CAN a donkey painted with stripes become a zebra? The 19th-century educationist Macaulay thought so. The system he designed for the upper classes in British India aimed to create “a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect”. Its remnants remain, known mockingly now as ‘coconuts’ — brown on the outside but white within.
Despite being the elitist product of Aitchison College and Oxford University, Imran Khan believes they did not change him. He is a nationalist to the core, and pugnacious in his politics.
Ousted from a parliament he eschewed and now wants restored to its previous sterility, he has embarked on a collision course with everything that stands in the way to his resurrection.
The Sharif brothers remain his prime target. Unable during his prime ministership to force NAB to consummate cases against them and their family members, he identifies them with the devil and pelts them with stones. NAB and stones may break their bones, but words can never hurt them.
Today’s Pakistan is a Rubik’s cube of changing political patterns.
The Zardari-Bhuttos have moved into a new empyrean. Not only do they retain the wealth inherited from invisible elders, Asif Ali Zardari has developed into a modern Machiavelli. He has emerged as a politico in his own right. He has completed a full term as a lawfully elected president of our country — the first to do so. He became an MNA to teach his gosling son how to swim in turbulent waters. And he has succeeded in placing him as foreign minister — the post in which Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made his name, and an area of international diplomacy in which Benazir Bhutto attained her fame.
The foreign ministership is an ideal post to have in any cabinet. You are the spokesperson for your country and an advertisement for yourself. How Bilawal will manage his equation with his Minister of State Hina Rabbani Khar (once herself a soignée foreign minister) will be a test of his maturity.
Interestingly, Bilawal’s immediate predecessor Shah Mahmood Qureshi has lapsed into an uncharacteristic Trappist silence. Once PTI’s loudspeaker, the megaphone has moved to the lips of Fawad Ahmed Chaudhry and Sheikh Rashid. They care not what they say, so long as they are on air.
The vacuum left in the Punjab by the former chief minister Buzdar remains unresolved. Former governor Cheema, refusing the legality of Hamza Sharif’s election as chief minister Punjab, took the unprecedented step of calling on the army to intervene.
Addressing COAS Gen Bajwa directly, he called upon him to play “his due role”. In doing so, Cheema repeated the beleaguered president Ayub Khan’s appeal to Gen Yahya Khan on March 24, 1969, in which Ayub Khan called on Yahya to “execute his legal and constitutional responsibility … to save [the country] from internal disorder and chaos”.
That was over half a century ago. Then, Pakistan accepted a second martial law as naturally as a change of uniform. Today’s Pakistan is different. It is a Rubik’s cube of changing political patterns, depending on who rotates reality.
Imran Khan has decided that having lost the prime ministership, he has nothing further to lose. Not content with attacks on specific organs of the state, he has decided to play for broke. Each speech he makes before an adoring overheated audience sharpens the lance he uses to thrust at all his perceived adversaries.
The DG ISPR, for one, responded to his taunts by saying the army “expects all to abide by the law and keep the armed forces out of political discourse in the best interest of the country”. His assertion is contradicted by history. Ask the ghosts of Firoze Khan Noon, Muhammad Khan Junejo, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and Benazir Bhutto. Ask Nawaz Sharif. Ask Imran Khan.
In reality, Imran Khan’s target is not the Pakistan Navy nor the Pakistan Air Force. The last time the three services combined to rule the country was in 1969, when the service chiefs became deputy chief martial law administrators under Yahya Khan as CMLA. Imran Khan’s target is the army leadership, and more specifically the chief, his previous benefactor. He forgets that the COAS heads an army which is not unlike the Roman fasces — “an ax head projecting from a bundle of elm rods tied together”, bound together by a band symbolising a unified command.
In Gen Ziaul Haq’s time, officers were assessed as to whether they were orthodox Muslims or not. Today, their allegiances are overtly professional and personally political. Because, like every other citizen, they can vote, each nurses a preference, some for, some against a political party. Some may even question the army chief’s moderate handling of his wayward protégé.
When it comes to the political arena, donkeys believe they are deer — until they have to clear the fences ahead of them.
The writer is an author.
Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2022