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An impasse

Updated Oct 23, 2016 11:48am


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AS promised, normal service today. There is one of two ways the weeks ahead could unfold. First, the less obvious, more likely path.

This dharna business goes nowhere. A new chief is appointed. The kerfuffle of the last couple of weeks is quickly forgotten.

And Nawaz emerges the strongest PM since possibly ZAB and certainly since the heavy-mandate ’90s version of himself.

So the more likely path in the weeks ahead is the less obvious one, one that leaves Nawaz the most powerful PM since his heavy-mandate self of 1997.

It’s not hard to see why that’s the less obvious, more likely path ahead.

Start with Imran’s latest gamble, the Islamabad lockdown. You can see what he’s going for: made-for-TV road and public office closures; clashes with the police; and spiralling pressure on the government.

But you can already sense Imran is struggling.

To begin with, the PTI isn’t founded in street protests and militant cadres. Shutting down cities is against the ethos of the party and there is unease in large, important sections of the party.

That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, though, and you can drag your party against its will if you have something else on your side: TV.

On TV, minor clashes can be blown up to seem like a major incident; sparse crowds can be manipulated to seem much bigger; thundering statements can be projected as a real crisis. On TV, minor success can transform into systemic threat.

But much as the heavily politicised and commercialised realm of TV would love a street fight and a clash of political heavyweights, the lockdown poses a problem: TV can’t be seen supporting a fight between politicians at the cost of the people.

So for every politician holding forth on corruption on TV, you’ll see several ordinary citizens unable to get to work. And for every protester you’ll see, you’ll also have several irate parents, patients and commuters lining up to scold the PTI.

TV can do many things, but it can’t side with the political elite against the everyday people. So TV won’t be able to amplify the PTI lockdown.

The combination of a divided PTI and a TV whose amplification effect will be muted means the N-League should be able to see off the protests relatively unscathed — if it can hold its nerve.

As ever, the biggest danger to the N-League may be the N-League itself.

On to the transition and the rage of the boys. Seventeen days of tumultuous civ-mil relations and it’s relatively easy to explain two things: why such sustained, intense anger and why Nawaz isn’t necessarily imperilled by it.

The anger is straightforward enough: a chief on his way out, the most popular in a generation, has been politically blindsided in his last days, a triumphant exit potentially derailed.

But the imminent transition complicates and mitigates what can be wrought in revenge — even righteous revenge.

Right now, there’re at least four chaps in the succession race — a race that can only be won with the explicit nod of Nawaz himself. Much as they may feel bad for the incumbent, the ultimate prize is up for grabs and inches away.

You can bet, then, that the advice is: Sir, why don’t you let us handle this.

Translation: it’s a terrible thing that’s happened to you, but your time is up; now please don’t unduly complicate it for us.

If the implicit doesn’t see Nawaz through, he can also just announce the successor, selecting someone who has the respect of the boys, whose choice is perfectly in line with succession norms and who is apolitical, or as apolitical as they come.

The obvious choices have been bandied about for weeks.

So the more likely path in the weeks ahead is the less obvious one, one that leaves Nawaz the most powerful PM since his heavy-mandate self of 1997.

And that’s why we have to consider the more obvious, less likely path through November: Nawaz being cut down to size.

A 17-day crisis is not normal. And that despite the emphatic, obvious intransigence of the N-League that no one will be cut loose, no heads will be allowed to roll.

But what if Nawaz is forced to cut someone loose, à la Memogate?

There Zardari had been the target, but a compromise was reached in knocking out Haqqani — a compromise made possible by the fierce obsession the boys have with Haqqani and his relatively cool relationship with Zardari.

Here, there is no obvious character who meets the dual criteria of someone the boys would really like to see knocked out and who also has a cool relationship with Nawaz.

Hence the impasse.

Knocking someone out — or allowing the crisis to stretch out for a genuinely politically damaging period — may be in the interest of the current chief and the successor gaggle.

For the current chap, you can see why: it’ll be validation of having played a straight hand throughout.

For the successor gaggle, a triumphant Nawaz is not someone they can want to be faced with immediately, especially a Nawaz on a high having seen off the latest threat from his principal political rival in Punjab.

So let the crisis linger — it will necessarily hurt Nawaz. And if someone does get knocked out, all the better for the successor — he’ll assume control with it having freshly been made clear who the boss is.

