Occam’s razor

Updated January 21, 2020

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The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

WHEN the cat is away the mice will play, goes the English proverb. Politics in Pakistan is no different. Now that the big issues have been done and dusted — from occupied Kashmir to the extension — the little ones can afford to throw a tantrum about their unaddressed issues. Especially, as they behaved so well when the grownup problems were being sorted out; they deserve a ‘sweet’ for sitting quietly then and doing as they were told.

So suddenly, from the PML-Q to the MQM to the GDA, everyone has found their voice and their list of complaints.

The MQM feels enough is enough and Karachi and other urban centres in Sindh need their fair share of power and resources from the centre as well as from the province via the strengthening of the local government law. And then they also gently point out that attention needs to be paid to their missing workers and (forcibly) closed offices. The latter may not be something in the control of the PTI but surely it could do something. Put in a word in a powerful ear, perhaps.

The BNP-M has remembered its six-point agenda once again. It includes missing people, development work such as dams in the province as well as legislation to ensure that Gwadar’s demography does not change. However, it should be remembered that the party has continuously brought up these issues, especially when the PTI needs the numbers in parliament and gets whatever little bit it can on these occasions.

The GDA too feels that they aren’t consulted enough.

If someone, somewhere has decided to send the PTI packing, then why not pull the bandage off in one go?

The PML-Q perhaps is the one party which may have complaints which are slightly new — while they worry about governance, they are just a bit cut up about the new arrangement in Punjab where they may no longer enjoy all the power in the three districts that Usman Buzdar had let them control generously in the recent past. In a new bid to govern the largest province, Imran Khan has given all powers to the newly appointed chief secretary and IG police; rumour has it that Wasim Akram-plus has been told to focus on his walks in Governor House and an occasional swim. But the shift of power hasn’t gone down well with the Chaudhries and even some PTI parliamentarians all of whom had been spoilt rotten by the chief minister who signed transfers and postings faster than they could make recommendations. They want to go back to the bad old days of Buzdar where patronage mattered more than widespread governance.

The PTI has been scrambling around to appease its allies; not since the day they were looking for independent candidates or the December dharna, have the party’s troubleshooters been so active. So far, their performance lies in the eyes of the beholder. They may not have been able to convince any ally to live happily ever after but neither has any ally decided to shift classrooms. None so far has decided to pull its support from the government even if the ‘MQM’ has left the cabinet.

Of course, all this to and fro has once against set off feverish speculation about the future of the PTI and its government at the centre and in the province. But this is not just because of the allies and their behaviour.

Everyone is talking about how the PML-N has abandoned its nazariyati talk because it had been promised power again, and soon. Why else would it have voted so eagerly for the extension law? Couple this with the fact that Punjab is being poorly run and the unhappiness over it is known to all. So, change is about to happen and soon. For what else would explain the allies suddenly and simultaneously huffing and puffing, threatening to blow the house down?

Everyone knows why they agreed to support the PTI government with which they have little or nothing in common. And the same reasons are compelling them to voice their reservations.

There is little to fault in this logic. Except for the fact that if someone, somewhere has decided to send the PTI packing, then why not pull the bandage off in one go? Why first have the allies do rona dhona (lament) so everyone and their aunt has time to dust off all the conspiracy theories and predict gloom and doom for the PTI before finally doing the deed? Why give time to the PTI or Imran Khan to get prepared for whatever bad is coming their way? Or give people the chance to speculate that everything is being orchestrated? Wouldn’t it be easier to surprise them with a fait accompli?

No one has the answer to this.

The subtle ones insist that Khan is being sent a message to get his act together. No one is planning to send him home; he is just being told through his allies that he needs to now govern and govern properly.

Again, uninformed fools (such as myself) want to know why the prime minister who gets told whom to appoint in finance or even the bureaucrats in Punjab can’t be told directly that he is doing a bad job.

With the communication being what it is between Banigala and the powers that be, why does such an indirect and clumsy way have to be used to pass on a message? If the most informed among us can’t really settle on one interpretation of the signal, can Khan be expected to read them right?

But then, such is Pakistani politics and its eccentricities. The simplest explanation can never really be the right one. So, the kids are up to no good not because they thought the time was ripe to get some concessions out of a weak government. Since the budget, everyone was too busy dealing with bigger crises such as Kashmir, the dharna, Nawaz Sharif’s bail and exit and then the extension issue. The lil’ ones couldn’t really have piped up then.

Now that it’s a wee bit quiet on the political front, it’s their turn. But this is just so simple that it’s not worth discussing.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2020