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Living by speculation

July 27, 2017


SPECULATION is the name of the game that is being played by TV channels day in and day out for the entertainment of the masses, whose gullibility is as boundless as their thirst for the sensational is insatiable. When the joint investigation team (JIT) filed its report with the Supreme Court and the latter scheduled the hearing a week later, many welcomed the possibility of a break from the slanging contests among representatives of various parties outside the court. Such expectations proved too good to be true. The gladiators from the warring parties stayed on behind the mikes to play the speculation game with increased vigour.

They competed with one another in informing the people what the JIT might or might not have said. Both the PML-N and PTI wanted the people to believe that the JIT had vindicated their respective stands. The guessing game was taken further with a debate on whether the Supreme Court could disqualify the prime minister on the basis of the JIT’s findings. A hotly debated point was the likely result if one of the judges on the three-member implementation bench decided to disqualify the prime minister and his ruling was added to the verdict given by two judges on the five-member bench that had heard the Panama Papers case. It was a meaningless debate.

The guessing game became livelier when the court started hearings on the JIT report.

The speculation game became livelier when the court started hearings on the JIT report. The daily encounters outside the court became noisier and statements and predictions more and more emphatic. The chorus of the PML-N band was that the JIT had not really found the prime minister guilty of any wrongdoing while the PTI chorus was to the effect that it was not only the prime minister who was guilty but his entire brood had been found mired in corruption, The Jamaat-i-Islami chief and Sheikh Rashid had been regular participants of the outdoor kutchery and they were soon joined by the PPP stalwarts especially when the prime minister began to be asked to resign.

The demand for his resignation gave two twists to the speculation game. One new line of speculation was whether resignation could save him from prosecution for the offences he is alleged to have committed or whether a cell in Adiala jail was being prepared. But this point of contention was soon superseded by the other twist — the competition to identify the prime minister’s successor. Would the PML-N find a successor to Nawaz Sharif or would an interim prime minister be installed for the period required to get an outsider elected to the National Assembly?

A few sighs were heard over the deletion from the Constitution of the facility of appointing a prime minister from outside the National Assembly and asking him to get elected to the Assembly within six months or so. Some others regretted having abrogated Article 58 (2b) regardless of the fact that Mamnoon Hussain is not cast in the mould of Ziaul Haq or Ghulam Ishaq or even Farooq Leghari.

Quite often the speculators seemed to be having a brush with the law of contempt of court. Although the Supreme Court did refer disparagingly to the arguments being traded outside, overall it chose to ignore the matter. Even otherwise, senseless chatter is not always contempt and there is no law to punish it.

While the party still in power vociferously maintained that the prime minister was not going to step down, because he was extremely busy inaugurating new development projects or undertaking foreign tours, the opposition gunners kept firing salvos in celebration of his exit from office and went on identifying his successors. Names of likely successors were bandied around with or without their consent. The game is still on. It is unlikely to end even if there is no change or a new prime minister has been sworn in because then there will be new points to speculate.

The speculators got some fresh grist for their mills when Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan announced he would hold a news conference. Prompt was the conclusion that he was going to spill the beans, that he was going to end his 35-year old association with Nawaz Sharif, that he had decided to quit the cabinet, even the party. Some PM baiters confidently announced a split in the PML-N. They were disappointed when the interior minister put off the news conference by a day because he was indisposed,

The speculators were not going to give up; their response was quite quick; ‘Sickness or something else?’ One copy writer penned down a strip: “Besides a backache what else is causing anguish to Chaudhry Nisar?” Mercifully, he stopped there. It is possible he did not have access to a dictionary of common diseases otherwise he might have found appropriate cures for the interior minister’s problems that nobody has diagnosed.

Why has the speculation game become popular? People have so long been denied access to the facts pertaining to matters concerning them that they have evolved a firm tradition of treating conjecture as fact. This tradition has greatly been strengthened by the curtailment of space for freedom of expression, by denial of the right to know and by the enforced cessation of discussion on numerous subjects that could be debated freely a few decades ago. There is no intra-religion discourse. Anybody can get away with blue murder by invoking his personal interpretation of religion. Whatever is supposed to be done in the name of national security cannot be challenged. Any criticism of the way the National Action Plan or the CPEC project is being implemented is considered heresy.

Our increased fondness for speculation may help us to compile a treatise on ‘the speculative Pakistani’ to stand beside Dr Amartya Sen’s book The Argumentative Indian, but it will further erode whatever capacity we have to face the grim challenges confronting the country.

Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2017