Pakistan may be in a peculiar/familiar place again: because the more likely path forward is unpalatable, the less likely, more palatable path may be taken instead.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2016


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (77) Closed

Harmony-1© Oct 23, 2016 02:35am

For once this country gets a chance in a million to hold someone accountable for the looted wealth. It's now or never. I wish IK all the best to stand for the right cause.

Umair Oct 23, 2016 05:07am

Brilliant analysis, again. If Nawaz Sharif can see off a couple of weeks ahead, he will definitely win.

Al Fatmi Oct 23, 2016 10:16am

Welcome back and great price of analysis as always.

SG Oct 23, 2016 10:54am

Great analysis...fearless writing as ever...kudos!

Hassan Oct 23, 2016 10:59am

Welcome back. Loved it as usual.

The Truth Oct 23, 2016 11:22am

Good to see you back and going strong Cyril

Umair Ashraf Oct 23, 2016 11:55am

So Imran Khan is getting nothing out of this whole episode........

Nagi Oct 23, 2016 12:10pm

Fully agree with your analysis.

Shahid Oct 23, 2016 01:09pm

Intriguing article, Cyril you really have a knack...great stuff!

Pasha Oct 23, 2016 01:11pm

IK is just trying to stay relevant

Zafar Ahmed Oct 23, 2016 02:48pm

Keep it up Cyril Almeida !

Muhammad Arshad Oct 23, 2016 03:25pm

Good one

lkhan Oct 23, 2016 07:02pm

Cyril, thanks for your balanced thoughts once again. And wish you the best,

Nomad Oct 23, 2016 07:27pm

Good job and Great going Cyril! But be careful my man! God bless you.

Real Zak Oct 23, 2016 07:49pm

MR. Cyril keep it up, you are a strong voice for Status Quo.

Iftikhar Bhutta Oct 23, 2016 08:14pm

This first time in political history populous rivals Nawaz Sharif and Imrán Khan are from same province Punjab which parliamentary majority to hold power . After Z.A Bhutto Nawaz Sharif has emerged as powerful PM in 1997 and 2013 elections . The political trends and way of governing is not different as compared to past which may be converted into contractions and damage democratic process . Both populous leaders hold dictatorial mindset and enforce own deceision neglecting public cause . Good analysis . Ultimately Mian Nawaz Sharif will win the game .

Atif Oct 23, 2016 08:42pm

Brilliant Article

Haider Oct 23, 2016 08:43pm

the reason is that we are ok with corruption and bribery.

Malik Ejaz Ahmad Oct 23, 2016 08:54pm

So it comes to this now. IK only hope against this corrupt mafia whose controlling everything. I don't see Pakistan going anywhere except downhill with Sharif's and Bhutto's in power. Just think what have they done in the last 30 years during this on and off rule. I've grown up listening to Nawaz making empty promises of self reliance and prosperity for the poor. The only thing which has prospered is his bank account and family business. Good riddance if he goes.

Iftikhar Bhutta Oct 23, 2016 08:59pm

Good analysis

Muhammad Rustam Ayub Oct 23, 2016 09:24pm

Welcome back brave Sir Cyril Almeida and it's very clear analysis for our youth toward real awareness. I wish to see you article on Budget cut and budget deficits and it's historic background.

Lbutt Oct 23, 2016 09:31pm

IK is doing great work for people.

I.M. KHAN Oct 23, 2016 09:44pm

though I am not a strong supporter of IK but must say 'IK is our last and only hope at present and pray for his success'.

brr Oct 23, 2016 09:44pm

The real story here is that a) the military can manipulate the wanne-be PMs like IK for their own political benefits. The second part is that b) there are wanna-be PM candidates like IK always available for the military to manipulate, just as Nawaz was at one time nothing but a proxy for the military.

Syed Waqar Ali, Canada Oct 23, 2016 10:07pm

Balanced analysis.

haris inam Oct 23, 2016 10:08pm

Seems a very pro government series of writing concentrate on higlighting the difficulties of political elite before people start finding who in electronic ad print media has clear associations and possible agenda

haris inam Oct 23, 2016 10:10pm

Why even hope the such a corrupt elite should win

Kemu Oct 23, 2016 10:08pm

So less obvious but more likely corruption will win .... ?

Aks Oct 23, 2016 10:21pm

@Harmony-1© 100% Agreed.. Everyone should be held accountable for the looted money starting from top..

