Published November 26, 2017
The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

DEATH by hemlock or a shotgun to the face is the kind of choice that can make you forget the result is the same.

Yesterday felt like a bit of both.

It wasn’t shocking. Only the naïve are unaware of what lurks at what we can only pray are the fringes of society.

The slow poisoning of state and society has turned explosive. From here, what will be, will be.

And for three weeks, we watched as the fringe dragged itself to the centre and raised itself into a miasma that has engulfed us all.

It wasn’t particularly surprising. There is effectively no government. And definitely no one who could handle this situation.

Civilian government or military dictator, ours is a top-down, personality-driven system. A figure in whom not only is the power of high office vested, but who also has the legitimacy or strength to wield that power.

Khaqan Abbasi is manifestly not that person. Shahbaz maybe could’ve been that person in this particularly hellish scenario, but we can’t know because he’s been too busy sulking.

For better or worse, there were only two potential wielding-power-at-the-very-top figures who could — could — have sorted this out before it snowballed.

But Nawaz has been stripped of office. And the chief, we have now learned, believes national cohesion is on the line because of violence by both sides.

It isn’t surprising the danger grew and grew.

From here, what will be, will be. Order, or the veneer of it, will be established, but what precedents will be set — in the streets and in government — we can only guess.

So let’s get back to the hemlock, the slow death, and the shotgun-to-the-face, the violent end.

There is no real secret to what happened. Consolidating election laws meant simplifying stuff without changing the underlying spirit.

None of our parliamentary pygmies dare dream of tampering with this particular spirit.

Because there’s no mystery or malice, it’s easy enough to explain. Babar Sattar has already sliced through it, reminding us how this originated with Musharraf.

Having decided to revert to a joint electorate — enlightened liberation and all of that — Musharraf was cornered by the hateful lot. So to save his joint electorate, he threw that wretched lot among us under the bus.

Redundant clauses were introduced in the election laws to let everyone know who among us is hated and exactly why. If you haven’t read Babar, have a look at The News of Nov 18.

The PML-N’s mistakes — mistakes only in that here we are, in hell itself — were threefold. One, the Qadri execution was hung around the government’s neck.

There’s reason to believe the N-League had to be coaxed into that particular execution, but the warrant had to be signed by them, so on them has been pinned political blame.

Two, the N-League’s ambivalent, stuttering move towards the political centre exposed it to right-wing ire. To be accused of secularising impulses or modernising aspirations is in certain quarters to be accused of apostasy itself.

Three, the N-League didn’t wrap itself in the protective embrace of Fazlur Rehman and his ilk. Like the PPP did with the 18th Amendment.

Few know this because it was always only theoretical, but until the 18th Amendment it was possible for any member of the National Assembly to be prime minister — man, woman, Muslim and, yes, non-Muslim.

In one of those constitutional quirks, the lacuna had opened under Zia. Once the oath of office for the PM was changed, making it explicitly for a Muslim, there was no need to continue with the specific, Muslim-only PM clause in the Constitution.

That changed with the 18th Amendment.

Article 91(3) now reads: “the National Assembly shall … proceed to elect without debate one of its Muslim members to be the Prime Minister.”

That’s right. The secular PPP changed the Constitution, claiming that it was only reverting to the original, 1973 language, to ensure that Musharraf’s joint electorate could only produce a Muslim prime minister.

The key, of course, was Fazlu. Zardari wanted parliamentary consensus on the 18th, Fazlur Rehman’s price for voting yes was to retain Zia’s Islamist clauses.

We can only speculate why the N-League didn’t buy itself Fazlu or sundry mullah insurance when it got around to having the election laws consolidated by parliament.

Nawaz, as we all know, had been recently ousted. Fazlu or any other mullah who may have been inclined to warn Nawaz and extract a price to support the bill was dealing with a nobody PM.

Maybe that’s where the ball was dropped.

The other bit is Nawaz getting the N-League presidency back. The PML-N was so focused on getting that clause through in the electoral-laws revamp that it left its right flank exposed. A flank that has been devoured by the Faizabad lot.

Of such stupidities are tragedies made.

But the hemlock and the shotgun are now, in a miserable, quintessentially Pakistani way, ent­wined. The slow poisoning of state and society has turned explosive. From here, what will be, will be.

Which leaves us with a final exegesis. What will it take to stop and maybe reverse this?

It’s impossible to know, but not hard to guess. Pygmies won’t do. Neither a Musharraf nor a Nawaz nor any of those who dared to be heard or seen this weekend.

Probably someone who is willing to say enough and, like the evil in our streets, willing to put his life on the line to stand by what he believes.

Someone to make us governable at the cost, potentially, of his life.

But that probably explains why we will remain ungovernable.

The writer is a member of staff.
Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2017


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