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Project Post-Democracy

Updated March 18, 2018


AFTER Nawaz, what? Nawaz and Maryam are busy arguing — the deluge. They would. But if you’re neither of them, it’s a real question. Maybe the only question.

After Nawaz, what do the boys have in mind?

The question of how is increasingly uninteresting. Maybe interesting in a gosh-didn’t-see that-coming way, but the trajectory is obvious: Nawaz is going down.

He may put up a fight, he may put up an almighty fight, he may increase the cost of trying to shut him out, but he’s fooling no one. The system wants him out.

And the system gets its man.

Maybe it’s just that the bigger they are, the less willing they are to share credit.

The mystery of why the system wants Nawaz out — as most have noticed, it’s not like Nawaz was threatening to get away or actually getting away with anything — makes it all the more likely Nawaz is politically a dead man walking.

It can only be hatred. And hatred is a hard thing to reverse.

So, forget Nawaz. After Nawaz, what?

The good thing about the boys is that they’re not particularly inventive. Or maybe because there’s been so many iterations of this, the manipulated exit, the template is more or less fixed.

Admittedly, there have already been significant surprises along the way. It still does not make sense why the court has chosen the sequence it has.

Hold off on an immediate ouster, toss Panama and related paraphernalia into an accountability court, get a conviction there and — gone, finished. Khatam.

Or let the appeal linger and finish him off in campaign season proper, if Nawaz still hasn’t got the message by then. But the court chose to hang it on a wretched iqama.

Maybe it’s just that the bigger they are, the less willing they are to share credit, the spotlight, whatever. To hell with credibility when there’s glory to be had.

And the coup in Balochistan to the silly exercise of a manipulated Senate election to the even sillier exercise of a manipulated Senate chairmanship election suggests a mind at work that has read too many bad spy novels.

Like the intricacy of the hunt is more fun than the kill itself. Maybe it is.

But after Nawaz, what?

There’s really only — touch wood — two options.

The first is to replicate the current political landscape, minus actual politics.

There it is: one centre, four different provincial set-ups.

It’s held up for a full parliamentary term and the messy period before, so replicating a mess shouldn’t be all that difficult. Or at least not impossible.

There’s plenty of experience already — recent, ongoing experience. The audaciousness of a takeover at the centre has obscured that funny business has been the norm for much of the country for years now.

Balochistan fell early this century and the vice is still tight.

Clumsy to some, masterstroke to others, it is what it is: deep, deep political and electoral knowledge. All the more potent because political parties have more or less been kept at arm’s length from the region.

Fata never was in the political ambit to begin with, but its distance from politics proper has grown. A necessary war and unnecessary clumsiness by the civilians has put Fata deeper than ever into the other column.

Karachi was the next to fall. The Musharraf era is what originally set up Karachi for a fall. Turning the city completely over to the MQM was always going to draw pushback from everyone else —– once pushback became feasible.

Musharraf’s ouster made pushback feasible and soon enough it was open season. The starving and fattened alike fought for their share and what they thought was their right.

The Karachi operation became inevitable.

And Karachi opened the door to Sindh. A door that Zardari has struggled to keep merely ajar, not flung wide open. Sometimes Zardari is up, other times he’s down, but the ingress is real.

Then Zarb-i-Azb opened the door to Punjab. It helped that the reason was genuine. After pacifying all of Fata, operating in all seven agencies, the fight had to turn to counterterrorism.

Counterterrorism primarily meant Punjab, the last great untouched bastion. The Sharifs have resisted and somewhat succeeded, but there’s an inexorableness to it.

In any case, Punjab is home to the other project: figuring out what to do with the other cohort, the ones drawing international ire and who are to be mainstreamed. In many ways, Punjab is already home turf.

And, finally, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The people helpfully turned to the PTI the last time round, but KP is also from where Fata is managed and next door to Afghanistan. It’s an old stamping ground.

That’s the replication option right there: different set-ups for the different regions. Messy and complicated, but that has not been a disqualifying factor so far.

Plus there’s the recently accumulated experience of managing stuff everywhere.

The other option is the old one: re-centralisation.

It would explain the Senate stuff. Like Nawaz needs the Senate to fight his way back in, the boys need the Senate to rearrange some constitutional furniture.

A post-politics, post-big party, Senate and NA is a version of something old, something new. If party-less elections aren’t an option for the democratic veneer, then party-based-minus-defiant-party-leaders elections it has to be.

The advantage: it’s less messy; the disadvantage: concentrated power rankles and draws challenge.

If you were one of the boys, you’d choose the first option: messy, but diffuse — it really divides and conquers.

Luckily for the rest of us, the boys can be their own worst enemy. Prepare for the second option.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2018