The trump card

Published March 26, 2022
The writer is a journalist & political commentator.
The writer is a journalist & political commentator.

THE sound of inevitability is getting louder by the hour.

These ingredients that are feeding into the flow of inevitability are by now yawn-inducingly predictable. There’s the much-hyped PTI rally this Sunday that will — as per party faithfuls — symbolise a referendum in favour of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The rally is expected to strike terror in the hearts of doubters and dissenters and force them to repent. Or at least that’s what the official party narrative states. The rally is now the focus of the PTI’s attention and, it appears, its primary counter-offensive to the vote of no-confidence. Will it be a very large rally? Sure, it will. Will it be trumpeted as the vindication of the PM’s popularity? No doubt, it will. Will it provide the PM the ideal platform to lay out his new narrative for the weeks and months ahead (possibly in opposition)? Absolutely, it will. But will it help save his government in the numbers game inside the National Assembly? Highly unlikely.

In the list of inevitability’s ingredients, next is the announcement of the allies. Yes the much-anticipated, much-dissected and much-delayed announcement is on the verge of being announced. Except that it’s been on this verge for quite some days and the allies are enjoying their Hitchcock-ian moment in the sun. But even they — with all the power that comes with having the crucial few numbers — cannot outrun the clock.

The inevitability of this vote is dawning upon even the most unwilling.

And the clock is ticking from this coming Monday onwards. The allies are tilting in the winds that are blowing from the opposition’s camp and they are salivating at the fragrance of opportunity this wind carries. The announcement is right there, on the tip of their tongues, waiting to fall upon the hapless government like an invading army clambering down the fort’s embankments. The allies are about to say what they have been dying to say for so many days but have held back because, oh you know, all those darn timings, and all those hard bargains, and yes of course, that famed nod and a wink. So here it comes. Just wait a wee bit more, and meantime revel in the anticipated suspense that comes with just enough twists not to upset the inevitable.

Read: With his house of cards collapsing, can PM Imran find respite in a legal loophole?

The ingredients keep adding on. Down the list of inevitability is the manufactured dichotomy engulfing the PTI dissenters. There they were all huddled inside the Sindh House because, well you know, their conscience had awoken with perfect timing. Coincidences are known to happen, so there’s that of course, but could it be that their belated awakening was triggered by the shrill alarm clock of self-interest wrapped inside a cloak of self-preservation? The realm of possibility is long and wide. And yet, while many of these Johnny-come-latelies have their individual gripes with their party leadership, most are also acutely aware that their breaking ranks from the mother ship is in fact an act of collective and choreographed strategy stitched together by men and women far above their pay grade. They are pawns in a bigger game. But they are willing pawns. The grand strategy is not up for bargain. It is too late for that. And for them.

There is of course the question of laws, rules and regulations governing the process and procedure to convert a serving PM into a former PM. The ruling party is trying valiantly to delay the inevitable by conjuring deliciously mischievous interpretations of various and numerous aspects of the fine text embedded in these laws, written as it is in infuriatingly dense prose. Now it is up to the Supreme Court to decipher the intricacies of this English prose in order to make it less Shakespearean (or more, depending on your perspective). Their lordships shall consume precious time peeling away layers and layers of linguistic complexities off this prose in order to delve deeper into the soul of the text and determine what it really says — and whether it actually means what it says.

But — and here’s the more interesting part of this affair — all this does not delay the inevitability of the time-locked process whereby the speaker will not be able to kick the can further down the parliamentary road, and whereby his partisan passion will have to submit to the dictates of constitutional requirements. Not to his liking, this — but then who said life is fair.

Read: No-trust move — Can the NA speaker dismiss votes of dissident lawmakers?

What is fair, however, is to allow the 342 members of the National Assembly of Pakistan to exercise their right of vote to determine the fate of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The inevitability of this vote is dawning upon even the most unwilling. It may not happen this coming Monday, or Tuesday, or even Wednesday but it will have to take place within the next 10 days or so. Will something dramatically change in these 10 days? Could Pakistan witness a U-turn so cosmic in nature that it would upend everything that is clear as day? Well, stranger things have been known to happen in less stranger times, and on stranger tides, but conventional wisdom argues otherwise.

Ah, but what of the trump card? The PM has something up his sleeve that is as unexpected as it is effective, and he will throw this ace of spades at the right time, with the right impact for the right cause. Right?

Perhaps. But this trump card would not be really as trumpian as trump cards are expected to be if it doesn’t make the PM survive this vote of no-confidence. In fact, survival at this stage is not enough. The trump card has to make him win and grow more powerful at the expense of all his opponents. Any trump card that accentuates the crisis and triggers mayhem instead of victory for him is not really a trump card.

The inevitability of the ‘surprise’ in store may therefore not be as inevitable as many would like to believe. Every story needs a twist at the end and this one unfolding in front of our eyes is dying to find that twist. Such twists are always delightful. But not inevitable.

The writer is a journalist & political commentator.

Twitter:****@fahdhusain

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2022

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