Heat of the moment

Published October 9, 2021
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.

STABILITY is overrated, said the sage.

And so unfolds the story of a system that limps its way across the Rubicon again, and again, and again till it can limp no more. Then it heals itself, walks back only to turn and cross the Rubicon yet again so that it can go back to making the limp a natural state of its being.

For what else can be a by-product of perpetual fighting than a permanent limp? A new NAB chairman? Sure, let’s slug it out. Fresh electoral reforms? Wham! Let the punches roll. Appointments amid disappointments? Let the fireworks begin. The system is thriving just fine, thank you very much, as it lacerates its back to a bloody pulp. You win some. Then you lose all.

And in the process of seeing things go south, you realise with a sense of literally no surprise that the famed three-year itch is back with a bang. It appeared to have been banished these last few five-year cycles, but turns out it had not walked off the cliff — just gone for a leisurely stroll beyond Constitution Avenue. On its return, the three-year itch is reminding everyone who cares to listen — which was pretty much everyone on Friday — that turbulence is in fact our default mode. This may explain to those confused by the absence of stability why things just do not resolve themselves in a spirit of accommodation. Why must we fight? Well, because, how else does one navigate through the thicket of this convoluted system? How indeed.

The PTI hasn’t met a fight it hasn’t fancied. It is itching for it. Always.

Which is exactly why the NAB ordinance will be nailed into the skull of the system using the hammer of electoral numbers. The reaction from the opposition will stoke the perennial fires of instability and make the steam engine of the system chug even faster. Which is also exactly why the government will use the EVMs as a battering ram to smash down the opposition’s resolve of resisting electoral reforms. The reaction from the opposition will fan the eternal flames of instability and propel the system towards the zone beyond the edge. Which is why a lurch towards sudden instability is in fact a lunge towards a state of self-inflicted normalcy.

The fight club is open for business. There will be blood. Question is, whose?

Here’s where the system makes you wait. Inside the labyrinth of this system, deep within the dark passages and shadowy alleyways, lies the debris of conflicts-past. The system chews down egos and spits them out with a derision that teaches almost no lessons to those who should, in fact, be open to learning. But then circuitous is the fate of those who wear their obstinacy like a badge of honour. The system bends to no one’s will.

Two years separate today’s instability from the next elections. Or could it be six months? Or a year? The glorious uncertainties embellishing the game of thrones have begun to shimmer across the night sky. The perfect storm of political brinkmanship, parliamentary slugfest and electoral wrestling is hurtling towards the seat of power. Brace for impact.

What else can one do at a time like this? This landscape has remained a battlefield for at least seven years now. The unending series of skirmishes, ambushes and full-on battles have left the territory littered with scattered remains of unrealised ambitions and unrequited passions. The system lies immunocompromised. How can it brave the storm?

It is a question gaining greater relevance as the politics of Pakistan starts to cough up blood. Again. The relative stillness of the last six months is morphing into a state of heightened anxiety because conflicts deemed manageable may now be spilling over the boundaries. Institutional equilibrium — or synergy, if you will — holds the system together in the absence of a strong constitutional structure that should respect the text it is based on. When the synergy begins to falter, trouble starts to spew forth. Fault lines rupture all the time but the system holds fine as long as the major arteries continue to pump blood. But if the big one perforates, the body politic goes wobbly in the knees.

The opposition alliance PDM tried to disturb the government’s centre of gravity. It failed. Strange are the ways of the republic though. The PTI government had it all under control till so very recently. An opposition in disarray and a system brimming with support and facilitation in every sense of the word. But then what is PTI if not its own worst enemy. Call it the hubris of unaccountable power, or the bravado of a leadership held hostage to its destiny-trap, the PTI government has been tempting fate again and again for no real reason whatsoever. If you keep knocking on the door, someone will open it.

Call it the Nawaz-syndrome. If you don’t have a fight, pick one. The PTI hasn’t met a fight it hasn’t fancied. It is itching for it. Always. Swinging the punches and throwing those body slams with a relish that blinds it to one very real, and very problematic prospect: what if the other contestant knocks you out cold?

But then you don’t know it till your face meets the pavement. The natural abhorrence to stability extracts a cost which can, so very often, become existential in nature. Pakistani governments have learnt this is the hard way. Time and again. So will the PTI. It may think it is an exception. It is not. If you cut it, it will bleed.

But then this system — oh, this cursed system — it does not forgive those who violate the unwritten laws of power which nourish it with strength and vigour. The system will change when the system is ready to change and wants to change. Not before. Not after. The PTI government has mauled the opposition by leveraging the strength of the system. It cannot maul the system by leveraging the strength of the system.

But then, in the heat of the moment, men make mistakes.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.

Twitter: @fahdhusain

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2021

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