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Establishment, pray stand up

January 08, 2013

SO pointless is Pakistani politics and all the activity it generates by its side when one unlikely individual, a disillusioned democrat to boot, can enter and destroy the façade in a single swift stroke.

From then onwards, all the talk is about him and his likely backers and followers, and the search for the establishment, with all its conventional glory and its proven authority, picks up by a few notches. That those who think of themselves as the establishment had found the need to issue loud denials is a telltale sign in a country with a history of planted saviours.

Many newspaper articles in recent days have been premised on the condition, ‘If the establishment so wishes, the Allama could….’ In exactly what shape does this renowned force called the establishment exist today, not all of us have been able to as readily identify as we once would.

One ‘out of the box’ response is where some sections of Pakistanis, particularly among the younger lot looking for newer angles to the story, dismiss the old-mould, oft-bitten observers as unwanted, irrelevant guides, as conspiracy theorists enslaved by formula.

No sooner have these theories been debunked as lazy explanations that a new series of coincidences unravel, building patterns all too familiar, forcing the chastened theorist to return to his conspiracy.

Just how many times have Gen Zia’s 90 days been mentioned in the context of Allama Tahirul Qadri’s ‘save the country’ slogan and the consequent spectre of a delay in polls? It may not result in an exact repeat of 1977, but Allama Sahib’s moral drive could, like such campaigns of the past, lead to a severe containment of the politicians and politics.

His entry also signifies the renewal of the poll-boycott option after the parties, which had stayed away from general elections in 2008, were later pushed into election mode by politics in the country.

That threat has been revived and in the coming days the idea may draw many old and new aspirants to Dr Qadri’s side. This is all reminiscent of the past attempt at goading and controlling politicians.

Dr Tahirul Qadri has proven to be a reluctant democrat. But barely were the observers through with their ritualistic pooh-poohing of the Allama when some other well-known figures and outfits joined him in his campaign to save the state.

The MQM has withstood footage thrust in its face as evidence of the Allama’s ability to come up with two parallel opinions. Altaf Bhai ‘accompanies’ Dr Qadri — he promises to do so right up to Islamabad on Jan 14. PML-Q has also joined in, to deny the MQM the honour of being the only party in the country which can be in the government and at the same time can threaten a long march on the government.

This sets the pattern for some other groups — which are unlikely to add to their clout in the event of an election — choosing to play along with the save-the-country marchers and see.

The gathering for the march to Islamabad vindicates everyone. The dangers harboured by Dr Qadri’s approach to politics on the whole would allow the PPP to justify its refrain for ‘reconciliation’. On the other hand, PML-N would argue that it is PPP’s ‘misrule’ which has opened the door on the reformist marchers.

As conspiracy theories go, the long-held theory about the first signs of real trouble for the PPP government would seem to be holding. The MQM and PML-Q were to be closely followed for the impending shake-up of the PPP set-up — by the same establishment that is said to be behind their chosen ally of the moment, Allama Qadri.

We know the classic Pakistani establishment is not easy to trace since it is in a state of disrepair. The military was the most important component of that all-powerful force. It could command into service some other significant parts over issues of national interest.

We also know that along with many clerics and the so-called religious parties the jihadis were once a crucial component of this establishment. Some of them could still be drawn into the fold but there has definitely been a rift and various parts of the old establishment have been fighting for supremacy.

If one, more formal and more recognised part of the establishment, beholden to its own realities, has chosen to back one group of politicians, the breakaway faction is firing as many guns as it can to destabilise the system. That militant part has worked strongly enough to be often appearing to dictate terms.

When a provincial minister goes wild at the establishment’s seen attempt to hurt his party, he is not necessarily an emancipated version of the Pakistani politician celebrating freedom from the influence of the ‘powers that be’.

He may be doing so banking on his party’s not too bad relations with one faction of the establishment as it once stood: the militants, a faction his party fears or thinks is on the rise. The militants are one part in the old whole that has to be tackled extremely carefully as opposed to the army which can be and which is now subjected to some criticism.

Military interventionists have been backed by religious scholars and justified by the courts. When a religious scholar such as Dr Tahirul Qadri asks the judiciary and the army to join hands in a caretaker set-up, he is essentially seeking to repair an old system.

He is himself trying to act as the religious element the establishment has traditionally been dependent on and exploring common ground between the judges and the generals that could lead to the restoration of the old equation. Amid all this talk about the establishment having created him, he is creating the establishment.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.