The next monarch

Published June 27, 2023
The writer is a political economist with a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.
The writer is a political economist with a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.

THE PTI is dead but its spirit will live long as the PPP and PML-N copy and often even exceed its autocratic ways. If the PTI’s constitutional violation of a no-trust move lasted a week, PDM’s on the KP polls is months old now.

I have long said they were the lesser evil vis-à-vis the PTI. But with the PTI dead, and given their current ways, they are now regarded as the main evil — on the civilian side of course. Yet, even many good anchors still focus daily on Imran Khan, as if he is our main evil.

Only an unlikely and undesirable mutiny by pro-Khan guys can resurrect the former prime minister soon. And May 9 was no mutiny; just a spoilt kid acting out against his leashing by parents who had adopted and spoilt a political orphan no end.

Fear of Khan keeps the establishment, the PPP and PML-N united. So strong is the concern, they are ready to eliminate him using any trick: fake terrorism cases in non-civilian courts, media gags and reverse engineering of PTI. That will end the fear but also the unity. What shape will politics take once these elements start dogfights?

Will the establishment ditch the PPP and PML-N after using them to nix Khan and instal a long-term interim set-up, pulling the same trick the two played on PTI on provincial polls? It would be poetic justice. Dreamy analysts think a group of able angels is on stand-by to save us in a technocratic set-up. But there is none.

The economic wizards being touted contributed to our mess via loose fiscal and monetary policies earlier. Democrats always prefer polls over such set-ups — but fair polls, and not the rigged ones we will have (much more than the 2018 ones) with the PTI decimated wrongly. So, do polls matter? One still wants polls, hoping the rigging ploys fail. Even the establishment may think twice about bringing in a technocratic set-up, as it will have to give it the same kind support it lent to the PTI.

Who’ll be crowned from among the feuding princes and princesses?

But then, who will the monarch-makers crown from among the many feuding princes and princesses? With Shehbaz Sharif saying he will make way for Nawaz Sharif, will Noon still be OK for them? Thus, there is buzz about Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari being crowned soon. But his would be a crown of thorns, for the economic, political and external challenges after the polls will be too big for his raw hands to handle, just as his young mother couldn’t handle the big mess from Zia’s era right after his birth.

Thus, if Asif Zardari is astute, he should keep his son away from the throne for now to not burn his career so early.

Even the elder Zardari, Sharifs or Khan will do poorly given their ideas on display. Zardari says he read economics in jail and can take reserves to $100 billion. Khan says this time his expatriate lovers will surely send the $200bn they forgot last time.

The Sharifs and the establishment are selling another fake dream after CPEC — the Special Investment Facilitation Council. The idea is decades old: clientage of unsavoury states such as the US, China or Saudi Arabia, instead of attracting private capital like Bangladesh or India.

They too short-change the poor but are at least not near default. While these Shaikh Chilli dreams cook in Islamabad, the reality in Pindi is clear — the brief pretence of eschewing politics is long gone.

The earnest ‘duty’ of fixing our huge woes will only deepen them. We are marching firmly on a circular bridge to nowhere as we have since 1947, except for a brief period from 2008 to 2018.

The PDM blew the chance to resume on that path by deferring polls after the no-trust move. Even now, fair polls are the way forward. Even if PTI wins, it would have to tackle the same huge issues and may do worse than the PDM is doing now, given its bad ties with Pindi and externally with all main allies and its infighting. Thus, it may not last long and get thrown out politically, perhaps for good.

But with Khan now made a hero by the crackdown and the stagflation, if pro-Khan officers (reputedly there are many just a few rungs down the ladder) become dominant in a few years, they may bring him back. Age is not on Khan’s side. But Zimbabwe’s mad Mugabe ruled in his 90s. Khan is much fitter physically, but perhaps not when it comes to clear thinking.

The only small chance lies in the Zardaris and Sharifs putting their respective egos aside and sticking to running their parties, while appointing a competent cabinet as the Gandhis have done in Congress since Rajiv Gandhi’s death to usher in India’s path to progress. But pettiness and selfishness reign supreme in both houses, madness on top of those in Banigala and worse traits in Pindi. So, the chances of wisdom prevailing in any quarter are small. Thus are our chances of progress.

The writer is a political economist with a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.

murtazaniaz@yahoo.com

Twitter: @NiazMurtaza2

Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2023

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