Today's Paper | October 03, 2023

Updated 28 May, 2023 09:31am

On desertions

OH, how the mighty have fallen. It is difficult not to feel sorry for the PTI’s youthful support base as they witness some of their loudest leaders jump ship right when their loyalties were needed the most. Each day brings a wave of fresh desertions.

Haggard faces are paraded on national television, denouncing the events of May 9 and saying goodbye to both party and politics. It makes for a sad spectacle. However, though it may seem unkind, it isn’t without reason that the deserters are being mocked in some quarters.

Most seasoned Pakistani politicians have experienced firsthand the harassment and suffering that comes with the job. Many of them are finding it hard to believe how the PTI leadership could fold so easily when they persevered. One wonders what kind of duress they were under: was it simply the terrible conditions of prison, or blackmail, threats against family, or something worse? It is difficult to say.

What isn’t as difficult to surmise is who is behind the campaign to break apart yet another political movement that has grown too big for the state’s liking. Their playbook hasn’t changed.

Pre-election political engineering, the fracturing of a dominant party by force, and an overbearing campaign to silence and intimidate critical voices are all signs that the mentality that has defined our security apparatus’s domineering hold over Pakistan’s frail democratic apparatus for most of its unfortunate history is still very much alive.

If the last chief is to be believed, it had taken years of reflection and careful consideration for the armed forces to arrive at their ‘neutral’ stance. It took mere months to abandon it completely. Clearly, the temptation to relapse into old habits was too difficult to resist. Another generation must now grow up ruing this nation’s unfulfilled potential thanks to the lack of any continuity in its democratic processes.

Before concluding, a word on how political movements have survived crises. In the past, the leaders of every major political party led by example during their darkest hour. Be it Mujibur Rahman, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto, Khan Abdul Wali Khan or others, — each was, at some point, forced to choose between freedom or their cause. They chose the latter and suffered.

Mr Khan, instead of sacrificing for the ‘revolution’ he wanted, managed to make it his undoing. While he was freed rather quickly after arrest, others were not extended the same privileges. This is likely what broke morale.

That so many of his lieutenants chose to put themselves above the PTI and its cause is a shocking indictment of the quality of Mr Khan’s leadership. He will find it difficult to survive politically if most of the remaining leaders have similarly little conviction in his vision for the future.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2023

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