THE psychological attack by the opposition on the Imran Khan government is effective. The trickle of resignations in the hands of the aspiring senders, even if not in the mail yet, represent a threat. It’s like the tactic they employ inside torture cells, each drop creating its own telling ripple in the bucket, with the intense audience looking for it to fill up and the contents to spill over. It can be really annoying, and we all know how irritable those it is directed at usually are.
These were mainly resignations sent in to their lord-leaderships by the PML-N lawmakers to begin with. These were mainly from Punjab as another hectic day on Tuesday drew to a close. But here and there, there were PPP members throwing themselves in for variety.
As for the JUI-F members they had practically quit these houses bar putting their thumbprint on the paper the moment they realised that their leader, Maulana Fazl, had been prevented from taking up his customary seat in the National Assembly. They are just going through the motions of rejecting a system they had long discarded as unfit to accommodate their political desires and fancies.
The government defenders have long been insisting that there was a split in the Pakistan Democratic Movement. These Sheikh Rashids from the treasury call upon their experience to rule out the PPP’s going along with the more belligerent in the PDM pressing everyone in the alliance to resign from the assemblies to scuttle the system. That the opposition coalition has so far tried to avoid controversies that could point to disintegration may reflect fear or some expectation common to various PDM components, especially the PML-N and PPP.
The PTI itself indulges in tense mind games when it dares the PDM to resign en masse and expose itself to another 1985.
It may not be visible in a single slogan but there is most likely a cause or a trophy waiting at the end of this hunting expedition that binds these politicians and these parties together. The Gilgit-Baltistan election recently could well have given the two major parties in the PDM all the more reason to cooperate, at least for the time being.
The PTI itself indulges in tense mind games when it dares the PDM to resign en masse and expose itself to another 1985. Even though a scenario where the PTI manages to fill the hundreds of seats vacated by opposition resignations would be a dream come true for those eager to liken Imran Khan’s style and choices at key moments to that of Gen Ziaul Haq, a replay now of that experiment by a powerful martial law ruler appears unlikely.
Some progressive souls may be inclined to treat PM Imran, in the words of a senior analyst friend, as you would a martial law dictator. It may also be true that of the two military tributaries most prominently reflected in his party, Zia often outshines the legacy of Gen Pervez Musharraf when the PTI government is making crucial decisions. However, to equate Kaptaan’s powers ensuing from a hybrid system with Gen Zia’s unbridled authority would be stretching it too far into a past that was another country.
The more sensible thing the government can do is to try and stop the drop-by-drop build-up to that moment when a reluctant PPP finds the moment opportune enough to join the queue of those submitting their resignations with the speakers. The PTI strategy of trying to draw a wedge between the PPP and PML-N by going light on Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is apparently not working.
The government is as always disadvantaged by the incumbency factor here. It has to stand by policies which are simply impossible to defend and as if by habit it has to apply preventive measures that could bring it a lot of flak. Yet the biggest challenges are still the opposition’s to overcome and much before it fills the bucket with letters of resignations to bury its opponent in, it has the gigantic task of populating vast areas around Minar-i-Pakistan for the Dec 13 jalsa. This is where the psychological war gives way to the physical confrontation.
It is a clash between two great rivals in today’s Punjab. At one end is a party in power. It is determined that its own grand show at the same venue a few years ago is not in any way eclipsed by this attempt at public rallying by the ‘mix achaar’ PDM collection. On the other side is a party, a family, a dynasty, that has practically owned Lahore over decades without ever feeling the need to summon a mammoth crowd to exchange vows of loyalty in the shade of the minar.
This is a grand Sohrab Modi-like landscape. But the clash of the Titans is tempered by small fights that bring out human weaknesses for old methods to fight today’s threats.
Much water has passed under the bridge since the tactic was last applied in Lahore, but public meetings by the opposition have traditionally provided the municipality an opportunity to check the efficiency of their local tube wells. We have read how Gol Bagh was flooded to thwart a Z.A. Bhutto jalsa just as the PPP founder was about to embark on his famously ironic roundabout political journey after getting fed up with his earliest and original mentors.
I wondered how the technique worked until not too late in the day I was provided with a first-hand demonstration of it close to home at the famous Regal Chowk in the city. If I recall correctly that was the first meeting of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy after the alliance decided to launch a protest drive against Zia. If not the first it was definitely one of the earliest MRD shows. It was December (1982 I think) and just as the more curious political types gravitated to the venue in anticipation of the public meeting scheduled to take place after Juma prayers, someone thought the area around the mosque needed to be immediately rinsed of unwanted influences.
The meeting did take place, kicking off a series of rallies in the country. Provided that the rulers today can create Zia-like intensity, there is no reason that such alleged tactics can work now. The water could have been best used to douse the flames right at the start inside parliament.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2020