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Seven for seventeen

Updated Jan 01, 2017 02:06am


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IT’S set up to be the year of Nawaz. Enemies vanquished, rivals sidelined; a clear path to 2018 and beyond.

What could go wrong?

Plenty. And in this age of consensus, let’s spin a different tale. In ascending order, seven things that could go wrong for Nawaz in ’17.

First, oil prices. The consumption boom in Pakistan has been soaked in low fuel costs. If costs start to go up, the electoral strategy may be in trouble.

With electricity, who wants it if you can’t afford it?

Then there’s the slyness of pretending electricity is fixed by diverting it to urban and high-billing areas.

The more you stress normalisation in an environment where no one else wants it, the more out of touch you seem.

It may work with the media, mostly urban-based and urbanish-focused, but it may not work with votes — if at best all you can do is manage the decade-old power outages, maybe someone else should get a shot?

Twenty-thirteen was a referendum on electricity, few dispute that. But there’s a double problem in 2018: what if you don’t fix electricity; and what if you fix it, but can’t control the costs?

Second, corruption. Oh, they deny it all right. But the enemies are shrieking.

And the stories are mounting.

And the vulnerabilities are increasing. Where the PPP was smash-and-grab, the N-League is savvy and discreet.

But eight years in Punjab and three at the centre start accumulating. The schemes are fanciful, some heard of, mostly not — until someone blows the lid off.

The big power plants they’re building — ever wonder who owns the land they’re built on and the rates they get? Everyone’s heard of the bus lanes and road construction, but ask yourself this: when was the last time you heard of the N-League touting 3- and 4G? Every other last damn thing they flog, even if it isn’t theirs to brag about.

But fast data connections on mobile phones in an era where the future daughter-PM leverages every possible social media advantage? Never heard of it. Why?

Corruption has a funny way of striking where few anticipate. Pakistan is ripe for an epic scandal.

Third, Punjab. We know the problem, but what’s the solution? The boys want to go in to clean up the sectarian mess and the anti-Pakistan stuff.

But Nawaz can’t let them. And that’s the problem no one has a solution to.

The N-League can’t let go of the police in the year before an election. And they can’t have troops stomping around Punjab doing counterterrorism stuff.

So, what the hell happens?

In truth, no one knows. In truth, few would bet against the boys prevailing.

All of that translates into potentially big trouble.

Fourth, Panama. It isn’t going away. And while it doesn’t touch Nawaz directly, the heiress is tainted by it. But there’s another problem now.

With a new CJ taking over, one with a reasonably long term ahead, the court has to say something.

Maybe nothing the court sees and hears permits it to strike directly at Nawaz or Maryam. But only a reckless lot would let the Sharifs off without even a hint of censure.

The case is now too toxic, and the facts malleable enough to allow for some denunciation.

You can bet the N-League won’t handle it gracefully.

Fifth, India. We know what Nawaz wants: a normalisation process. We know what India wants: anti-India militancy addressed. What we don’t know: how to square the difference.

Eventually, something has to give. In Pakistan, in 2016, the anti-India lot tasted blood. By itself, that’s manageable. But then another thing happened: public opinion shifted.

The rise of anti-India sentiment here frees up space for action there. Where once a public, mainstream, political consensus was for normalisation, now there is widespread second-guessing about India’s true intentions.

The bar has been lowered and more funny business has become possible.

On the other side, there’s the lunacy of an adequate response. If something happens, proven or not, retaliation is necessary. India may do something stupid.

The problem here is less that the boys won’t respond than Nawaz not having a clue. We get it, normalisation is important.

But the more you stress normalisation in an environment where no one else wants it, the more out of touch you seem.

Clueless dolt isn’t a good place for a PM to be.

Sixth, militancy. The flip side of the boys’ need to act in Punjab is the bad guys’ ability to survive and thrive. Eventually, survival and thrival turns to action. APS was two years ago, Lahore and Quetta saw big ones last year. The time may be up for Karachi or Islamabad or somewhere else catastrophic.

Terrible as it may be, for Nawaz Punjab is all that matters politically. If Lahore, Pindi or some of the smaller cities are hit and hit in a devastating way, Nawaz may have questions to answer.

Seven, civ-mil. It is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. And it rests on a difference in worldviews.

Nawaz wants back in the national security and foreign policy game because his is a vision of trade and regional integration.

The boys, well, they have a vision too: stay strong, stay militarised and do whatever it takes to defeat regional threats.

But if predicting civ-mil strife is the daal-chawal of politics here, there may be a twist this year: if Bajwa and Mukhtar align themselves with the Nawaz worldview, an almighty internal struggle could erupt.

