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Pulling back

June 11, 2017

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WELL, that’s more like it. A week of chaos followed by a bit of dust settling.

The PML-N will be feeling more comfortable.

It started with the senator hauled before the court for contempt proceedings. Instead of roar and fury, the matter was handled procedurally.

There’s nothing like a whiff of normality to dispel a sense of political crisis.

Delayed for a couple of weeks, to be interrupted by the holidays after, the dangerous politics has been sucked out of it.

Then it was the JIT’s turn. A message was sent that there are problems being faced. Instead of a circus being created, again the procedural route was taken.

A counter-message had been sent.

And then a reminder: no more time will be given. In the end, it may — that’s just in the nature of inquiries.

But between the JIT complaining of hurdles and the court warning of time limits, another message can be squeezed out:

This is shaping up to be like much that has come before it.

And then the hammer was brought down: the JIT has to explain the pictures that went viral.

It doesn’t mean the JIT will be able to explain it or that anyone else who can will, but offence has turned to defence just a wee bit.

The mood has shifted.

Outside the court too a few shifts could be discerned. When the N-League first went on the warpath, the immediate reaction was widespread suspicion.

Two rounds before the court had produced little, JITs are easily defeated — so why was the PML-N reacting with such fury?

Enemies took it to mean Nawaz was in danger and exhorted the court and the JIT to do more. Friends yelped about a witch-hunt and justice denied.

But the pandemonium drew the attention of the serious lot and there was unease at the direction things were headed.

Not the outcome — if Nawaz has to go, he has to go — but the path to getting there.

The process had started to look tainted.

In a different age and different system, the unease of the serious lot, those with an eye on systemic improvement, would not matter much.

But in the current system, a balance of power between institutions — no one side able to get far out ahead of the others — process matters too.

Or the consensus that process was being played too loose.

Luck also played a part. Nawaz had a trip scheduled abroad and a PM abroad on official-seeming work tends to delay crisis.

But he got luckier. It was SCO membership and Pakistan standing on a stage with China and Russia and Central Asia.

So there were meetings before. Meetings with the boys and official photos with everyone looking official.

They could have been chatting about Afghanistan, Kashmir or even the weather.

But there it was, a prime minister doing prime ministerial stuff, chairing a meeting with the boys no less.

There’s nothing like a whiff of normality — Afghanistan, Qatar, foreign crises be damned — to dispel a sense of political crisis.

And politics played a part. Or rather good ol’ Imran did. You almost have to admire his sense of timing.

Flung open the doors have been to the electables. In have hurried a bunch of so-called PPP electables. Triggered it has the usual hand-wringing and breast-beating.

It is an interesting story.

Several of those who have bolted wanted to bolt before the last election. There were conditions and negotiations and a demand for an en masse transfer to the new party and a guarantee of tickets.

It didn’t work out then, but 2013 and everything the PPP has done since guaranteed it would be attempted again.

Except now the PPP lot is more desperate and the PTI can accede to fewer demands. A transfer to PML-N is more complicated because it already has so many winners.

And, for candidates at least, a transition from PPP to PML-N is hard because of the historical party enmity.

Disillusioned PPP voters holding their nose and voting PML-N is one thing, old PPP candidates genuflecting before the PML-N enemy another.

But that’s a digression. What a terrible week it was for the PTI to pull the lever on electables.

There was the PML-N, rotten and exposed, symbolising everything that is wrong with the corrupt status quo, and here was the PTI welcoming the status quo it is supposed to be crusading against.

Fair, unfair, right or wrong, politics has a way of slipping away quickly. A moment of potential triumph for the PTI had turned into internal bickering and outside mocking.

Instead of everything being about the PML-N’s sins, some of the week had been about the PTI’s foibles.

You can imagine the PML-N was pleased. Don’t bother trying to figure out what Imran was thinking.

And so matters have returned to where they were before last week: the JIT is a nuisance, the bench a potential headache in the N-League’s electoral calculations; ouster possible but not likely.

And that’s because of what Panama has come to symbolise: the torment of Nawaz, not a purging of the system.

There’s no need to even argue the case, just look at what the PTI was doing this week.

On Panama, the old rules still hold: don’t be stupid and don’t get caught.

The Nawaz kids managed both, but Nawaz has suffered by presenting his family for national humiliation.

We’ve paid for our stupidity and for getting caught, now what more do you want, the PML-N asks.

By the old rules, by the system that prevails, by the status quo the PTI has again embraced, the N-League has a point.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2017