IT’S a dropped catch, again.
The sequence: Nawaz gets ill, Khan gets suspicious, Nawaz gets hospitalised, Khan gets scornful, Nawaz gets critical, Khan gets concerned, Nawaz gets bail, Khan gets empathetic, Nawaz needs foreign medical treatment, Khan says fine.
Then Khan says not fine. And we have a mess on our hands, again.
Shocked you shouldn’t be — perturbed probably yes. Fifteen months into its term, the government of PTI led by the indomitable Imran Khan has settled down into a predictable rhythm of turbulent ineptitude. In the early days of this Insafian Camelot, King Arthur and the knights of his round table shuffled awkwardly in their armour of power — many falling off their horses as they jousted with their own shadows — but the giddy citizens of the kingdom applauded and whistled at their gallant silliness. The bumbling, bungling and blundering of the knights would wear off soon, they said.
Little did they know that this was not Camelot; this was Naya Camelot where the rules were made as the knights went along. The slings and arrows of outrageous governance were but a price readily paid for basking in the light of righteous intentions. At least they were trying sincerely, right?
Can a good U-turn turn back the deleterious effects of a bad U-turn?
But on the way to the citadel of deliverance, something monstrous happened. The knights, bedecked in their ministerial armours and wielding longswords of virtuous fury, found themselves lost in a thicket of bewildered confusion. Which way now? The stallions neighed, scabbards clanged against body metal and lengthening shadows of doubt fell open helmeted eyes. They had chanced upon a dead end.
In a list of desirable destinations, dead end is normally not near the top. Neither is the situation where the knights of PTI find themselves today. Having taken their rhetoric to a level beyond the depleting ozone layer, they have now become a hostage to their own lofty words. They cannot climb further up because there is no head space; they cannot climb further down because there’s no leg space; and they cannot stay where they are because that’s — God forbid — status quo land. There is a name for such constrictions: dead end.
It is in this cramped space that you make decisions that conjure up enchanted concoctions like the Indemnity Bond. Then you cobble together bewitching arguments to cement the bond of indemnification with the glue of partisan longing. Now you have a brew you can mix with delicious relish because, you see, that’s the whole point of weaponising your righteousness to slay your villainous enemies.
But this was no chivalrous duel, this was no heroic battle and this was no sublime feud between titans for the overlordship of the cosmos. No, ladies and gentlemen, this was a fracas not worthy of the contestants. It should not have been fought in the first place.
In fact, Khan’s initial reaction was the correct one. This reaction gelled with who he is — a man by nature empathetic and compassionate. If in doubt, see Shaukat Khanum hospital. His close advisers admit that when he first found out the gravity of Nawaz’s medical condition, he said his opponent should get the best medical treatment. The media was informed by officials that the government was granting Nawaz a waiver from the ECL so he could travel abroad.
Then, suddenly and habitually, the government wronged a right decision. And Khan allowed his original, natural and personal judgement to be influenced by the narrow thinking of small people. The price of this U-turn — yes what else can you call it — is a steep one and it may get steeper.
A blood feud has been birthed. It is still though in its infancy. Can a good U-turn turn back the deleterious effects of a bad U-turn? Can Khan and his knights walk back from this awful bond business and let the original decision stand? In an ideal world, a U-turn-upon-U-turn type of political penance may have undone the damage inflicted, but in the land we live in such utopian fantasies are best retained for bedtime stories.
The story here though is ripe with anger, bitterness and loathing. The government feared for its political capital and bled away its moral capital. When the moment demanded a bold and humane decision, the government chose to wimp out. The court will now decide today on the indemnity bond but it will matter not to a government that has sacrificed its self-professed righteousness at the altar of craven political expediency.
It is an expediency fuelled by a desire to satiate the lust of a voter-base nourished on an emotionally-drenched but fact-starved narrative. The inability — or unwillingness — of the party in power to harness its rhetoric instead of being harnessed by it is truly frightening. The python devoured the enemy; now it is coiled around your body and squeezing the last breath out of you. Ever wonder what asphyxiation-by-words meant? Well, now you know.
At some point, Nawaz will travel abroad, or he won’t; at some point his refusal to sign the bond will be validated, or it won’t; at some point the government will pay a political cost of the bond affair, or it won’t; at some point the courts will clear this legal smog, or they won’t; and at some point we will move on from this hail of acrimony, or we won’t — but something malignant will stay with us for a very long time. This malignancy has been injected into the hearts of those men and women who are mandated to rise above and beyond their personal vendettas when discharging the hallowed duties of public office.
Venom should not run through the veins of a society. It poisons generations and dilutes their capacity to heal together. The law must be equal for all. But the bones of these laws must be protected with the flesh of compassion. In the Naya Camelot — perhaps — the time has come to sheath that sword of uber-righteousness and rediscover the bond that can hold us all together.
That’s one catch worth taking.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2019