An Oct 23, 2016 10:30pm

Love to see ur article

Madan Oct 23, 2016 10:35pm

This brilliant article is OK for internal consumption of Pakistanis whereas the image of Pakistan remains bleak in the eyes of the world.Introspection of minds is required for the politicians and the military of Pakistan for following of a policy that appeals to the domestic public as well as the world.

Good Guy Oct 23, 2016 10:58pm

Thanks for back to regular service. Another gem from Cyril.

Youth Oct 23, 2016 11:01pm

I have my reservations on this analysis.

Mustafa Oct 23, 2016 11:01pm

I have heard all my life that Pakistan is at crossroads, this time it is very real. The author describes his favorite road, but you don't have crossroads with only one road. One road leads east to Bangladesh, the other West to Turkey. By the end of this year we would be solidly on one or the other road.

Mustafa Oct 23, 2016 11:07pm

In the fundamental schemes of things, India is solidly in the Western camp, Iran solidly in the China-Russia camp, Pakistan would make it's choice in the next 100 days, but it won't be a stark choice like India or Iran, we would strike a middle course like Turkey. In the past we have managed to get the worst of both worlds this time we would try to get the best of both worlds.

Mustafa Oct 23, 2016 11:10pm


'IK is just trying to stay relevant'

True, but also true about Nawaz Sharif, neither one is the true protagonist of our polity, rather they are facades for the two real protagonists.

Sunil Mehta Oct 23, 2016 11:52pm

If PM Nawaz Sharif is the strongest PM since Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, it's good news and bad.

Good because a strong PM is good news for Pakistan. The establishment will no longer be able to force PMs hand if he wants to make peace with India, no more Kargils that is.

Bad news because the PM does need to account for his role in the wealth mentioned in Panama leaks. He has to prove to the people of Pakistan that the wealth is not ill gotten. Otherwise, he will squander away his strength like ZA Bhutto did.

Muhammad Ahmed Oct 24, 2016 12:03am

I am confused by this analysis. Military os more concerned about CPEC. Who ends up being chief next month should not be major concern. However, IK could just wait till 2018 and win elections. This will be second time that he will be played by military. Nawaz needs to realize that he may have some say in army chief selection but he cannot choose a chief that may disrupt balance. There has to be some form of checks and balances where instead of 3 regular branches you end up with following 6:prime minister, parliment, judiciary, military, bueracracy and media. We will have to realize that all these branches have some stake and need to learn to share the power for things to move forward.

Pakistani Oct 24, 2016 12:17am

"TV can’t be seen supporting a fight between politicians at the cost of the people." This is what ails this country. The fight is not only that of the politicians; IK is fighting for the right of the people to hold their rulers accountable. If people continue to feel it is not 'their' fight; and it is just politicians fighting amongst themselves; then their apathy is exactly why they get the kind of rulers they have. Seeing the apathy of this nation, any other leader would have long ago given up on us; but salute to IK for believing in Pakistan and its potential and doing all that he can to ensure that a better Pakistan can be made after ridding it of the corruption of its rulers. If IK fails, it will be the apathy of the people of Pakistan that would be the reason.

Rafi Oct 24, 2016 12:37am

Excellent article sir.

HK Oct 24, 2016 12:58am

Your analysis hits home & is apolitical in such midst. Reflects independence of thought.

A patriotic national Oct 24, 2016 01:52am

Salam - very candid way of summarizing where we stand as a Nation. I pray and wish that we let the democracy grow in this fertile land that we took in the name of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. We should fear that all of us will be accountable one day for what we stood for! Pakistan Payandabad

BJK Oct 24, 2016 02:22am

Very interesting, and fun-to-read piece!

Shahzaib Oct 24, 2016 02:32am

Parties like PTI are not for Pakistani Culture...

Arif Oct 24, 2016 03:08am

Nawaz will survive this. Imran with all the good intentions has chosen the wrong time for this. Pakistan need stability so that she could finish CPEC.

Khurram Jamal Oct 24, 2016 04:23am

Brilliant brainy & bright analysis !!!

Cyril really proud of your evaluative and explorative assessment of the situation and its ramifications.

You are great.

zafar Oct 24, 2016 04:41am

Interesting scenarios. Recent history tells us that the first path is more likely - nothing gets done in this country, no one is held accountable, and the status quo remains. The civil military impasse is just a footnote in this struggle with the likely outcome of nothing happening as the military is busy with its succession plans and all else - CPEC and its entanglements both on internal and external fronts.

