A giant’s strength

Published February 20, 2024
The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

IT’S time to be worried. Really worried for Pakistan.

Our political engineering formula has come undone. The hawa which was clearly blowing hard couldn’t secure a win for the blue-eyed party and engineer an election in Punjab. The ever-capricious electables have been playing up for some time now and refuse to swing around with the wind. And parties refuse to fall apart quietly after the first dozen or so among their leadership are given a software update.

And then, the people. Decades ago, it was decided they were illiterate, poor and desperate for money, and hence the political process could be reduced to ‘they sell their vote for a few thousand, let’s not blame them’, while the more organised or better off went for the promise of a naali (drain) or sadak (road). But this time around, the poor and the sadak lovers have changed their colours. Their blood has also turned white. Caste and community no longer mean the political world to them. They have turned into selfish adults who want to exercise the individual right to vote, even encouraging their mothers and sisters to think similarly. The absence of the bat didn’t confuse them, for the wily creatures used smartphones, believing it over mainstream media.

Instead of the meek, the tech-savvy are threatening to inherit the earth. Resultantly, those who are clinging on, decided to switch off Twitter (X). Crisis management doesn’t get more effective than this. After all, as far as tactics go, it is subtler than upturning results in constituencies where the infamous Form 45s were handed out long before someone found out that it wasn’t enough to beat people black and blue, and that races have to be managed. It seems as if those who had made sure no one got hold of Form 45 in 2018 has been sent home and an undergraduate lot, which still hasn’t attended Post-Poll Rigging 101, is in charge.

That PDM 2.0 is about to be revived is a triumph of hope over experience.

The civilian side is not handling the new breakups and romances well either. One political party ran a superb campaign rooted in the 1990s for an election taking place in 2024. It came second but was the first to hold a victory celebration and declare itself the biggest party. Confusion over numbers or just confidence in the engineers? Who knows? But they tried to wiggle out of the federal government once the PPP began playing hard to get; however, the confession of a Rawalpindi commissioner soon put an end to their airs. Since then, there are no sources reporting that the PML-N is considering not forming the government at the centre, and just clinging to Punjab. (The questions over the north Punjab results don’t just reduce their already miserable National Assembly number but also the majority on which Maryam Nawaz will stroll into the chief minister’s house.)

In the confusion, no one bothers to ask who designed and ran that uninspiring election campaign, which got them to the 80-seat mark in an election, where no one else was contesting. Considering they ran Islamabad directly since April 2022 and had a say in Punjab since the caretakers came in and still barely scraped through in the election, it’s hard to imagine how they plan to reverse this trend by governing directly. But who dare ask difficult questions at this moment?

The PPP continues to blow hot and scorn PML-N, while forming committees and holding meetings for a power-sharing formula. (As an aside, I recently learnt of ‘breadcrumbing in relationships.) It’s worth pondering why no one believes the PPP and is convinced it will end up in government yet again. Does it have something to do with the fact that after the son announced the tough decision taken in the party’s two-day meeting, the other chairman suddenly appeared at a press conference of senior citizens who laid claim to government-making at the home of Chaudhry Shujaat? Perhaps, there is no greater sign of the times than the visuals of that press conference with the good Chaudhry seated in the middle. He headed the king’s party of the 1990s.

That PDM 2.0 (or the senior citizens club) is about to be revived is a triumph of hope over experience. This time around, it will manage the IMF and carry out reform while saving itself and the country from its perennial finance minister.

Then we have the PTI, a party which maintains the confusion among its ranks, whether there is one page or not, whether in power or opposition, and whether it is underground or not. Such consistency of confusion has to be applauded, for the party rarely stays the course in any other field. It is claiming a marvellous result in the election (the dominant view on social media) and the governments at the centre, and in Lahore and Peshawar, even though it still doesn’t have a symbol (of any party) after having held talks with nearly every religio-political party other than the TLP. Also, by choosing a general for a chief minister, it is indicating that it’s ready for a face-off, with KP as its fortress.

The confusion within it is only bound to increase as access to its leader is restricted and the lawyers and politicians figure out how to proceed. But with Sheikh Waqas Akram, Ali Mohammad Khan, Latif Khosa and Sher Afzal Marwat leading the assault in the National Assembly, Shehbaz Sharif will for the first time in his life find out what an opposition is all about. It might just end up being a bigger surprise for him than 1999 when he was said to be sleeping as his brother chose a new COAS.

In all of this, one can only hope we will bury the myth — among the many others — of an election bringing about stability and quiet. That old ‘analysis’ is about as relevant as a text message, and it should be dropped along with the caretaker government (one waits with bated breath), as we brace ourselves for not just PDM 2.0 but also instability pro max.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2024

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