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Not nabbed yet

Updated February 21, 2016


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

FIRST, the good news: at least no one lost their minds. There’s been no crisis. No mutants crawling out of the woodwork. Nobody thinks the government is about to fall.

Basically, a win for continuity.

The longer this democracy thing goes on, the more folk will be able to take disagreements in their stride. It’s how democracy is supposed to work.

The surest thing we’ve learned about Nawaz is that a confident Nawaz makes for a snippy Nawaz.

Not everything is the end of the world. Not everything is so fragile. Some things are built to last.

Now, on to the bad news: continuity aside, there’s not much good going on here.

NAB is a flawed organisation. Thoroughly so. It has to be: it was created by a military man and designed to take on civilians.

Partly, that’s what’s happening again. But that’s not only why Nawaz is snarling and his acolytes are yelping.

The surest thing we’ve learned about Nawaz the third time round is that a confident Nawaz makes for a snippy Nawaz.

Basically, Raheel’s told everyone he’s going home.

Which means Nawaz is king of the castle for a while. At least until the next chaps settles in. And that makes for trouble.

If Nawaz thinks you’re an irritant, anyway.

Remember Model Town? The massacre happened hours after Zarb-i-Azb began. The calculation then was as clear as it is now: the boys were on-side, which was a good time to whack an opponent or two.

This time, we’ve learned the boss isn’t too happy about how NAB is going about its business. And it’s revealed several things to us, besides the obvious.

First, the media has been neutralised. Its ability to cause real trouble for a government is gone.

There, fault originally lies with the boys: they decided independence — raucous, self-serving, manipulated media independence — was a step too far.

Once the boys intervened, the government got its chance. Soon enough, hyper partisanship was the name of the game. Which makes hysteria less effective.

So now — Nawaz snarls at NAB, the media goes into a frenzy, and most everyone else yawns. You can’t really know what the truth is because you already know which side everyone is on.

Second, the outburst revealed the extent to which Nawaz has been captured — or allowed himself to be captured — by bureaucrats.

Go over the original words. He was aggrieved that NAB was scaring bureaucrats. Not letting them do their job; interfering willy-nilly.

It’s like government of the bureaucrats, for the bureaucrats, by the bureaucrats. That’s never a good thing — for democracy or politicians themselves. Nawaz’s insularity is at its peak.

Third, Nawaz doesn’t much care for the rules. The NAB probing is partly rooted in an old political problem: trying to get too much done too quickly without the regular checks and balances.

Big-ticket items — flagship infrastructure projects — this government is so proud of are hard to get off the ground. Not impossible, but really difficult.

The rules are byzantine, the agencies many and the traps countless. There’s always someone around to say no and another three people to explain why.

But Nawaz — and the brother in Punjab — is impatient. Politics is about results, not rules.

So short cuts are taken and trouble is created — partly because the system is broken and partly because there’s no interest in reforming it.

Fourth, the guy at the top seems to think everyone around him is like him. Possibly a rupee trillionaire by now, there’s no real impulse for Nawaz to line his pockets.

The brother in Lahore is nowhere near as wealthy, but he’s rich enough — and money isn’t what seems to really make him tick.

What the brothers are doing, they believe they’re doing for the greater good. Which makes them bristle at corruption probes — it is to question the basis of all that they now think they stand for.

Five, not everyone around them is like the Brothers Sharif. This is obvious enough — or should be.

If you’re not already a billionaire or trillionaire, there’s incentive to stick your hand in the cookie jar. And maybe too if you already are a billionaire.

The system is so big, the opportunities so many, the temptation so great that only a fool would believe that there’s nothing going on at all.

Corruption exists because corruption makes sense — the upside is great, the downsides few, especially when the system is broken and your boss has your back.

Put all of that together and we’re still left with that one, big old question: how to get the pols to do the right thing?

The most obvious route is gone. Were Iftikhar Chaudhry still around, he would have roared and suo motu-ed his way to the centre of things. We’d either have a new NAB or a rejuvenated old one.

Parliament is compromised. The old opposition, ie the PPP, is worried about itself; the new opposition, ie the PTI, is caught between radicalism and the status quo. And the government — well, we already know what the government is thinking.

Scandal could be a catalyst — but the media is compromised. Without a credible vehicle to flog scandal, scandal loses its effect. So even if scandal arrives, it likely won’t go very far.

Which leaves — the boys. And that brings us full circle. The boys know how to work institutions, but the pols know the boys can’t fix institutions.

Essentially, the boys have a hammer, but the pols hold the strings.

Which means a scalp or two may be got and stuff at the margins curbed, but the game, the greater game, will go on.

It’s good to be a politician again. Unless Raheel has something up his sleeve.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2016