Saif Oct 24, 2016 05:27am

Just as TV can make a politician, political party, a protest or a dharna. TV can break a politician, a party, a protest or a dharna. At least one TV with a "churiya" is up to break Imran's plans this time.

Leh Oct 24, 2016 05:41am

Seems like Mr. Nawaz Sharif is getting real popular. I was personally never a fan of Nawaz (didn't dislike him either) but I liked Imran, he always seemed like a genuine, sensible, calm and honest person on a mission to get some serious change in nation for good but his behaviour recently despite the merits in his causes may just make him lose even more badly. Why can't they both try to work together? Maybe Mr. Nawaz is corrupt to whatever extent, maybe Imran himself has no flaw in in himself and may bring accountability but what about the member in his party, are they all as good as Imran. What would Mr. Imran do assuming he gets the chance to make the government and later cases of corruption/ scandals come against his party members? Will he suggest dismantling his own government? Anyway, that's problem for my Pakistani fellow.

Lahori Kid Oct 24, 2016 05:42am

On one side you have Imran Khan, who in my humble opinion is not very smart when it comes to demanding justice, demanding the authorities to look into the corrupt dealings, the reason is, he always wants to hold these protests or dharnas, IK seems to forget that when you expect thousands to show up for these protests, and for days I may add, how will these poor souls make ends meat? Who will take care of their kids, schools? Imran Khan needs to come up with a solution to hold these politicians accountable, a better way.In these situations, no one wins, the bad remain bad, the powerful remain untouched. This is where the people of Pakistan need to demand accountability, demand changes. Our leaders need to understand, if there are no changes, they won't get the vote. But in reality, "WE THE PEOPLE" never ever learn our lessons. So we deserve all of this.

Abdul Mannan Mulla Oct 24, 2016 05:48am

IK you have proven to be a true Patriotic Politician. It's Now or Never. Pakistani Awam has eventually found a brave leader they were looking desperately since several decades. Somebody to come forward and crush the corruption, the Corrupt Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Crooked Cabinet Ministers. The leader has been born in you IK. You are God sent for Pakistani Awam. I pray for you and wish you all the best and success in your endeavour.

Akil Akhtar Oct 24, 2016 05:52am

No one in Pakistan seems to care for the looted billions.....while in the west PMs resign for misusing an official car.....the difference between the successful and failing states is their moral values.

Raza Akhtar Oct 24, 2016 05:56am

It will be a sad day for Pakistan, if Nawaz Sharif is more powerful then he is already.

mojazze Oct 24, 2016 07:56am

True strength comes from character and upholding the principles and trust of people. Nawaz lacks those qualities to be a PM

Li-N-Ja Oct 24, 2016 10:54am

The citizens always criticise the country and its politicians for doing nothing and commonly say nothing will change in this county. People forget that they too have some responsibilities which they are suppose to render. The country has seen both Bhuttos and Sharifs in last so many years. People have also seen how much cost one has to pay for speaking up the truth. If IK has the courage to stand-up against the looters now its the turn of the citizens to stand with him and support. If we fail, we will loose our right to ask for justice and governance.

iffi Oct 24, 2016 11:18am

Lets hope & pray that corrupt untouchable status co loses in this episode & Pakistan wins

Sana Oct 24, 2016 11:40am

Electronic media ignores other political parties' large processions - JI's ongoing ijtema - the most recent example. While not showing the empty seats in PTI's dharnas and jalsas and the hyperbole reporting of their events only provides evidence that PTI has invested a lot in media.

Adnan Jidaker Oct 24, 2016 11:44am

@Shahzaib Yes, PPP , PMLN, JUIF , ANP & MQM represented Pakistani culture of looting and plundering. They all are good example of rotten system.

Khalid Riaz Bhatti Oct 24, 2016 11:57am

If Nawaz sees through it, which is more likely he will, the reward is not only immediate, something that this article eludes too, but also quite long term. If he sees through it, the 2018 elections will also fall in his lap like a ripe fruit; provided that Nawaz stops the urge of being Nawaz i.e. the one who can shoot himself in the foot at the time when he is most strongest.

Where Imran Khan went wrong is very simple and straight forward. He is still leaning on what ought to be done instead of what can be done, a choice that every kid faces till the time of puberty. Then of course most of the people grow out of it.

