WRITING about our national chaos in my last piece, I had said that one side would nix the other to end the chaos soon. But even I am amazed at how quickly it did so. I had traced the chaos to the weakening of the establishment’s powers. But May 9 ended the big gap-rank support for the PTI.
I have held for long that even against the corrupt politics of the PPP and PML-N, Imran Khan’s anarchist populist politics was a bane and if we are to move ahead, we would have to defeat it politically. Unluckily, the PDM couldn’t muster the narrative or performance to do so. So, the PTI is being nixed the way it was created — via establishment ploys. The move is dubious, despite PTI’s own questionable politics.
PTI leaders are quitting at speeds unseen, just after a few days in jail or even without that, unlike PDM leaders who didn’t quit even after months in jail. While they may have been herded into PTI by Pindi’s carrots, they are now leaving it under its pressure.
There is a move to try civilians in military courts. There is talk about banning the PTI as a terrorist party. Its politics is bad, but it is not a terrorist party. The TTP is a terrorist entity as it doesn’t engage in regular politics and its only tool to achieve its political aims is terrorism. In contrast, the PTI does regular politics and only occasionally indulges violence. It may preplan mayhem, but not murder. Thus, it must not be banned. But those who engaged in violence must be punished.
Images of shuhada and monuments are regularly invoked to stir mass ‘nationalism’ as now. Cut through it and one sees that May 9 was a case of civil commotion, which should be dealt with as that, with fines for most and jail time for a few.
Yet, to eliminate PTI, the establishment and even parties whose politics are more normal than the PTI’s, are using these tactics shamelessly. It may cripple the PTI. While Khan is popular, he can’t translate that into votes with major party desertions. Khan may even be jailed or exiled.
PTI leaders are quitting at speeds unseen.
Thus, it is probable that the PTI won’t win the next polls due to rigging. In fact, so bad are Khan-establishment ties now that it is hard to see him winning power soon. It took Nawaz over a decade to be prime minister again after his equally bad break-up with Pindi in 1999. He had age on his side. Khan doesn’t. Hence, the small democratic consolidation seen during 2008-2018, with our first smooth civilian-to-civilian transfer in 2013, stands reversed as even its architect parties are back to their rigged 1990s politics. For this, the main blame lies with the security establishment, then PTI and then PDM.
Whenever the establishment has crushed popular struggles of marginalised groups, it has backfired, as seen in the violence in 1971 and as still witnessed in Balochistan. Violence also followed its moves to create political entities like the MQM, which later broke with it. But all that is unlikely now.
The PTI’s core constituency is upper-middle-class people and not marginalised groups. Their politics is not driven by deprivation but blind anger at the system. Their aim is to increase their elite entitlements against the upper classes represented by the PPP and PML-N by cloaking their elite aims and PTI’s crude politics in the false rhetoric of ‘tabdeeli’ and ‘azadi’.
They will not form a violent movement but will sullenly eschew politics. Thus, the loss would be the disengagement of an educated and rich group that, with better awareness, could have played a good role in political and economic progress. Some youth may join other reactionary groups.
If the PDM continues with its pathetic performance, disintegrates or if Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz justifiably start charting a way to clip the establishment’s powers, a tiny way back for Khan in three to four years may open up. Thus, the biggest challenge for the PDM after vanquishing PTI will be PDM itself.
If we have a Sharif prime minister and Ishaq Dar as the finance czar after elections, our economic mayhem will increase. They would be out of their league in tackling the huge problems we face given the black hole that the economy has entered due to the damage done by the PTI and PDM’s economic policies and the PTI’s anarchic politics.
Continued poor economic management may lead to default and more political chaos. The PDM must appoint an able cabinet to avoid such a situation.
With IMF and the major powers not bailing us out, the time after elections will be a minefield for any new regime which may not last long given the split and dubious mandates the next polls may lead to due to rigging. Thus, our problems are far from over and we could descend into bigger chaos, which even the establishment won’t be able to control.
The writer is a political economist with a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.
Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2023