Not so holy anymore

Published February 26, 2023
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

ALTHOUGH most commentators and analysts agree that what is being witnessed today is chaos and a slide into anarchy, optimists may still argue some good will come out of it, as whatever has been happening for a number of years now had become untenable.

Love him or hate him, Imran Khan should be given credit for triggering the crisis and shining a spotlight on the elephant in the room, after his falling out with his key military supporter, the recently retired army chief, and his consequent ouster from office in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence.

Whilst other politicians have retreated to their lairs in similar situations in the past to lick their wounds so they can live to fight another day, Imran Khan followed a ‘scorched earth’ policy and embarked on the path to bring down the entire edifice of the system.

Obviously, he was able to do this because of the policies of the security establishment which presented and promoted him as a viable, clean alternative to ‘dirty and corrupt’ politicians with whom it had no issues till they started to assert their constitutional, civilian authority.

Imran Khan should be given credit for shining a spotlight on the elephant in the room.

In a country with nearly half its life under direct military rule and even longer under quasi-military rule, state largesse at the disposal of the autocratic military ruler enabled the so-called establishment to create constituency through patronage for its own self and its surrogates.

In an almost unprecedented turn of events, Imran Khan’s falling out with the top military commander provided him a chance to claim a chunk of the constituency that the establishment had carved for itself and he did do with great relish.

This constituency part-owned by Imran Khan now, lends weight to his claim that in any future partnership, unlike in the recent past, it would be him who would be the senior partner and not, as he claimed, a mere minion whose job was to rubber-stamp decisions taken elsewhere and serve as a punching bag.

It warrants bearing in mind that this constituency is not the usual one of shirtless voters across the length and breadth of the land, but one with influential players in the country’s power corridors including men in uniform, black robes and other movers and shakers of Pakistani politics.

On top of such powerful supporters, Mr Khan and his party have excelled at creating and sustaining a narrative, even if many of its elements fall in the post-truth category, by pulsating it relentlessly via social media. As things stand, theirs is the dominant narrative, with their rivals mostly trying to play catch up, and that too in a rather clueless manner.

I am not sure if examples such as Trump’s rise to power and influence in the US or the Brexit campaign and the referendum vote in the UK, following similar media/campaign strategies can have a bearing on any electoral exercise in Pakistan. But if they do, Imran Khan will yield a huge electoral dividend.

That must be the reason that so many statements of the government leaders today leave one with the impression that one is processing the view of the opposition. Rarely has a government looked so besieged, so exposed and with no comfort blanket.

With the noose of a sinking economy around its neck, spiralling inflation, a plummeting growth rate which means millions more added to jobless lists across the country, and elections this year (whether or not in 90 days for the two dissolved provincial assemblies and for the other two and the National Assembly a few months later), there is no protective canopy.

If things weren’t bad enough with Imran Khan constantly trying to destabilise things, even as his ‘Jail Bharo Tehreek’ (fill the jails campaign) ironically is turning out to be a ‘Jail Khali Rakho Tehreek’ (keep jails empty campaign), terrorism is raising its ugly head again. It is beyond the scope of this column to examine in detail why terrorists seem to be enjoying a free rein.

Suffice it to say that the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of our military-civil leaders of the time whose blunders, after the fall of Kabul and their manner of engagement with TTP (and not with TTP patrons, the Afghan Taliban), and the largely undisclosed concessions extended to the terrorists seem to have resuscitated them.

Against this backdrop, you would be well within your rights to ask me, how in the world any optimist would see anything positive emerging from the constitutional, economic, governance and security conundrums facing our beloved land and its multitudes. Allow me the liberty.

For long I have believed in the rule of law and supremacy of the Constitution. A critic may find this an oversimplification but every time over the past decades when Pakistan seems to have stared down the abyss, the predicament has followed a bout of adventurism, shenanigans, deviation from the Constitution.

Today’s situation is no different. We needn’t go back deep into the annals of history. Just rewinding to less than a decade ago would bear me out. The worst consequence of such deviations is that they need facilitators/collaborators to get away with and this leads to institutional decay.

Even as the Constitution is treated with contempt by unelected institutions, they need some form of endorsement for their extra-constitutional plots and games. Thus, sympathetic or vulnerable/compromised elements are found in key institutions to do their bidding.

If you ask me, this is the most alarming factor, even more than ‘corrupt’ politicians who can, and have been booted out at will. Their removal has solved nothing, as each such instance of adventurism and political engineering and its endorsement creates a deeper rot elsewhere.

If everyone accepts that we are sliding into chaos and anarchy and the status quo can’t be sustained then let all that ails us be acknowledged. When the sacred cows are reminded they aren’t better than the rest of us, they may shed their holier-than-thou attitude and address the rot within.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2023

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