GREAT expectations can turn even a mediocre film into a blockbuster.
This may be so in the reel world, but in the real world a rollicking opening counts for only so much. It’s the finish that matters. With the finish line less than two years away, the PTI government is on red notice. Not that the party has noticed. So busy is it back-slapping and high-fiving itself since the joint session of parliament, it seems to have forgotten that it is, in fact, struggling to stay afloat in a sea of economic and political crises.
There are crises though, and then there are crises. The obvious ones were pushed into the background in the brief moment of elation and depression that was triggered by the vote count of the joint session. These will come back into sharp focus — inflation is still there, as is mal-governance, and oh, lest we forget, the Pindi-Islamabad sulk-fest too is ongoing — but a new series of non-obvious crises are now gradually, like a dragon awakening, raising their heads. And they will breathe fire.
The ruling party has legislated mayhem by choice. There can be no going back.
The heat is already on. What happened in parliament this week is as clear a manifestation as possible that the politics of Pakistan is now un-mainstreaming itself and receding to the edges of partisan extremism. There is no middle ground; there is no space for compromise; and there is no prospect of rational action in the near future. The ruling party has legislated mayhem by choice. There can be no going back.
Which means what exactly?
Muchos, as they say. The thing in common between the EVMs and overseas Pakistani voting bills is not just that they were bulldozed, but that the government relished the bulldozing of them. Nuances can be nasty. Before the bulldozing, you see, was the decision to do so willingly, deliberately and unabashedly. Before the decision was the internal debate on the need — or not — to do so. Before the debate was the politics that shaped the debate that led to the decision that prompted the bulldozing that will now trigger mayhem.
And what did this politics say?
Well, here’s where things get real interesting in terms of sculpting the deeper crisis that we are faced with now. The politics of hate has entrenched itself into our soil these last few years. In normal times in normal systems run by normal institutions, politics of hate is manufactured to win elections. Once done, it tends to recede into the background, giving space to rational and normal discourse which is, of course, peppered with confrontation and conflict. Not hate, though. And definitely not the searing, flaming and unforgiving hate that turns rivals into enemies and enemies into traitors. The PTI makes no effort to pretend that its politics is fuelled less by an intention to win and more by a desire to annihilate. It is hard to look for nuance in a battle between good and evil.
So you see, it all makes perfect sense. Heroes do not negotiate with villains. They don’t bargain morality and they do not barter goodness. No sir, they do not ever do this because, you know what? They would rather die — on the big screen, that is — before they indulge the whims and fancies of their most vile, most despicable and definitely most unworthy enemies. That is not how honourable men and women behave. And PTI is, after all, a party of honourable men and women.
Which is why EVM is an honourable thing. Not because it actually is, and it might as well be, but because the honourable men and women have decreed it is. And once decreed, there can be no debate, no discussion, and yes absolutely no negotiation. When politics is framed in the colours of black and white; when rivalries are painted in the hues of honour and dishonour; and when laws are legislated in the shades of right and absolute wrong, then what happened in the joint session is all but natural.
But is it really?
The culture of pretence cloaks the harsh reality of this un-naturalness that is stalking Pakistani politics. We all love to play pretend till we forget that we are, in fact, pretending. The perfection of accountability? Hear the PTI pretend it is so, again and again, while the unaccountable sit in their ranks. But of course this self-righteousness demands pretence. So the electorate also pretends, and ah — let’s not forget — the institutions also pretend. The emperors have so many clothes they don’t know what to do with them.
Which is why the PTI pretends EVMs are the panacea this country needs. The PTI also pretends Daska never happened. It pretends dozens of election officials were not kidnapped by officials of PTI’s own government, and that the atrocity of electoral manipulation led to the whole contest being cancelled. The PTI also pretends the Election Commission did not issue a report that proves that rigging took place in Daska and that the Punjab administration was culpable. No one will raise Daska, no one will talk Daska, and no one will address Daska. So let’s pretend EVMs will ensure Daska does not happen again.
Such pretence has led to legislation that may lead to an untested system that may create dozens of Daskas that may lead to a massive controversy that will lead to mayhem. But in the world that we pretend to live in, and in the self-righteous political space that we inhabit, what we say, and what we believe, must not be questioned. Have numbers, will legislate. Period.
But it’s a lie. All of it that we tell ourselves to make us feel good. There is no even-handed accountability here; there are no heroes and villains here; and there is no battle between good and evil taking place here. We are whistling our way into chaos knowing well that bending this system to our will, in fact, will end up breaking it.
Yes, go ahead and paste this Red Notice on the Rock.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2021