Rinse and repeat

Published June 7, 2023

PAKISTAN’S Groundhog Day politics continue without missing a beat. Despite the same pattern having persisted for decades, where the victor today is the vanquished tomorrow, and so on in an endless loop, the civilian leadership appears incapable of resisting the urge to gloat over its opponents’ misfortunes. They happily settle for short-term gains, despite knowing how ephemeral their own ‘favoured status’ may be.

At a by-election rally in Muzaffarabad on Monday, PML-N senior vice president Maryam Nawaz took aim at the embattled PTI chairman Imran Khan several times during her speech.

She said that he who had claimed he would make PML-N cry was himself shedding tears hiding in his “bunker”. Referring to the rioting and arson on May 9, she also questioned Mr Khan’s patriotic credentials, adding: “We will make him an example.”

Ms Nawaz knows only too well how her own father, three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, was made an ‘example’ of each time he was removed from power, most recently through a questionable judicial process that led to him being disqualified from holding public office for life.

He was also erased from national media and silenced. Now it is the turn of the PTI leader to be sent to purgatory, and the PML-N leadership is content with being in the ascendant, although history attests to the precariousness of such a position.

When Mr Khan was in power, his government went after the then political opposition with a vengeance, riding roughshod over due process and other fundamental rights. Those in the cross hairs at the time had little recourse, and how could they? There was no level playing field; all the instruments of state were arrayed against them. The PTI finds itself in a similar position today.

However, if the PML-N is displaying short-sighted glee at the latter’s fall from grace, then PTI leaders too have had no epiphany about how the politics of vengeance plays out, about who loses and who gains in the larger scheme of things.

A few days ago, PTI leader Hammad Azhar said that his party’s offer for negotiations was intended for the “real decision-makers” and not “puppets”. Several times after Mr Khan’s government was ousted, he lamented that he did not have complete liberty to run the country.

“Our hands were tied … Power wasn’t with us,” he said on one occasion. If the strings of the PTI government too were being pulled from elsewhere, then all the more reason for the marionettes to speak to each other and thrash out another charter of democracy to succeed the one signed by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in May 2006.

That would ensure a level playing field for all political parties and renew the democratic process so unfortunately impaired in the last few years.

Published in Dawn, June 7th, 2023

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