imply? If you block the hysteria and noise, it is fairly obvious.

It implied that Raheel was not in control. Nine months after taking over, the deputy was calling the shots. No 2 was manipulating No 1; the boss was being played for a patsy.

That made it a double-whammy: for the public, the boys’ political side was being exposed; to the rank and file, the boss was being made to look weak.

That made a riposte necessary. And there are few things in the world as slick and coordinated as the present GHQ-ISPR combine.

You can imagine there’ll be words exchanged in private too. Raheel is not known for letting his feelings remain unknown. Especially when it concerns the reputation of his beloved institution.

Which brings us back to the starting point: the PML-N’s peculiar approach of not forgiving, but pretending to forget — and getting into a twist every now and then when the pretence drops.

Maybe Nawaz and co really do believe it was Zaheer and not Raheel. Just like once upon a time it was Pasha and not Kayani.

Once down that rabbit hole, you can see what the N-League was trying to do. The dharna anniversary is here, the judicial commission has spoken, 2013 is settled and the PTI is in turmoil.

So, stick the knife in. Draw a line between Zaheer and the PTI for all the world, and Punjab, to see and let the media do its mischief.

The PML-N would get banged up too, but the truth about the PTI would be out there with minimal damage to the relationship with the still-serving chief — an enemy attacked with limited collateral damage or self-harm.

It was utterly stupid.

The boys, especially Raheel, are more popular than Nawaz. Fistfuls of mud flung at the boys right now are only going to make the guys doing the throwing look dirty. Especially when it concerns events past.

On to the voter. The independent is hardly going to be surprised to hear there’s a nexus between the PTI and the army.

But the independent is hardly going to be concerned about that when he decides which way to vote next. Hell, better relations with the boys may even imply more stable politics.

The core PTI voter isn’t going to care. The Sharifs are illegitimate, so anything done to bring them down is for the greater good.

Which leaves — the PML-N. The N-Leaguer may be pleased the truth is out there and may feel vindicated.

But it’s not like the PML-N voter was looking elsewhere to begin with. His party has had a good run of late and there is no real crisis.

The downside is all too clear though. To get to the PTI, the PML-N has made the army look bad and a popular chief look weak.

So you’ve pissed off the current crop of boys — for no apparent gain. These things have a spillover effect. They reinforce old biases and convictions.

The boys will know it was not just Mushahidullah. The PML-N has pretty much said what he did for over a year and, frankly, made no attempt to hide what they believe.

In the end, it comes down to this: the PML-N has lost its bite, but not its bark. In this new era of civ-mil, the PML-N has learned not to be defiant, but has yet to learn not to be petulant.

Maybe there was no conspiracy. But neither was there any attempt to pre-empt damage. That would have meant sending out a simple message to the party faithful ahead of the dharna anniversary:

Focus on the damage the dharna caused and be forward-looking. Whatever you do, don’t involve the army.

The risk of a blowout was high this first anniversary. The party has the capacity to coordinate its public messaging. So it comes down to will.

Last year, the PML-N chose to lay on the cross and accept its lashes. It wasn’t quite stoicism, but it was enough.

This year, no longer in danger and with 2013 settled, it chose to look back and spit at its tormentors. And the PML-N has reminded the rest of us that it doesn’t forgive and only pretends to forget.

Maybe though the PML-N shouldn’t forget the only fact that matters from the dharna: the PML-N is still with us because Raheel decided not to take over.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2015

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