An end unto itself

December 01, 2017


THE next few weeks of our lives we are going to spend in fear of any mishap. Jan 4, 2018, will mark the chehlum of those who lost their lives in or as a result of the aborted operation launched last Saturday to disperse the Labbaik rally just short of Islamabad.

According to one report the day has been chosen by Allama Khadim Husain Rizvi for his next march on the capital. Unless — now that it is confirmed who can best protect us and deal with angry fellow faithful — we have someone intervening on our behalf here and now rather than waiting for a frenetic finish full of perils upcountry.

The obvious has been unveiled, for yet another time, say those who insist that ‘everything’ is going according to plan. Many, if not all, of us are flabbergasted by the transparency of it all. Perhaps the most pertinent of all remarks is the one about there being no conspiracy here.

Truth be told, the PML-N government has already been ousted.

There has to be a certain element of concealment, of mystery, for the act to qualify as a conspiracy. Or what sounds more sinister in Urdu, for the ‘sazish’ to have a hair-raising effect. The one unfolding doesn’t quite make the rank.

The government’s own declarations, that this was an unbridled, coarse attempt to dislodge it, don’t leave too much to the imagination. It is more like how a character in Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi’s book went about dealing with a murder thriller.

The typically endearing Yousufian character said a murder mystery was best read from end to start in opposition to the rather unexciting tradition followed by the, dull, un-innovative masses. The big thing was for the writer to still retain the suspense in a reverse reading of his novel.

Here, too, everyone appears so sure about the ending and all that the story needs are preceding the details. Everyone is surer by the second that the PML-N government is about to do what it has some prior training of: surrender, this time to the calls for its ouster.

Truth be told, the PML-N government has already been ousted. A mere shadow of it is found to be gesticulating in ways which may sometimes be interpreted as some kind of expression of governance.

The government needs allies to have any chance of surviving. It has been desperately asking for support from political parties and trying to impress upon those already counted amongst its allies that now is the time for them to be seen to stand by Mr Nawaz Sharif. Amid sighs of exasperation, these calls have been revived after this latest conclusion in Faizabad.

The politicians have again been asked to stand together in defence of the Constitution and the rule of law — when the most crucial part of it all is that Faizabad most blatantly puts on display all the divisions which exist in the country, including the rift within the PML-N

Allama Khadim Rizvi is asking for power to rule — iqtidaar — so that he can put into practice his vision of governance founded on his understanding of governance by early Muslim rulers. He is most annoyed by the Sufi face of Barelvi Islam that, he points out, is promoted at these seminars to please the West. But while he may be a natural outcome of the thinking that longed for a more assertive Barelvi presence over the last decade or so it will be a miracle if he manages to secure his aim of getting power in the 2018 election. Yet both voters and those they vote for are likely to be influenced by his movement in a big way.

The primary target has to be the PML-N, even though no politician with the exception of original N-League dissenter Zafarullah Jamali has escaped Allama Rizvi’s wrath. This is the most sensitive moment in the entire history of the PML-N and of the politics by Mr Nawaz Sharif. Given the nature of the allegations the criticism of the party is currently based on it will be a while before the Noon Leaguers are able to freely move in public and there is now sure cause for large-scale defections from the party if earlier there was some reluctance to shift loyalty.

Even without these long-expected defections, the PML-N finds itself weak and isolated as never before.

On the other hand, it will be easier for parties who were until now being asked — most emotionally — to reinforce the PML-N in the name of democracy and system. A party which is soliciting help from others must first furnish proof of the level of conviction and sense of solidarity amongst its own cadres. The situation here is quite to the contrary.

The PML-N has been pleading for support from parties, such as the PPP, while at the same time keeping its own back door open for reconciliation with those it wants the PPP to take head on. With the Shahbaz Sharif plank continuing to aspire for a compromise, his party and that of his elder brother can harbour little real hope of roping in the PPP which, in spite of its leadership, is lucky to still command some respect for its 50-year-old haggard and morphed existence.

Mr Asif Zardari has all the more reason now to keep his distance from old friends with whom the PPP once signed a charter of democracy.

If public perceptions about the PML-N is not a strong enough factor precluding new alliances and revival of old partnerships with it, someone like Mr Zardari can easily cite the panic, the confusion and indeed the wide gulf within the Nawaz party that Faizabad has brought out so pungently. So much so that the very people — government ministers — who were credited with the accord which ended the Labbaik sit-in later dissociated themselves from the written conditions which brought about this conclusion. It will be futile to hope that, when its own are dithering, others will come to prop up a shaky government.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2017