TM Oct 24, 2016 12:37pm

Good analysis. IK campaign will weaken the government for the time being, but not in long run. What will be the end result of this Dharna/shut down??? How the Government plans to deal with it??? that is a million dollar question. I believe if NS can come out of this crisis, things will be smooth sailing for him in future. People cannot be kept on toes for the sake of Dharnas ..................... IK knows that very well that its his now or never chance......................................... Hope for the best, i believe that in the end Pakistan comes out as the ultimate beneficiary. !!

Anjum Arshi Oct 24, 2016 12:45pm

The most intriguing part is the last paragraph!

As they say: Nawaz noon Nawaz na maray tay Nawaz marda nain. But he always shoots himself in the foot. Always, without fail.

Shazia Bangash Oct 24, 2016 01:15pm

Cyril Almeida may be right and Imran might fail - in which case the future will belong to Hamza and Bilawal. However, for the sake of Pakistan, I hope Almeida is proved wrong and Imran does not fail.

Mustafa Oct 24, 2016 03:10pm

Good analysis Cyril!

Nida Oct 24, 2016 04:01pm

Hi Cyril

Many thanks, I learnt this new word - kerfuffle. kəˈfʌf(ə)l/Submit noun BRITISH informal meaning - a commotion or fuss, especially one caused by conflicting views.

lafanga Oct 24, 2016 04:33pm

Sad state of affairs in Pakistan. We have a PM who pretty much everyone knows including his own party that he has done corruption and that too on massive scale yet he will come out unscathed perhaps even stronger than before.

The damage that the three parties i.e. PMLN, PPP, MQM has done to Pakistan over the years, the "boys" cannot even think of in their wildest dreams. Alas that these three parties are still around and continue to do the damage and the sheeple keep voting them in but for how long? There won't be a revolution in Pakistan unless people come on the streets. IK cannot do it alone.

amna Oct 24, 2016 04:41pm

@Pakistani Thank you so much. People need to start thinking for themselves. it's OUR fight, not his. Wake up!!

amna Oct 24, 2016 04:44pm

@Lahori Kid If we can get rid of these corrupt politicians, we will not have to worry about basic necessities at least. I know it won't happen cheezain 70 saal main kharaab hui hai cannot be corrected in a day but we have to start somewhere.

Abdullah Oct 24, 2016 04:55pm

Good read. But where is IK in the whole picture?

FHM Oct 24, 2016 07:10pm

Good analysis – but feel depressed on the prospect of hopeless system prevailing .

Mustafa Oct 24, 2016 08:40pm


'Good read. But where is IK in the whole picture?'

He isn't and that is the whole point Cyril is trying to make.

Mustafa Oct 24, 2016 08:42pm


'Good analysis – but feel depressed on the prospect of hopeless...'

If you feel hopeless the article has hit a bull's eye.

Mustafa Oct 24, 2016 08:46pm


' If we can get rid of these corrupt politicians...'

But can you tell who are honest politicians? The corrupt politicians have amassed enough wealth to distort perceptions and paint the honest politicians much like themselves.

AK Oct 25, 2016 12:31am

While I don't fully support Imran's lockdown of the city, it baffles me that you and a lot of the people have no problem with a leader who was incubated by Zia - the root cause of Pakistan's problems today - and who along with Zardari and others has been looting the country for over 30 years.

The fundamental premise of democracy is that leaders are accountable to their constituents, and once they break the law they got to go and serve jail time if proven guilty. This makes a democracy stronger not weaker. Australia has had five PMs in the last six years - did their democracy derail?

Tired of media and politicians hiding under the blanket statement of 'derailing democracy' to provide legitimacy for any wrong doing.

Meg Oct 25, 2016 07:44am

Very futile analysis!

Sameer Oct 25, 2016 11:54am

@Harmony-1© Power to the people. Power to the Khan!

k .jatt Oct 25, 2016 01:57pm

True by word to word

pathanoo Oct 25, 2016 09:50pm

It is the biggest misfortune of Pakistani people who rested their hopes in Imran Khan who as it turns out is only interested in becomeing the Ptime Minister by any means possible. Imran Khan has proven beyond a shadow of doubt that he neither has the caliber, intelligence, principals or integrity to lead the Pakistani people. He is a Legend in His Own Mind. He has the entitlement mentality and he believes he was born to be Vazir-E-Azam. If he ever became the Prime Minister; he will just be another demogauge who will destabilze Pakistan.