COMMENTATORS are often accused of using the English-language print pages to speak to a select few; at times only to each other. They retort by pointing out the atmosphere of suppression and censorship, which has bred the style of opinion writing particular to Pakistan: where what is said is sometimes only expressed so as to leave clearly legible the contours of what is left unsaid. However, some critique is quite valid.
Over the course of the year, we have received a lot of informed commentary on the legal process and the Supreme Court. I have myself attempted to add to the conversation by writing about how the court buried the doctrine of necessity in April and ordered the restoration of parliament after an illegal and unconstitutional intervention by the then Speaker.
I did not comment enough on how this finally came to pass only when the relevant army chief desired this outcome. When the current doctrine master deemed it necessary to bury necessity. Or why the court took five long days when the matter ought to really have been done and dusted in five minutes. We haven’t asked why the election commissioner was summoned by the court and asked whether immediate elections were a possibility.
We have spoken about the current coalition government which replaced Imran Khan along with his disastrous, and at times comical, management of the economy, and how it was a constitutional process. We have not dilated enough upon how virtually every act of this government since its acquisition of power has made plain their endeavour for power was the selfish necessity Imran Khan said it was.
Apparently, they needed to sort out their own legal issues of corruption progressing through the courts, and to inject state largesse into the veins of several sets of party machinery which were threatening to crack for being too long in the opposition without the grease of state funding. Fazlur Rahman was finally out of the ministers’ enclave after more than a decade of living in state-funded luxury. This malady needed urgent repair.
Also laid bare is how it was evident that it would be suicidal to stick to power at the precise point that the sting in the tail of the past regime’s scorpion was about to emerge.
Senior members of the PML-N are on record as having apprised their colleagues of the economic disaster that was to come, and how it was essential to give over to the caretakers and get a fresh mandate at the peak of popularity before it evaporated.
To come to power and to stick to power for this grand alliance, whatever it may claim, was to ensure that the 10-year plan that first brought us Imran Khan would be thwarted by the single appointment of a public servant; the gauge of qualification for the said appointment being the likelihood of disliking Imran Khan.
It is the common man’s dream that is bled at the altar.
The democratic deficit with which this government has conducted itself, the manner in which democratic space has been surrendered to the same forces which are alleged to have brought this coalition to power, is commented upon without the larger context: that this was the Faustian bargain struck by a few old men in order to preserve their tarnished financial and political fiefdoms.
We have talked about the unexpected wave which carried Imran Khan in the by-elections, despite everyone’s best democratic and undemocratic efforts. But we haven’t analysed fully why this occurred.
Was it simply an ignorant mass of people buying into the lie about a foreign conspiracy? Or was there more to it? There was an unprecedentedly high turnout in the by-polls; in certain constituencies, as many as 80 per cent of those who voted did so for the first time.
Some say that the aliens were ready to fiddle, but there was simply too much fiddling that needed doing in the end, so they relented. That there are more first-time voters than ever before, and they are evidently willing to forgive incompetence, immorality and even idiocy if it does for them what the past 70 years have not: rid them of the biggest elite capture compact — between a few families which possess wealth and political power without adequate explanation for either, due to the constant sacrifices they give at the altar of the establishment.
But these sacrifices are not theirs to give. It is the common man’s dream which is bled at that altar, whether it means less prosperity, because tens of billions of dollars are used to give subsidies for the rent-seeking elite annually, or the cruder actual sacrifice of security and dignity which party workers render every few years to allow their leaders to flee.
Three thousand PML-N workers were arrested around the time Nawaz Sharif spoke to the Gujranwala crowd. They must have felt vindicated three months later when their leader goose-stepped his entire party into parliament to vote for an amendment to the Army Act which let his named perpetrator, Bajwa, get an extension.
On power’s uniformed end, we have heard a similar story of greed and its disguise as merit or principles. A military official of a poor but troubled nation must be compensated enough to be above suspicion or approach. Comfortable living must be achievable through official remunerations. But since when did comfort start to mean billions of rupees worth of arable land as retirement benefit? A golf course in the mountains in the name of naval necessity or a DHA where there were mango trees? How many Okara farmers are we forced to label terrorists when we pretend principles and decorum whilst chiefs are alleged to retire as dollar millionaires?
Every champion of the people, every respecter of the vote has so far proven an opportunist. All that distinguishes between them is how long they hold out for, and what price they eventually sell out for. Yet there may no longer remain too many opportunities to bargain away the will of the people. The altar of necessity demands sacrifice. It does not care who bleeds upon it next.
The writer is a lawyer.
Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2023