Silence and submission

Updated 10 Jan 2020

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The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

THE unspeakable happened on Wednesday. A communication line that had initially promised so much to so many people was restored. A Twitter handle came back to life after a long, eerie silence.

In the end, what this Twitter account in Ms Maryam Nawaz’s name did was that it flashed her famous father’s picture. But that was enough for many of her supporters to quickly repose their confidence in her abilities to lead and lead by right. We all know that this right rests purely in her status as the eligible next ruler in the Sharif dynasty. Surely the silence she chose to cover herself in during a crucial phase of her career could, ultimately, turn out a very handy political ploy. This is more by design than by accident. The party always knew that it could reap rich dividends of this silent investment.

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The opportunity to build on the silence has come since we are back at the Pakistani political roundabout. The whole political class in the country is exposed to the torrents let loose on the enemies of empowered civilian rule. The few noble, pure souls who must habitually balk at any deceptive opportunity to establish true democracy are in agitation mode. The long lament has just begun and it would take time for everyone in the audience to re-realise their limitations.

There are last straws to clutch for only the more imaginative minds. Many optimists may take heart from the fact that the cries of anguish are much louder than ever heard. There has been a strange, overnight transformation of the Pakistani people from those resigned to the indigenous version of controlled popular rule. They have somehow managed to convince themselves that the country and the nation and the democracy within this nation have all failed to cash in on a golden opportunity to assert their presence on the authorities concerned.

There has been a strange, overnight transformation of the people from those resigned to the indigenous version of controlled popular rule.

Some rituals never die. The eventual passage of the law about the extension of service in some important positions without any opposition has led to the usual exercise in self-deception where everyone must fake surprise over this inevitable development. This done there will be other usual rites for the participants to perform.

The opposition was denied even the basic consolation of having moved some amendments to the draft. This pinpoints not just to the room that they are allowed now. There are bound to be far-reaching repercussions for the opposition politicians when they go about explaining their principled positions in an effort to reclaim the high ground for establishing democratic norms in the country.

That image repair job has begun. Already, the PPP chairman has been asked the question; how would he now face the people who had some expectations from him? His answer has been quite predictable and too old-fashioned for an outfit that is still regarded as the only hope by an exclusive dreamers’ club in Pakistan, entry to which has been progressively restricted with time.

To be honest to the once grand party, the PPP-led 18th Amendment is one of the basic sources of conflict in the politics of the country. That is a badge the PPP likes to wear on its chest whenever necessary. But there have been other entries in the party’s record that Mr Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari will find hard to defend.

Not least among them is the legacy of his martyred mother. She departed from the scene trying to create a working relationship between the politicians and the non-civilian permanent claimants to power in the country.

The mature Ms Benazir Bhutto that we all fondly remember now was a product of the circumstances that increasingly pushed her towards a power-sharing compromise. In the evolution of this thought she was helped to a great extent by her husband and BBZ’s ultimate mentor, Mr Asif Ali Zardari.

The PPP has long cherished and craved the acceptance the PML-N had enjoyed in the power brokers’ circle. The process of turning the PPP into an outfit with a rating similar to the PML-N’s was accelerated after Mr Zardari took charge of the party. There are few real signs that BBZ can any time soon escape the mould his illustrious parents had selected for him.

Yet some of the dreamers amongst us insist. They are aghast at BBZ not acting as his mother would, whereas this is exactly what he may be trying to do at this very sensitive moment of his political life. When a journalist asks him how he would face the people now after having submitted fully to the calls that asked him to do his duty by the status quo, all he can think of is using the same old route to ensure his own extension in the Pakistani power theatre. He repeats the old emotional PPP line: We have sacrificed our lives for people before. We will do it again.

BBZ was compelled to speak since he has been off the silent mode for many years now. A true heir to the PPP legacy, he appears to be a faithful follower of his father’s politics until now, frustrating the calls that demanded greater BB-like sophistication from him. His Lahori counterpart in the scheme, Ms Maryam Nawaz could consider herself lucky that a self-imposed gag order freed her from any unwanted remark she might have been expected to make otherwise.

This could give Ms Maryam the advantage if and when the party decides to start the campaign to redeem its pro-resistance image. Already some leaks have been carefully spread in the media saying just how unhappy Ms Maryam was with the way the party submitted to the orders in this latest instance. She might discover an extension for her originally promised role beneath the silence she has fortunately maintained.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2020