The curtain needs to fall on Pakistan's flop political theatrics

For a play destined to be a ‘classic’ in the history of the theatre of absurd, its actors are unfit even for cameo appearances.
Published April 7, 2022

"All the world's a stage. And all the men and women merely players."

These immortalised lines, composed by William Shakespeare for the play, As you Like It, have over the years been used to describe various real-life dramas. But the theatre being performed in Pakistan's power corridors — one that keeps shifting from D-chowk to Peshawar Mor, from the National Assembly to the Supreme Court, and from the Punjab Assembly to a private hotel — offers little to like.

In this theatre, who performs the role of antagonist or protagonist is almost immaterial, for the net losers can be identified here and now — the 200 million plus people of this country, who are watching it all unfold right before their eyes.

Are these 200-odd million victims of this comedy of errors being stage-managed as these lines are being read? Or should they be elevated to the status of ‘co-authors’ of this sorry tale? We will return to this later.

So long as the battle for supremacy lasts, all sides in the fray need to understand that victory means nothing if it cannot be recorded for posterity. And for this narrative to stand the test of time, the vanquished must be built up as a ‘worthy’ opponent, else the victory sounds hollow — more a walkover than a hard-fought battle, nay war.

David vs Goliath

During his declaration-of-war speech, the prime minister, faced with a no-confidence motion in the National Assembly had to find some semblance of worthiness among the opposition and the easiest path was to choose someone long departed — someone whose judicial execution is also believed to have a foreign conspiracy theory attached to it. A parallel of sorts had to be drawn between the current situation and what transpired in the late 1970s — a superpower out to get the leader of a small country.

This is the narrative that Imran Khan wants to adopt as his campaign plank in the next elections. That a component party of the joint opposition can bask in this begrudging acknowledgement of its late leader is a lesser evil than to have an unworthy set of opponents.

That he should have picked the safest bet — Zulfikar Ali Bhutto — to lionise in his speeches while berating the opposition is a no-brainer. Amidst the medley of characters that he and his camp followers caricatured as ‘diesel’, ‘baby’, ‘cosmetic beauty’ and ‘thieves and robbers’, etc, who else could be presented as a worthy opponent?

Remember, the man who does not tire of repeating ad nauseam how he had everything in the world and did not need to sully his pristine self with politics, did so not only to ‘save the country’ but also to go down in history as another saviour of Islam, a modern-day Saladin.

A mere ball-scratching, playboy, sporting hero did not fit his self-assessed stature. In this act, he must be counted amongst the great leaders in history.

The same dilemma haunts the other side as well.

Who among the ruling lot can the opposition build up to gloat over its much dreamed constitutional and parliamentary victory? The man himself cannot be aggrandised as he is not just a clear and present danger but physically fit to continue to pose a threat for the foreseeable future, his immediate environs — streets, Parliament, or jail — notwithstanding.

Besides, it is also very difficult to find redeeming features likely to stick to his sculpted — mostly in Teflon — self. The bevy of characters surrounding him are no different.

Take for instance, the MBA portrayed as an ‘economist’ who has finally shed the cultivated image of a soft-spoken, urbane, boy-next-door (from Clifton-Defence). There are the leading lights who could not even cast a vote properly in the Senate elections, or even the one famous for parroting his leader’s claim of bringing back hundreds of billions of dollars allegedly stashed away in Swiss accounts by the opposition leaders.

Foreign cast

There was a time when no Pakistani theatrical performance or film was considered worthy of screening without at least one imported actor’s name in the credits.

The script currently flopping on all sorts of screens and stages has multiple such actors imported from abroad. Whether they stay for the sequel or crawl back to the woodwork they came out of while the same old team of scriptwriters rejig the plot remains to be seen.

However, for a play destined to go down as a ‘classic’ in the history of the theatre of absurd, they are unfit even for cameo appearances.

In the folklore of yore, it was not just the king, viziers, or marauders from neighbouring countries but the court jests, the kazi, the salar, the poet, and the Sufi refusing to bow to the imperial power who merited mention.

In the current epic, alas!

Infamy is the only section in history’s hell that awaits them all.

After the Second World War a commission was constituted by the US government to independently assess the damage caused by the allies’ bombing of Germany against the self-assessment of the air force itself.

In his book, “Name-Dropping”, celebrated economist, and diplomat John Galbraith records his experience as a member of this commission. In one such episode, he managed to get a fighter pilot from the recently won war, to witness the interrogation of the Nazi leadership. The pilot, Galbraith recalls, returned near tears, his only refrain being: “who would have thought we were fighting the greatest war in history against that bunch of jerks?”

Though we do not have many historians worth their salt, one hopes the future generations would find out what has been unfolding for the last seven decades or so from more credible sources than the officially sanctioned textbooks to realise that millions were made to fight pitched battles against each other for a sorry bunch of propped up victors and sore losers?

Back to ‘we the people’ and whether any blame can be ascribed to them for the situation? Some believe that people only get the leaders they deserve. Others strongly disagree and assert that people only get the leaders that the system allows to emerge. The jury on this, among myriad other matters, is out.