IT is difficult to say if Fawad Chaudhry was always fond of these games in which he cast himself as a deceptively fatalistic politician willing to bluntly discuss everything. Memory says it is more an acquired skill from the days he found himself in the Musharraf camp, probably because the liberal general offered his family the best hope to protect their long cultivated interests in the tough Jhelum terrain against the local custodians of the mighty Sharif dynasty. Perhaps the commentators are right and it is ‘we’ the press who have lent him his final cutting edge. His competitive, provocative nature could well have been honed during his stint as a television host some time ago.
Far from falling for any pseudo neutrality that a television host may be flaunting, the experience has left him more open to discussing his vision and ambitions. His opposition to parties, especially the PPP, for which he had inherited a soft spot due to old associations, has been more direct, lest someone doubted his commitment to the kaptaan who he finally managed to get a hold of.
There is a science to it. Quite in the fashion of how they do politics today in other countries, Fawad Chaudhry is apparently always very candid about discussing the affairs of his party, the PTI, which is precious since it has done what others had struggled to do: giving his family a clear shot at dominating politics in Jhelum after so long.
As per the formula, the gentleman doesn’t pick just any opponent. His selections are always brilliant as they give him room to agitate with calculated risk.
It appears that Fawad Chaudhry also chooses his targets within his party with utmost care.
He is not naive to take on just any maulana or allama in his pursuit of the supremacy of science. He is careful to have as his rival a mufti sahib who enjoys a certain reputation because of the annual public exposé of his vision and who is not known to double as a violent jihadi against those who he cannot convince with words.
It appears that Chaudhry also chooses his targets within the party with utmost care. It all depends on just how intense he wants his argument to be at a particular time. If he is discussing big guns such as Jahangir Tareen, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and the great Asad Umar in the same vein as having adversely affected the PTI, he must have a solid reason for doing so.
But remember one important thing: even in the supposedly heated moment when this politician, with his head full of ideas, sat across from the incomparable Sohail Warraich giving an explosive interview the other day, he must have been conscious about taking the necessary precautions.
One, he was profuse to a fault in his praise for his leader Imran Khan just as he was categorical in his rejection of the PML-N and PPP. Two, he was aware enough to casually refer to his good relations with the fauj. Three, he was clear that the infighting among the political class in the PTI benefited the civil bureaucracy.
Politics is a lot about timing, as is also said about journalism. There couldn’t have been a more perfectly timed collaboration than this one. Sohail Warraich has recently tested negative for Covid-19 after contracting the virus a few weeks ago. Having returned from the edge, and for once refusing to succumb to the seductive charms of the inferior art of symbols where one can find a spoon talking to a fork in his columns, he was willing to tread on frank territory that he had declared out of bounds for his graying head. Who knows he might have felt like Bruce Willis of Diehard fame as he allowed old friend Fawad to have his say, quipping here and there with a straight face.
Post interview, Chaudhry tried to do a Warraich on the cabinet. Apparently accosted by his colleagues, he — innocently — explained his remarks about the conflicts within the PTI and the party’s failures as having been given as an analyst and not as a ruling party MNA, or far worse, in his avatar as minister. However, perhaps the biggest reason for this was provided by his own disclosure about how the prime minister has set a deadline for his cabinet colleagues to deliver. Six months, or even less ie five and a half months.
For a leader trained to divide everything into two — two spells, two innings, the second life after rebirth — approaching the halfway mark of his prime ministerial term without much to show for on the scoreboard would be a source of some tension. The smarter souls around him, such as Fawad Chaudhry, and their journalist well-wishers, who must forever remind them of how they should collect capital now for future electoral battles, are very conscious of the arrival of this crucial hour. They must try and assert their positions, old and new, and see what they can end up with.
Again, you cannot possibly have a Pakistani most committed to scientific advancement to get into it without first calculating. The new plunge for power by the political class characterised by the ostensibly risky course taken by Fawad Chaudhry is cushioned in circumstances created by the internal PTI strife coupled with the withdrawal of support from the government by Akhtar Mengal and his party. The Mengal exit severely curtails Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ability to admonish an important party politician who is said to enjoy the confidence of ‘powerful quarters’.
This opportunity is not peculiar to one politician or lawmaker in the ruling party. There is a mutually beneficial clamour of grievances for an under-pressure prime minister to address. Khwaja Sheraz Mahmood and Riaz Mahmood Mazari are ruling party MNAs from southern Punjab, who may have joined the group of PTI complainants purely out of their reservations regarding Chief Minister Usman Buzdar. In the quest for a midway reassignment of duties during the prime minister’s first term in power, they do complement in a huge way the free scientific advancement of a man who thinks his potential has been underutilised.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2020