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Roaring back

August 13, 2017

WELL, at least it was fun. After weeks — months — of pontificating, braying, moralising and squealing by the anti-democrats, it was a change alright to see a democrat-ish type get his licks in.

And how he roared.

Good for him, good for Nawaz. The tree of democracy must be refreshed from time to time with a jalsa or two. Too late for Nawaz to save his job, but at least something different to the dire, soulless stuff that had come before.

Sadly, now that it’s over, the serious business resumes. What does it all mean?

Let’s not kid ourselves: nobody knows. The problem with judicial ousters is that no matter how political the verdict, there’s never an indication of what comes next.

Because judges don’t rule, they only arbitrate.

By definition a reactive institution — the judiciary can only rule on a dispute that is brought to it, even in the world of political suo motu — and by convention a slow-moving one, the judiciary can’t match the raw pace of politics.

Nawaz’s ouster was a judicial grenade lobbed into the political arena, presumably with the hope that when the dust settles, some kind of desirable new configuration emerges.

But Nawaz reacted unpredictably and GT Road has reacted even more unpredictably.

Nawaz has roared, but what’s his plan? The judiciary has spoken, but how much more are they willing to wreak? The boys have kept silent, but for how long?

Angered possibly more by the targeting of Maryam, and so the disruption of his succession plans, than the ouster of himself, Nawaz went back into campaign mode.

And whoever convinced him to abandon his beloved Motorway for GT Road deserves a Tamgha-i-Jamhooriat. Or at the very least, a lifetime supply of mithai.

Even a fool can now see that Nawaz is still vastly popular and, more importantly for Nawaz, he is the PML-N. Fantasises of breakaway factions or rival branches in the family trying to grab power have receded.

(In the rapacious world of Punjab politics, someone will surely attempt wresting the crown anyway. But the cost has been significantly increased — perhaps impossibly so.)

As for the GT Road turnout, neither friend nor enemy will admit the surprise — nor shock or fear, depending on which camp they’re in.

Because at the heart of Pakistani electoral politics is a mystery and uncertainty that no one involved in the game wants to admit to. The standard assumption is that everyone knows how people will generally vote.

This part of the country to that party, that part of the country to this party. This much of a baseline support, that much of a maximum. Everyone reacting logically and in a predictable manner.

But 2008 and 2013 actually demonstrated something quite different: nobody actually knows. 2008 was supposed to be a BB wave, 2013 another coalition government — and neither happened.

For two reasons. The profile of the electorate has changed significantly and, for historical reasons, no one has ever been able to test what happens if you allow successive, or triple, on-schedule, un-interfered-with elections.

Basically, every assumption about the democratic process, and who votes for whom, in Pakistan is rooted in assumptions that are loose and anecdotal, and created in times that the current era of historic electoral continuity is the opposite of.

So, GT Road has been a shock to the system. Don’t for a second believe that it hasn’t shocked the PML-N as much as it has its enemies — you can see it in the elation of one side and the anxiety of the other.

But there’s no reason to get carried away. Democracy has hardly been saved nor is it the core of Nawaz’s purpose.

Looking in from the outside, there’s three players and each has played their hand in this first round.

The court, in its abomination of a judgement, has revealed its determination to not just oust Nawaz, but its interest in shutting him out of the system forever.

The boys, via the slashing JIT report, have revealed a willingness to see the back of Nawaz, even if they don’t want to be seen directly disrupting the democratic process.

And Nawaz, via the significant political capital harvested along GT Road, has demonstrated that he’s not willing to disappear into the sunset.

The problem is obvious: the current configuration is not sustainable.

Nawaz has roared, but what’s his plan? The judiciary has spoken, but how much more are they willing to wreak? The boys have kept silent, but for how long?

From the outside, the best-case scenario is that the self-interested choices of the three main players creates some kind of beneficial, ancillary effect for the democratic project.

Some may wish that’s the court forcing a quick accountability judgement. But that’s easier said than done — a bizarre SC judgement an indication of how hard it is to assemble proof.

Others may wish that the boys just step in and wrap up this farce. But the boys’ silence speaks of an institution unprepared, and unwilling, as yet for that ultimate step.

And yet others may hope that it does not lead to the end of the democratic road, that Nawaz somehow finds the grace and magnanimity to let the democratic order continue without him. But the GT Road show has suggested otherwise.

So now one side or the other or the third will have to make the first next move. Either the court, the boys or Nawaz.

The heart says, may Nawaz do the right thing. The mind says, the court won’t tolerate this for long. And the gut says, the boys have had enough.

God bless. Happy Independence Day. Pakistan zindabad.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, August 13th, 2017