IT has been a week of multiple breaking news and exclusives thanks to the politicians. The opposition has been busy planning, plotting and counting numbers, while Imran Khan has left his office and governance issues behind for familiar tactics such as awami jalsas, unpleasant meetings with disgruntled parliamentarians (is there another kind?) and allies as well as announcing populist decisions. By now his transition to a traditional politician is complete. The process began a long time ago with accepting electables in the party and playing footsie with the establishment to now implementing ‘Ten Steps to Gain MNAs and Friends And Save Govt’.
But his busyness is matched by the opposition where the PPP is the busiest of all — running a government, leading a long march to Islamabad, welcoming old friends back into its fold as well as planning Khan’s removal. On March 8 today, allow me to say that, while we are not sure if women can have it all, political parties apparently can.
And this time, so critical is the situation and so strong the opposition that there is no more talk of a PTI government led by, say, Shah Mahmood Qureshi or Pervez Khattak, who were all hot favourites of the rumoured plans to replace Khan. It is now a fight to the end — the end of the PTI government. No longer is anyone talking about the minus-one formula, our eternal solution to whosoever is in power.
This time, the opposition is going for the jugular. But what it plans to do later, is a bit unclear to some of us. If news reports are to be believed, the opposition parties are drawing closer to a consensus on the post-Imran Khan scenario. But this consensus is a bit vague. It is still far from clear if the PPP has come closer to the PML-N demands of early elections or the PML-N has come to partially accept the PPP position that a government should be formed to carry out essential legislation and then call elections. And who knows if the distance between these two end games is short or not.
It is now a fight to the end — the end of the PTI government.
But does it matter? If not to the parties then to the electables who have promised their hands to PML-N and PPP for the next election? After all, it is one thing to switch sides once elections have been called and the direction of the wind can be gauged, but quite another to risk disqualification to vote out the PTI without a clear date for the next election. If the PML-N decides to spend some time in the saddle or if the reforms the PPP wants take some months, then these poor souls may be saddled with a by-election and a general election. But then, no cost is too much for sachi jamhooriyat (genuine democracy). Ask Javed Hashmi.
Indeed, in the grand scheme of things, and for a post-IK set-up, even parties do not need to have all the dots and crosses in place. If Imran Khan can come to power without any idea of how he was to do all that he promised in his election speeches, why can’t his opponents remove him without knowing what they will do next?
And then, like Khan, the opposition knows that their numbers and their plans are seen to be falling in place because Khan has been written off by the powers that be. This is what makes the panic on one side and the excitement on the other understandable. And it also helps make sense of the vagueness about the morning after.
In private, the opposition is not averse to admitting that only the top four — Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the Sharifs and the PPP chairman (it could be both or it could be one) — know it all. And who is going to ask the top four if they really do know it all?
And neither does it matter, for the ‘real’ decision is made elsewhere and once made, the means are just secondary. It can be a law dictionary which can come to the rescue, or MNAs who are willing to risk their seats in the public interest. Or even decisions in foreign funding cases. And it is to this which we all turn when the logic of a no-confidence vote going against the government begins to fall apart.
And the reasons for this decision is about appointments, where the ‘power’ to make this lies and what may be a good choice or a bad one or an unacceptable one. Apparently, there are no lofty issues such as policies or strategic decisions at stake. But so great is the chasm on this upcoming decision, that the post-2008 ‘policy’ is about to change. In this policy, if one can call it that, governments were rattled and shaken (time and again) and prime ministers sent home but not the entire set-up. Yousuf Raza Gilani and Nawaz Sharif were both removed through court rulings but the PPP and PML-N governments continued under new prime ministers. Parliaments completed their tenures, unlike the 1990s when everyone was sent home only to fight a new election and return to a different side of the aisle. But now, apparently, it has been decided that the party is over, as Sohail Warraich once wrote when the Panama case was in the courts.
And it is these whispers which belie all this talk of silence and neutrality and how this Darwinian fight in parliament is about parties, electables and numbers. For, silence and neutrality cannot and should not be used interchangeably (says the subeditor in my head). Or to put it another way, an umpire can be neutral but the empire never is. The difference of a vowel changes the reality — entirely.
The writer is a journalist.
Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2022