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Updated December 18, 2016


WELL, this is fun. And like most things fun, the well-meaning sort will tell us not to enjoy it, to be worried about the consequences, to think of systems.

But let’s hear it for scandal.

This sudden, unexpected, most delicious season of scandal — scandal that has broken on us and over us in wave after surprising wave.

It’s hard to keep track. Supreme Court tearing into government. Politicians tearing into the Supreme Court.

The new chief sullied before he can settle in; a DGI tainted by association, attacked before he’s spent a day in Aabpara.

The old chief’s allies fretting about a purge; the new chief’s fans toasting the purge. And, amidst the new cacophony, the oldest game of all: politicians eviscerating politicians.

Who knew an outbreak of stability could look like this.

Let’s start from the beginning. Nawaz has made it past a triple threat: the Isloo lockdown; a delicate transition; and a trip to the court.

He wasn’t going to coast — nothing attracts instability like the perception of stability here — but the grenades in his path were fewer.

At least two of his problems were tied to the calendar: the exit of the two chiefs. By their nature — and the nature of the chiefs — exits are a tricky thing.

The new tradition — if scandal, chutzpah and derring-do can sustain it — smashes the old tradition.

Because either legacy or continuity are on their minds and that usually spells trouble for whoever is in the civilian passenger seat.

The third of Nawaz’s problems — Imran — wasn’t time-bound, but Imran is both instigator and chief beneficiary of many of Nawaz’s problems, so Imran is always a problem.

Triple threat defused, 2016 navigated, onwards to pre-election 2017 — all systems go.

But then the system seemed to crash in on itself, shrapnel flying at principals, damage being inflicted on collateral.

Before we could marvel at stable Pakistan, Pakistan reverted to type and left us gasping and gaping again.

The scandals are so many as to defy classification. A whispering campaign from within the boys against a new chief? Unheard of. A slashing, public campaign against a new DG ISI? Ditto.

A Supreme Court justice methodically deconstructing a massacre and fearlessly apportioning blame — perhaps in the older tradition of the court, but certainly not of recent times.

And the Supreme Court itself attacked by politicians and the media — again, not something from this century and surely unheard of since the heady days of Iftikhar Chaudhry and his iron gavel.

It’s so target-rich that a bunch of pols creating a ruckus in parliament has been almost a quaint side affair — by the by, did you hear what the PTI and PML-N have done now?

But let’s hear it for scandal — because it may be what we need. For at least two reasons.

First, scandal is a signal of openness. Of systems open to wild, woolly and rabid attacks, yes, but also of systems open to the democratisation of critique, criticism and attack.

Compare the new with the old. Going after the outgoing chap or the newly exited is easy enough — and even something of a tradition here.

Once Raheel was gone for sure and the ISPR was to have a new DG, the punches didn’t need to be pulled anymore. Ditto for a chief justice, given the — very real — fear of contempt.

Reach further back and the rules even more bendable, the attacks freewheeling. Think of what can be said about Musharraf today. And if ruling exposed him to more, think of what can be said about Aslam Beg or Asad Durrani.

No one, not even from his rabid cohort, thinks to dissuade anything against Iftikhar Chaudhry today.

That’s the old tradition. If there was one inviolable tenet of the old tradition, it was that you don’t — can’t — say anything about the chap on his way in or a chief who’s settling in.

The new tradition — if scandal, chutzpah and derring-do can sustain it — smashes the old tradition. No more post-mortems; you’re on early and instantly notice that your spin doesn’t matter, the results do.

It helps as a starting point that there’s a twin assault — against the boys and the court. Partisans can’t dismiss it as engineered, manipulated or too-slyly focused.

It’s wild and woolly enough to defy narrow categorisation or fit into believable (!) conspiracy. It’s organic, not orchestrated. It works.

Or it can work. If the second part kicks in.

We’ve seen two possibilities in recent days. The institutional, sensible, calibrated assault is the Quetta report. It is in many ways magnificent.

A sophisticated mind applied itself to a complex problem and methodically mapped out the systemic and personnel deficiencies.

If followed through on, the report could fix much. But there also lies the problem: smart, sophisticated deconstructions rely on smart, sophisticated solutions by smart, sophisticated actors.

Pakistan is anything but.

Missing, usually, always, is the element of sustained pressure for change, the element that can catalyse change.

There lies the role for scandal.

Last week it was PK661, this week it’s the Quetta report, next week it could be yours truly. Blamed are incidents, never principals.

But if that changes, if scandal spreads beyond just the political sort and engulfs the system — all principals not just the civilians — pressure may build.

And the first step to pressure is to strip away the aura, to make it not just possible but reasonable to attack — even if the attack is unreasonable.

Too much scandal, too much chaos, the effect will be perverse. But too little of it and we’re left with too many sacred cows in a country of arch carnivores.

Let scandal devour the beast. It may yet work.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn December 18th, 2016

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