THE government is unravelling; Imran Khan has disappointed all and sundry and there is little hope left. The opposition is gearing up to replace his government. The PTI has failed only because of itself; it faces no enemies but from within. The opposition has already begun talks with the powers that be. A relationship that soured over five years has repaired in two because of the mess that is Khan and the PTI.
So many rumours, but one subeditor’s brain. The latter is reeling from information overload.
Indeed, the general perception is that the PTI is not governing and the PML-N is about to take over. The latter does have a spring in its step — and it’s not just due to the extreme cold in Islamabad giving way to a bit of warmth. Its senior leadership has a newfound confidence and their speeches in parliament are testament to the fact that the biting humour of the Noonies is back. They are in a position to once again say that no one but they can actually govern this country. And boy, are they rejoicing when they say it!
They sound believable because the government is busy firefighting without much success — its various ministers can’t stop cribbing in public, and do so more in private; they can’t seem to deliver any of the tough decisions expected of them and Khan has no ideas or vision needed to set Pakistan on the right path.
Is it all enough for someone, somewhere to decide that the chessboard needs to be swept clean?
But is it all enough for someone, somewhere to decide that the chessboard needs to be swept clean and the game begun anew? So, say the whispers of those in the know in Islamabad.
But what will this clean sweep look like?
The knowledgeable ones argue that this will take the form of an in-house change — either in Punjab or at the centre. Of course, no one bothers to explain why Islamabad will be left to them if they are that incapable of governing, but then no one in the city of power has the answer to such silly questions.
Though if those laying out the chessboard had a sense of humour, they would ensure that the in-house change is at the centre — for the PML-N would then be forced (as is the PTI now) to listen to its various statements in parliament and in talk shows about how the incompetence of the PTI was leading to the rise in energy prices and how insanely high interest rates were destroying the economy. And while the PML-N would be squirming, the PTI would be back on its high horse (or, shall one say, container). For only the most besotted of Noonie lovers can think that if the shers of Punjab are back in power, they can avoid taking the harsh decisions being forced upon the PTI.
Perhaps this is one reason that the party of experience itself says it is averse to being part of an in-house change; it’s not just because the PML-N realises the impossibility of forming a government with the help of the PPP (there is no other way to form a government at the centre) but also because it knows the flak it will get for dealing with the impossibly difficult economic conditions. In other words, those who bring the PML-N back to power now would not be doing them a great favour.
Numbers-wise, Punjab is an easier deal. Unlike the centre, the PML-N can form a government in Lahore as easily as did the PTI; a handful of disloyal PTI members or an alliance with PML-Q can do the trick for sure. And why not? For everyone is worried about governance in Punjab and everyone also knows that the tirchi topi wallay aka Shabaz Sharif can deliver, while Usman Buzdar is struggling.
And this is being discussed seriously; we all know that poor governance is the only reason governments in Pakistan are manoeuvred out of power (discord in the civil-military relationship is just a ruse). Hence, the PTI will now be outmanoeuvred and the PML-N brought in! And, once again, just consider the benefits.
The PTI at the centre, cribbing that they were hobbled because of weak numbers and being robbed of Punjab; they will have something to blame their failure on. The PML-N too will be able to blame any problem on the centre being hostile if anything goes wrong; but more serious still, it will have to face considerable condemnation for having made a deal with the khalai makhlooq. Remember the flak the party got for voting for the extension law; imagine the brickbats coming their way if they take over Punjab. It will not be easy for the party to explain it away!
The only advantage of doing this, frankly, will be if the powers that be want to discredit both the PML-N and the PTI. Good governance in Punjab will just be a sideshow.
No wonder then that the PML-N — while it is busy and cheerfully reading out loud the writing on the wall for the PTI — is not willing to commit officially to anything. Or perhaps because nothing is final yet.
And apart from all else, would the PML-N be willing to give the PTI a second lease of life. Any move to remove the PTI right now — from the centre or Lahore — may just give it the legitimacy it needs. Not only would it remove the stigma of Khan being ‘selected’, he would be able to galvanise his support base by arguing that he was robbed of his turn to rule; he might just begin sounding effective once again (as do most politicians once they are in opposition). After all, isn’t this how Nawaz Sharif began his political journey in the 1990s?
It might not be a bad thing after all. But then this is just the logic of a subeditor. Those ruling the roost and those in the know think differently. And up in the lofty power corridors, the countdown for the PTI has begun.
The writer is a journalist.
Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2020