THE good thing about the PTI is that it’s predictable: floppy and sloppy when it seems to matter most. Performance anxiety, as it were.
The bad thing about the PTI is that it’s not interested in institutions. Not parliament, not the courts, not the systems of government.
This week, good and bad were in abundant display.
Every time it has a chance to interact with the state and its democratic institutions in a healthy manner, the PTI seems to sputter and fail.
The Supreme Court option was not the PTI’s choice. In fact, the court option was a manifestation of the PTI’s failure.
The goal, after all, had been to oust the government. The instrument for that was supposed to have been the lockdown.
That failed and it failed spectacularly.
And when it failed, the court arguably helped salvage the situation and mitigate the PTI’s ignominy — something the PTI is aware of, but cannot admit.
The court option kept the Panama issue alive. Alive where the imploded, abortive lockdown had almost succeeded in burying.
The lockdown had helped switch the focus from the Panama stuff — ostensibly the reason for the lockdown — to the lockdown itself. In politics, you win on the perception of what is at stake.
Once the success of the Islamabad lockdown itself became central to the political narrative, there was only one metric against which the PTI vs PML-N battle would be judged.
But the court intervention gave the PTI a new lease of life. Go to the court and maybe get the result needed. And if not ouster, then at least draw some N-League blood.
So to folk outside the PTI it looked like another chance to agitate the Panama issue. And maybe even a moment to deliver a political knockout punch to a PML-N pinned to the mat legally.
Some inside the PTI seemed alert to the possibility and tried to cast it as such. Let’s take this seriously and help the court do what we need it to do.
It seemed a moment for the PTI’s good side to triumph. An articulate, sober, evidence-backed case for why Nawaz should not be prime minister and the PML-N should not be in power.
A case argued in the highest court of the land and before the most senior judge in the land. But the PTI’s bad side took over.
Pilloried as the PTI has been for its abject performance in court this week, there is an element of exaggerated political spin to it.
It’s not like the PTI can be expected or required as a political party to prove crimes committed by individuals, even — and especially — if those crimes have allegedly been committed by the PTI’s political opponents.
But what could have been expected of the PTI is to not appear incompetent and draw attention to its own desultoriness and in doing so deflect attention away from the Panama/PML-N nexus.
But that’s the PTI’s bad side: floppy and sloppy. And a total disregard for institutions and a hyper focus on politics and politicisation.
It remains perhaps the most troubling bit about the PTI.
The perma-campaign mode is what insurgents and outsiders do. Like it or not, it’s fine — and maybe even smart.
The relentless political attacks and crude political tactics are also what insurgents and outsiders do. Like it or not, it too is fine — and maybe even smart.
Never taking the foot off the accelerator and threatening to careen and crash into everything and anything until you get your way is also a classic insurgent/outsider approach. It’s fine — and maybe even politically smart.
But to deliberately, wilfully and always reject every opportunity where even a smidgen of respect for institutions and democratic process can helpfully be established — and at very little cost — is troubling for a party that aspires to power.
And not only aspires to power, but has a legitimate shot at winning it one day.
The PTI’s political opponents can delight in the PTI again tripping up over itself, its hubris and incompetence this week.
But from the perspective of the system, it remains troubling that one of the two major contenders for power does not seem able or willing to practise anything other than slash-and-burn politics.
The Supreme Court option was already evidence of the PTI’s failure at its original — and abiding — goal: the ouster of Nawaz and the installation of the PTI in power.
But the Supreme Court option was also a chance to again pursue that goal while demonstrating that it is also serious about how it will wield — once it gains — power.
Instead, the party chose to show us its worst side.
Even elements within the PTI seem to know this — that the longer the party’s quest for power has grown, the less it has been interested in anything but power.
There is, obviously, no responsibility on the PTI to do things differently because it would look better or may be, in some vague, academic way, system-enhancing.
If anything, the PTI has much to be satisfied about — that despite political setback after setback, the party remains the only viable challenge to the PML-N.
Slash and burn, always on the attack, go it alone — those are the prerogatives of a political party.
But every time it has a chance to interact with the state and its democratic institutions in a healthy, meaningful and cooperative manner, the PTI seems to sputter, flutter and fail.
Quite why that is so, only the PTI can tell us. What we can tell the PTI though is that it’s terrible form and bad omen.
The writer is a member of staff.
Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2016