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Artificialness

November 05, 2017

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COUNTERFACTUALS are impossible, but occasionally we get close enough to have a peek at what could have been.

A transfer to Maryam would be wrong.

Not this way, not at this time, not as the coronation she seems to be seeking and her father seems willing to bestow.

Disagreeable as dynastic politics is, it’s a fact of political life and there’s a way to go about it.

The Sharifs aren’t going about it the right way. That’s blindingly obvious. But there’s a deeper, more uncomfortable question:

Has the anti-democratic interference created a scenario that democratic politics may have forestalled?

Or to put it another way, if it weren’t for Panama being used as a wedge to get Nawaz out, would the PML-N have figured out a better, more orderly succession?

A succession that would have given Shahbaz his turn and allowed Hamza and Maryam to fight for eventual power after party or ministerial stints to prove who deserves it more.

Essentially, could the PML-N have done better — produced a result more favourable to democracy — if it hadn’t been artificially forced into a succession crisis?

Let’s turn to history a bit.

Once upon a time, there was a would-be amirul momineen. Everyone knows the legend of what Nawaz attempted, the abortive 15th Amendment.

Could the PML-N have done better if it hadn’t been artificially forced into a succession crisis?

First, the background. From a report at the time by the excellent chronicler of our miserable history, Zahid Hussain:

“What appears to have pushed Sharif along this dangerous path was the fact that his country was on the brink of bankruptcy. Sectarian strife, especially in Sindh, was again getting out of control.

“Also Sharif, his aides say, felt his government was sinking after the recent US strikes on Afghanistan and Sudan, when he was caught between trying to appease both the Taliban and the US.”

Classic bait-and-switch.

But there was a problem. The infamous heavy mandate had given Nawaz a clean path through the National Assembly, a two-thirds majority easily assembled with the help of sundry independents.

The problem was in the Senate.

Again from Zahid Hussain at the time:

“With his coalition partners pulling out, Sharif may find it difficult to push the bill through parliament. Although his party with the help of independents can muster a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, it does not enjoy similar support in the Senate.

“It has 44 members in the Senate out of a total 87 and needs 15 more to get the bill passed. The government has also hinted at holding a referendum if it fails to get the bill passed by parliament.”

Faced with a defiant Senate, Nawaz tried bullying and hectoring. The Senate didn’t budge. But there was another option: the next round of Senate elections, in 2000.

While he couldn’t get the Senate to yield in 1998, Nawaz knew the next round of Senate elections in 2000 would give him significantly better numbers in the Senate.

Now to the counterfactual.

The Musharraf coup disrupted all of Nawaz’s plans. Gone forever was the dream of amirul momineen.

But the coup also robbed us of the possibility, the opportunity even, to watch Nawaz defied by democracy and maybe even his own party.

Because there was deep unease not just in the Senate generally but inside the PML-N too about what Nawaz was attempting.

The easy vote in the National Assembly made clear there were plenty of enablers, ready and willing to give Nawaz what he wanted to align themselves with power.

But there were also conscientious objectors. And the more Nawaz pushed, the more likely opposition to the 15th Amendment would have coalesced.

An all-powerful prime minister suffering a defeat in parliament partly because of his own party members could have been a significant democratic moment.

We never got that moment because of engineered circumstances.

Now again we are at an artificial moment. The ouster of Nawaz has forced choices that otherwise would have been delayed.

Without the ouster, the path ahead was relatively clear. Nawaz would have led the party into the next election and Shahbaz would be negotiating with his elder brother for a post-election role, assuming the N-League won again.

And Maryam would probably have made her political debut as a member of the parliamentary class of 2018, having a full parliamentary term to learn the ropes and make a case for succession.

Instead, it’s all been scrambled and driven the N-League to the verge of a split because of an accelerated, artificial ascent to power.

An ascent that the N-League itself may have blocked if Maryam’s parliamentary and political path created enough doubts about her suitability for the role.

That she isn’t ready is plain to see.

But the artificial crisis has turned what could have been a question of competence into one of loyalty. You really can’t best a daughter in the loyalty stakes.

There is, though, a final irony. By roping her into the artificial crisis, it has given Maryam a potential path to political legitimacy that she otherwise could not have dreamed of.

Assume the accountability case ends up in a conviction for both father and daughter.

Sending Maryam to jail would rocket-boost her political stature in a way that a dozen years of ministerial or party experience would not.

It would paper over every other shortcoming and inadequacy. No one would be able to challenge what could otherwise have been patent nonsense.

So even if she loses out to her uncle and cousin in this round, the artificial crisis may end up vaulting her right past them.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, November 5th, 2017