Less civ v mil and more mil on mil? Happy New Year.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn January 1st, 2017


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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 (25) Closed

Harmony-1© Jan 01, 2017 03:13am

Nothing new...usual 'civ-mil’

Happy New Year!

Faisal mustafa laghari Jan 01, 2017 03:54am

Nice artice

Faisal mustafa laghari Jan 01, 2017 04:06am

Nice article

Zara Abbas Jan 01, 2017 04:31am

Great insights as always

Saad Jan 01, 2017 05:55am

One of your biggest critic. But a very well balanced and well written article... The one thing that could have been number 18 is US Pak relationship and the shifting geo political paradigm. The trump call and the media point scoring...

bakwaas Jan 01, 2017 06:33am

Well written. Good summary. Great unbiased writing, Cyril.

Alba Jan 01, 2017 07:06am

No joke. Israeli scientists have invented a way to make a battery with a potato. It can light a lamp to light a house with no electricity. The plans are free to the whole world. It can even run a laptop computer.

Zaheer Jan 01, 2017 07:55am

Excellent Analysis as always! Pakistan needs to act against all types of militants; sectarian lot, anti-India lot and the anti-State lot. Only then can it achieve long term peace and avoid isolation at international stage. The whole idea of 'Strategic Utility' of these monsters is a fallacy and the events of the last few decades all over the world go a long way in proving this.

sajid Jan 01, 2017 08:43am

one year in politics is a long time, anything can happen, but as of Now N-league has a clear advantage on all others.

sms Jan 01, 2017 10:05am

Too many this or that .. these are always around - tell me what happens in panana scandal ... rest is a side show now.

OBSERVER (Beijing) Jan 01, 2017 11:00am

Wow! crispy, spicy, and wonderful analysis at the start of the year.

Syed F. Hussaini Jan 01, 2017 12:28pm

Things are decided at the top rendering the rest as irrelevant.

Whenever the top over-inflates itself with power, higher pressure and higher temperature would cause a sudden change in the physical integrity of the top from within.

The wish list of the irrelevant would have to wait.

asadlateef Jan 01, 2017 01:17pm

young man,you are missing the china factor,which is the moving force for Pakistan ,internally and externally.Nothing will change in Pakistan politically without the approval and advice of economic super is caught in moving phrase i.e MONEY TALK,BULL WALKS

Parvez Jan 01, 2017 01:39pm

Saying a lot without really saying have brilliantly summed up the position as it stands.

Jamal Jan 01, 2017 02:26pm

Good one for a change.

PakistaniAT Jan 01, 2017 02:48pm

'No enemies vanquished, no rivals sidelined' ... you wish ... In fact the year is not his. Its IK's.

democrate1 Jan 01, 2017 03:25pm

one thing is for sure sir,democracy is going to stay and NS as well. recent upheaval and its failure is good example. best of luck.

Adil Jadoon Jan 01, 2017 03:31pm

@sajid Only in the land of the pure that PML-N can survive given its record and people will deserve it!

Shahid Jan 01, 2017 03:59pm

As the priest in 'The Excorcist'haf said, 'There is only one'. He knows it as do all of us including you. It is the self denial by the patient who is suffering from the desease and not the dersease that ultimately does the ultimate harm. One wishes it is cured on 2017. May this new year cleanse hearts and minds of us all for a mutually trusting and prosperous 2017 and beyond.

Raza Jan 01, 2017 11:22pm

Do u really think that's wat India wants..?

donald Jan 02, 2017 06:20am

@Syed F. Hussaini Masterful! Hats off.

NAGARAJA B N Jan 02, 2017 09:02am

Crisp succinct and clear. Economy in words. Epic in content. Happy new year.

Syed F. Hussaini Jan 02, 2017 11:54am


A million thanks, Sir!

So kind of you.

Happy New Year!

THOUGHT PROVOKING Jan 02, 2017 12:08pm

well Articulated !!! I would like to advice writer to change his style of writing for expressing his views for reader understanding . it should be more articulated in an easy way of expressions of writing with views that he wants to articulate well for reader understanding !!! Although The writer is very smart and an intellectual personality in his subject deep understanding and professional journalism as professional journalist . This is is fact that your articulation is dead, when you are not going to express your views in an understandably communication as professional journalist. If you are not articulate with a reader well to communicate your views , you are wasting words to explain your views .I Think Professional journalist has forgotten how to retain their charm in the public . These things need to come back in order to bring back the charm to professional journalism in writing expressions for our readers In News papers

RIZ Jan 02, 2017 09:23pm

Is it only me or more people here think Cyril is starting to lose the plot a bit?