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The conspiracy is out there...

August 14, 2018

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THE election is over and done with, despite the controversies surrounding it. But just a year ago, the conspiracy theories swirling in Pakistan made a general election (or selection) seem impossible.

So, what better time to recap what our overactive imaginations had conjured up, now that little of it has come to fruition? Perhaps, the recollection will help us be a little more sceptical when next a soothsayer holds forth.

While Islamabad is never short of whisperings, the rumours hit a fever pitch in the run-up to the Senate polls and the general elections.

The Senate elections towards the end of the PPP term as well as the PML-N’s gave rise to similar whisperings — because for some reason, someone, somewhere does not want the ruling party to gain control of the Senate. This apparently is reason enough to throw the baby out with the bathwater. All such hopes were dashed during the PPP era though the PML-N period proved less disappointing for the ‘believers’. ‘They’ took control of the system and cheated the N out of its true numbers in the Senate.

What better time than now to recap what our overactive imaginations had conjured up?

This then gave the conspiracy theorists much hope and strength for a future filled with doom and gloom. The end of the system was but inevitable. Only the reasoning was different for both sides.

For the khalai makhlooq supporters, Nawaz Sharif and his daughter were going to push the issue. They didn’t care about the system now that they were out. They were going to destablise the situation by revealing some deep dark secrets. Hadn’t he already done something similar by hinting at those who were behind the dharna or through news leaks? Now he was just going to go further — make public some recordings or worse. For those who didn’t think he would be so reckless, his jalsas and show of street power was going to do the trick — this by a party known for not being able to put up a good show ever on the street.

On the other side of the divide, the Noonie friends were no less pessimistic. For them, Nawaz Sharif had become the great populist ala Bhutto. His ‘defiance’ had charged up Punjab which for the first time was in confrontation with the army. The largest and most status quo province of the country had gone the ‘East Pakistan way’ (Bhutto or Sheikh Mujib, Nawaz Sharif was rolled into one); and the agri-wallahs hadn’t just thrown Mian sahib out to simply let him back in again. Hence, there was going to be no election. ‘They’ just couldn’t afford it and were going to send the system packing.

There was no arguing with this prediction, either by pointing out all the times the security establishment had engineered/gone against Punjab in the past (1988, 1990, 2002) because the answer to it all was 1977. Neither was anyone impressed by the argument that the military wasn’t in the position of strength needed to carry out a coup.

When conspiracy is a belief, logic is of little use.

None of the whispering stopped 2018 from creeping up and the ECP from announcing an election date. It was then time for new theories.

One had the PPP in a favourable position at the centre and a weak one in Sindh. It was going to be made to lose Sindh to the GDA but be the kingmaker at the centre!

Apparently, at the centre, the numbers for the PML-N and the PTI were uncertain but the PPP was obviously going to secure interior Sindh and be indispensable to whoever won big in Punjab. And in such a numbers game, Asif Zardari would be kingmaker and king. He was going to become the president again; he might even get his own choice installed in Prime Minister House or in key ministries. The possibilities were endless.

It’s hard to now remember if this theory was in sync with the one in which Imran Khan had lost the approval of the khalai makhlooq for being mercurial and/or not securing Punjab. Indeed, Khan, on and off, has always been rumoured to have disappointed the establishment who like the father of the girl in the Hindi films of yore never really approved of the angry, young man named Amitabh Bachchan.

Hence, Khan was going to be dumped at the last moment (once he had emerged unscathed from his offshore company case) but not his party. The PTI was going to win but its guardians were going to put Asad Umar or Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the leading chair and leave Khan out.

But once the election campaign was in full swing, the conspiracy theories had a new poster boy — Nisar Ali Khan. Even despite his unpopularity, it has to be said that in the past year or so, if there has been a man who has been very maligned and hated it is the one from Chakri.

He was the Trojan horse who was going to destroy the N as well as the PTI. Joined by all the others riding on the jeep, he was going to lead the independents straight to Prime Minister House. The government was going to be formed not by any of the big parties but by the jeep wallahs. They were going to win more seats than the PML-N or the PTI. (There was also a less popular prediction about how he would take over the PML-N once Sharif Jr joined his elder brother in Adiala but it didn’t gain much traction, for some reason.)

Since the long-winded Chaudhry lost his seats (as did most of the jeep riders) all the ire and hatred directed his way has now been shifted to Shahbaz Sharif, who is the new Trojan horse.

For the moment, there are few new conspiracies afoot as we rant about the unfairness of the election. But once the new government is in place, the soothsayers will return. For, the ‘truth’ (or shall we say ‘conspiracy’) is always out there.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2018