What a tangled web

Published October 26, 2021
The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

PEOPLE say there is a fifth season in Pakistan. It comes when the summer has packed up the worst of the heat to make way for a bit of cooler weather and political parties are confident their workers are ready to brave the elements and invade Islamabad. The TLP has already been on this annual outing and after having set off the panicked debate about its impending rise, it has now given negotiations another chance, costing Sheikh Rashid his moment in the cricket stadium in Dubai.

Read more: Commitments with TLP to be taken up in cabinet: minister

And now the mainstream parties are getting ready for their adventure, as they prepare their picnic bags for rallies, jalsas, dharnas and more. It is hard to say if the excitement within their ranks matches the one for the last outing, but the bystanders are definitely less interested.

But be it summer, winter or protest season, the Confundus Charm has entire Pakistan under its spell. For what else can explain the behaviour of all those in the spotlight at the moment?

The mainstream opposition continues to play-act like the student who has done no prep for the exam but is hoping to wing it, which is not dissimilar to Imran Khan’s plan for governance. Ask the PDM why they will succeed this time with their protests if the previous stint of jalsas ended with a bang — the exit of the PPP and ANP and broken hearts in their own corner. In reply, they go on a rambling monologue like a jilted lover, who just can’t stop talking about the end of the affair. It’s great for filling airtime but without any insights into lessons learnt.

The real plan, it seems, is to count not on themselves or their street power but on the PM’s bumbling.

The PPP, on the other hand, has a strategy as clear as the PTI’s economic plan. It swings wildly from one extreme to the other and hopes the sheer entertainment value will keep anyone from realising that the plan is to have no plan. So, in one breath the party lashes out at the PML-N for, say, making deals and on the other, it wants the PML-N to accept the PPP’s assistance to dislodge Usman Buzdar in Punjab, but not Imran Khan at the centre. And for good measure, it throws in a claim that the party will win the next election.

The statements are about as clear as Shaukat Tarin’s plans for the economy. But it has to be conceded that the PDM does make more sense in its off-the-record conversations.

The real plan, it seems, is to count not on themselves or their street power but on Khan’s bumbling. His economic mishandling has angered his handlers, was the mantra a few weeks back, they whispered confidently. And now of course, they are hoping the DG ISI fiasco will prove to be the last straw which will rid the fauj and the opposition of Khan. Others still are counting on the international chessboard and interpreting Afghanistan and FATF as an opportunity to sweep the PTI board clean. The calculation is about everyone and everything proving more effective than the parties themselves. But because this cannot be said out aloud — thank the heavens, there is media censorship which prevents us from talking too frankly about the truth — they ramble on about the power of the people’s anger.

Editorial: Opposition eyes unique opportunity amid perceived rupture between PM and establishment

So poorly kept is this secret about the opposition’s real hopes and no plans that even the government has figured it out, even if it hasn’t figured out anything else in the past three years.

As a result, it has had enough of sitting pretty and has turned into Godzilla in the china shop; a bull just isn’t destructive enough. There is not a thing in sight that the government hasn’t crashed into, from the opposition to the ECP to the media to the Foreign Office (remember the prime minister’s speech to the diplomats which someone in the PM’s office decided to telecast live). And why not? The party keeps hearing the 1980s’ song, Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You from a corner of Pakistan. And so pleasing is the sound, it drowns out all else.

However, as they say, spare the rod and spoil the child. It was only a matter of time before the guns swung to the corner the song was being played from. And the PM decided he wanted the rules to be followed where military appointments are concerned, to his government’s and his supporters’ horror.

Editorial: Much vaunted civil-military ‘one page’ appears increasingly frayed

Unlike the opposition, though, the PTI has no qualms about admitting the reality, warts and all. No wonder then after the delay in the notification of the DG ISI, when the prime minister held a meeting with the parliamentary party, there were no qualms about admitting what the meeting was about. And it wasn’t about legislation or politics or inflation but about how the ISI matter would be resolved amicably. What else should matter to a bunch of politicians more than halfway through a term? After all, they know they only need one strategy for the next election and they aren’t coy about it either. However, others are not so complacent.

But great is the consternation among some of the commentators who are like children caught between feuding parents. They don’t know how to react after so many years of mutual love and concern especially as they don’t know if the friction is a temporary lapse or not. Some have withdrawn into a confused silence while the others, like most children, are convinced it will all be sorted out soon and keep insisting that all is well, à la Three Idiots. However, some have already turned their sputtering indignation to aim for the PTI. The process of divorce (even a possible one) is rarely anything but ugly.

Read more: Lull before the storm

No less comic is the other side. Those who have been in love with jamhoori riwayaat, or democratic traditions, for what seems like forever are no less indignant (celebratory even?) at the thought that another prime minister may have met the same Waterloo. Truly, only interests are permanent in this body politic of ours.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2021

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