Forking paths

Published May 14, 2023

BOTH the present and former prime ministers spoke to their constituencies yesterday. Both appeared to have wildly divergent plans on how to deal with the challenges facing them.

One issued a 72-hour ultimatum for the arrest of all those involved in vandalising the Lahore corps commander’s residence, vowing to make an example of the ‘terrorists’ involved in the incident. The other urged his supporters — singling out women in particular — to take to the streets today to help bolster his cause.

It will be interesting to see how the two face off against each other in the coming days. Though it seems unlikely that they are open to engaging with each other cordially, an opportunity exists. Imran Khan has asked that the violence that broke out following his arrest be investigated independently.

In this, his views align with the prime minister’s. Could this be an opportunity for both parties to sit together, set boundaries, fix responsibility and find a way forward? Politics is the art of the possible, as they say.

It may be wishful thinking, however. The federal cabinet is fuming over court rulings in favour of Mr Khan and has decried them as a “black stain” on the face of the judiciary. The PDM coalition will protest outside the apex court on Monday. It threatens to turn into a confrontation.

Maulana Fazlur Rahman has said that if any harm comes to the protesters, “we will retaliate with sticks, fists and slaps.” The Maulana is prepared for a fight, but how does he plan to hold that protest, considering that the administration has imposed Section 144 in the capital? Will the administration relax its restrictions to allow the government to besiege the Supreme Court? How will the optics of its complicity be reconciled in the prevailing tensions between the branches of the state?

If Pakistan had a Doomsday Clock, it would be reading sixty seconds to midnight. For the first time in recent memory, the nation seems to be flirting dangerously with civil war. It is tearing itself apart under the weight of its own contradictions.

The ‘darling’ has turned ‘enemy number one’; the ‘democratic movement’ has acquired a taste for authoritarianism; and the law has lost all consistency or objectivity. As our institutions squander what little credibility they have left, the economy remains in shambles. There is a growing realisation that the social contract needs to be rewritten anew.

Amidst all this, the public’s growing anger and frustration are pushing the country ever closer to a breaking point. There is a very real possibility that we may see the unleashing of total chaos if someone doesn’t push the reset button. Free and fair elections, conducted to the satisfaction of all parties, still remain the best option in present conditions. All parties must reconsider.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2023

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