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Collateral benefits

January 06, 2013


IN failure, there can be success. Sometimes.

Imran Khan has failed in his central objective: he is no longer a genuine contender for power and the PTI has not become the third force it once threatened to be in the heady days after the Lahore rally 14 months ago.

But Khan has already delivered. He has, arguably, already fulfilled the political potential he genuinely had.


Khan never seriously threatened to capture political power because in his decade and a half in the political wilderness he never really matured as a politician.

Khan’s star turn arrived a year and change ago because the status quo options had fallen precipitously in the public standing.

In a deeply flawed system with deeply flawed incumbents, the incumbents were always going to suffer a dip in their public appeal mid-term.

Because it’s been repeated so often and so religiously, everyone knows that by now.

And because Khan aimed for the stars, falling short of the stars means he’s been dismissed or derided.

But to do that is to miss Khan’s original, true potential: to alarm the status quo into lifting its game.

In that, Khan has half succeeded.

For Khan and his followers, there is little solace in the fact that of the principal existing players — PPP and PML-N — they have shaken one of those players into doing their job better.

Khan’s purpose, after all, is not just for the people to be better served by their representatives, but for him to serve the people better.

For everyone else, though, Khan is potential realised, at least on the PML-N front.

Panicked and in disarray, the PML-N leadership got down to a mid-term regeneration and revival. The PML-N reached out to the grassroots. It started listening to what the people wanted.

As luck would have it, the outreach coincided with NFC money pouring into the provincial coffers. Flush with cash, the PML-N went on a spending binge.

Laptops may be a waste of precious rupees; the project-oriented spending is probably not the wisest use of development money; vanity projects like the rapid bus service in Lahore are far from a sure thing; pouring concrete here, there and everywhere isn’t environmentally or aesthetically pleasing — but compared to the decrepitude of Balochistan and the profligacy and wastefulness of KP and Sindh?

Alarmed and shaken by the PTI, the PML-N and the Punjab government got their act together. If you happen to live in Punjab, that’s a good thing.

And much as it may disappoint Khan that it isn’t him doing it, isn’t the central point of Khan’s message that a better kind of politics and governance is possible?

Both the PML-N and the PTI will be loath to admit it — for opposite, though equally obvious, reasons — but the revival in Punjab is down to the PTI.

The PPP, that has been a different story for a different reason: the PTI’s rise was little threat to Zardari’s view of the electoral map.

In interior Sindh, PTI has no hope. In south Punjab, the likes of Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Javed Hashmi and Jahangir Tarin don’t seriously undermine the PPP’s push. Urban and north and central Punjab, Zardari has all but abandoned anyway.

No threat to the base,

no action required. Khan’s anti-corruption, anti-incumbency, anti-West message just didn’t have the kind of resonance with the PPP voter the PPP leadership cares about to jolt the leadership into responding.

The point to this extended digression on Khan and his impact? Pressure works. Often in ways it is not conjured up for.

Which brings us to Qadri, the latest orchestrated bolt of lightning to hit the political landscape.

If Qadri succeeds in delaying elections, everyone loses. Everyone, that is, except those who will have one hand at the helm and the other in the till during an extended caretaker set-up.

But assume Qadri fails in his explicit objective — could he still end up doing some good, despite his manifestly malign intentions?

Since the Senate elections last March and the fifth budget of this government last June, what has been the point to this government plodding on?

There is no point; no goal left other than a civilian-led transition. But Zardari has fended off that moment because it’s hard to let go when you don’t have to.

Drift, ineptitude, hanging on for the sake of hanging on, clinging on to suckle at the teats of the state a little while longer – none of that has anything to do with furthering the democratic project.

If anything, the democratic project needs to be aired out some. If anything, the democratic project needs to be rescued from the maws of the democrats.

An election would surely be no catharsis, but it would at least rejuvenate the system some.

People will wave their flags; politicians will shout their slogans; voters will pause to think about what they want from their leaders and who best can deliver; candidates will scramble to tweak their message — the form of democracy may get some more substance.

The best, and possibly only, thing Zardari could have done for democracy the past six months is pull the trigger on a general election.

But he hasn’t done it. Enter Qadri.

Like Khan, Qadri can fail, and yet succeed — maybe not from a personal perspective, but from the standpoint of inadvertent, and system-wide, good.

A few hundred thousand people in Islamabad, on the back of the showing in Lahore and Karachi, will amount to real pressure, particularly given the suspicions about who is behind Qadri.

If it causes Zardari to buckle and call the election — like the one-two punch of the Nawaz-led long march and Kayani pressure did to restore the CJ in March ’09 — then praise to Allah and let’s get on with the business of an election and consign Qadri to where he belongs: a footnote in history.

The country needs an election, deserves an election and should get an election. Now. Zardari hasn’t given the country what it needs and deserves because there’s been no real pressure on him. Until now.

Malign, then, as Qadri and his backers’ true intentions may be, perhaps a little bit of success by the Qadri juggernaut wouldn’t be so bad for Project Democracy.

But only a little success. For if Zardari doesn’t buckle, let’s hope he can wriggle away.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm