THIS was supposed to be our moment. Yours and mine, the ordinary folk.
Movie-like, our heads were to break through the storm clouds and briefly catch a glimpse of clear blue skies and glorious sunlight.
An election is upon us, the promise of regeneration and rejuvenation is supposed to be at hand.
The world, our world, this country, was never going to change in an instant. But the election was at least meant to let us dream of a better tomorrow.
Here we are, though, hurtling through the storm and the clouds aren’t parting. It feels more like we are in the vortex of a tornado, tossed around and too scared to think.
Bright blue skies and glorious sunshine there are none. Democracy needs to be saved from the democrats. National security from the grasp of the self-appointed custodians of the national interest. Society from itself.
But there’s no one to save us. From ourselves, from themselves, from everyone else.
Not actually save us — for even the gods may struggle to save us now — but just make us feel that someone will step up, staunch the flow of blood draining from a living corpse, delay the inevitable.
That’s all we could have hoped for from this election. Anything more and it would have felt like dealing with the after-effects of a heavy desi meal on the way to the hangman’s noose.
A morsel of hope. The future could be better, that’s all.
Instead, we have this, a gnawing fear and a deep resignation that this, and worse, may be our lot in life.
Zardari gave us five years. Continuity was supposed to be the first step towards stability and, maybe, improvement. But, five years later, you can’t help but wonder if continuity, of the kind we’ve seen, was worse than no continuity.
Now, he wants another five years. The heart sinks at the possibility, kept afloat only by the likelihood that Zardari’s calculations are off and he won’t get what he wants.
Kayani has given us six years. He’s won us back Afghanistan. But did we want Afghanistan back? Nobody asked us.
It’s remarkable, really. The Americans have failed in Afghanistan and will have to deal with the consequences of their failure.
Our army has won in Afghanistan — and we’ll have to deal with the consequences of our success.
When the consequences of your success may be worse than the consequences of someone else’s failure, you know something is very, very wrong.
Hurrah, we’ve been saved from Indian designs!
Short of conquering Pakistan — and quite why India would want to absorb 180 million poor, semi-literate, rabid Muslims when it is struggling to deal with its own Muslims is a question no one wants to answer — the idea was that India wants to keep Pakistan weak, divided, poor and insecure.
But at least we have Afghanistan.
Sharif wants to rule again. He probably will. He’s a born-again democrat, burnt by the fires he was baptised in. Good.
But, in a paradox of the peculiarly Pakistani condition, the born-again democrat is caught in a time warp. Sharif wants to fight yesterday’s battles first: fix the economy, corral the army. Society will take care of itself.
Society, though, isn’t taking care of itself. It is cannibalising itself.
If necessary, and if attacked personally, Sharif the Ruler will bring the hammer down on the self-appointed Soldiers of Islam.
Which is more than the pusillanimous Zardari ever could, or would.
Blunting the tip of the spear won’t remotely get the job done, though, because the tip is attached to a battering ram.
Sharif’s PML has its own version of Good Extremist/ Bad Extremist. The Good Extremist is plugged into the arteries of the PML-N, nurturing it and it, them.
The Good Extremist is also the battering ram, breaking the Pakistan that never was and erecting from its pieces a new, frightful Pakistan.
What good a prosperous Pakistan with a powerful leader, Sharif, who is part cheerleading and part accommodating out of fear regressive social forces? That would make us Saudi Arabia. Oh, right.
Khan, Khan, Khan. With the horror show around us, can anyone still fault those rooting for him?
If Zardari is awful and Sharif no better or if Sharif is unpalatable and Zardari difficult to digest, then perhaps we should be grateful for small mercies: those rallying to Khan could well have turned to the army.
The problem, for those of a sceptical bent, is that rallying to Khan is effectively turning to the army. Puppet and master the relationship may not be, but the best Geppettos work to make puppet and audience forget there are strings attached. There are always strings attached.
Oddly enough, by setting out to capture the public’s imagination but only managing to capture a sliver of it, Khan may have exacerbated the problem he — though not necessarily his Geppetto — set out to resolve: political malaise and gridlock.
For there will be a second wave, just not of the kind Khan hopes for, and that can catapult him to the dreaded spoiler status, fragmenting further an already fragmented electorate.
Blame Khan for trying? No. Blame the electorate for being indecisive? No. Curse our luck? Yes.
This, all of this, wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
For 60 days, we were supposed to dream again. To hit the reset button and think of the possibilities — the good possibilities; the small but realistic possibilities — that the next phase could bring.
Instead, we have this.
May the best man win. Unhappily for us, you and me, the ordinary folk, we can already know he won’t be good enough, or good for us.
The writer is a member of staff.