Hybrid 2.0: How did P̶r̶o̶j̶e̶c̶t̶ PM Shehbaz fare?

The one lesson to learn from Shehbaz's government is that when you think it can't get any worse, the doctrinaires always make sure to prove us all wrong.
Published August 9, 2023

It is said that in 2017, the doctrinaires were hesitant to invest in Project Imran in any bigger way than was already happening since right before the Minar-i-Pakistan Jalsa in 2011 courtesy Pasha and co.

It was felt that a smaller intervention could work — without the need to begin chapter two of book one of the hybrid system. It was felt that the problem was Nawaz Sharif, and only him. It was felt that the solution was surgically clean — remove Nawaz, and install Shehbaz on the PML-N throne.

Shehbaz was someone you could work with. You could also keep him honest with Project Imran on the back burner, simmering away in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the peripheries of Punjab by giving him the South Punjab Mahaz types.

Except Shehbaz didn’t bite. Ever the bridesmaid, never the bride, he refused to stab his brother in the back.

So we got a stop-gap solution of Shahid Khahqan Abbasi, who happened to be the most competent prime minister we ever had. But he wasn’t a Sharif or a Bhutto or anyone with a vote bank beyond perhaps his own constituency so he wasn’t really good enough to pin a hybrid model around.

There was disgust amongst the doctrinaires about Shehbaz. His lack of what the doctrinaires called courage was ridiculed as a weakness. He was called mentally servile. A stooge. A pawn.

But that was that. The Sharifs were no longer viable. So the doctrinaires were forced to open the book of hybrid. Chapter two, verse Imran. All written on a single page.

A hybrid goes, a hybrid comes

Except that didn’t really go to plan for too long. Around the customary four-year mark, the relationship soured because the chief executive of the country decided he was going to behave like the chief executive of the country after having behaved as the team leader of fascism united for three and a half years of same-pagery.

So it was time to change the team lead. This time, CM Shehbaz would finally get to take his Twitter handle to the PM house.

Ever the bridesmaid, finally the bride.

Except Shehbaz Sharif knew he was stepping up only to fill the role his predecessor had decided was beneath him. He knew he was going to have to fit into the outfit originally stitched for the person before him. He needed to lose quite a bit of democratic weight in very little time, even as he piled on frequent flier miles to consult his elder brother.

But if there’s one thing about Shehbaz you can take to the bank, it is that he is a man who likes to meet targets. He exceeded this one.

What started with less than democratic intent is now scheduled to end in the same way — a new census notification paving the way for an unconstitutional delay of unelected government, pretending to caretake the mandate of the people while they help violate the people’s sacred right to choose actual leaders. This whilst the similarly unconstitutional push to appoint a less than neutral caretaker PM is afoot.

Along the way, we have been treated to a belligerent display of the price politicians are willing to pay in order to affect a single appointment of a public servant in a government department. Instalments paid to date include fundamental rights, compartmentalisation of government institutions, and the army allowed to be an unauditable business complex.

For a government that prior to May 9, 2023, beseeched Imran Khan for a conversation and derided him for taking legitimacy away from Parliament and the provincial assemblies by resigning from them, there is remarkably little angst in railroading through dozens of bills limiting fundamental rights with voice votes of barely two dozen voting members present. It has been a rather rapid journey into the abyss, especially when you consider that when this government started, we were already in the abyss.

While the family-related accountability trials were being swiftly wound up, in June 2022, Prime Minister Shehbaz handed over the screening of civil servants to the ISI. With one fell swoop, the unaccountable and the unaudited became the determinants of civil service promotions. It doesn’t really matter, we were told, because at the end of the day, don’t we all answer to the chief? (chief executive, like the prime minister. Not the other guy.)

Setting fire to the economy

In July 2022, we moved to putting the country on a national fire sale. Laws were passed to allow for overstepping regulators in our falling-over-backwards attempt at selling whatever we could find an international buyer for. This was around the time Ishaq Dar was angling for the job of finance minister from London by undermining Miftah Ismail’s efforts to steer our sinking economy.

The National Accountability Ordinance was amended to try and make the anti-corruption watchdog behave like anything but a force tasked with illogical and incompetent hits on politicians out of favour. It’s being reverse-engineered now because there’s enough faith in the PDM that they’re no longer as out of favour as Imran is post May 9.

Ishaq Dar arrived at the end of September, so basically things went further downhill. Dar was such an addition to the scene that he made Shehbaz look good — the prime minister finally got us a lifeline by way of the IMF standby arrangement in February after basically unwinding the nonsensical yarn Ishaq Dar had spun around the IMF.

While the events of May 9 finally breathed some life into the PDM government by taking the oxygen away from Imran and his party, its aftermath has ensured everybody loses.

This government is currently trying to pass bills it hasn’t even read, bills it doesn’t even know the origination date of. Civilians await trial before uniformed officers, who will determine whether those civilians damaged the reputation of the department they are employed by. Following Supreme Court orders has become optional. And until everyone is sure that the people are too scared to vote the way they are threatening to, elections look increasingly optional.

The one lesson for the people to learn from Shehbaz’s government is that when you think it can’t get any worse, the doctrinaires always make sure to prove us all wrong.

Since Imran Khan decided he was boss when it came to keeping Faiz as his chief coercive officer, Prime Minister Shehbaz and his government have shown us how to make the most of the cards you have been dealt.

It has been the true story of the underdogs. A scrappy fight, being attacked from all sides, no real breathing room to start off with. There’s been a price to pay of course, but a small one. Just a few changes to the original slogan. From vote ko Izzat do, to vote ko izzat LOL.