OVER A COFFEE: Moving in circles —Dr Haider Shah
Creating this kind of war hysteria is neither healthy nor advisable. The role of an opposition party is not that of a suicide bomber. It is doing its job well if it is highlighting the failures of the ruling party and offering alternative policies
Visits abroad have been a noticeable feature of Asif Zardari’s presidency. Even on the eve of the great floods in Pakistan he was seen visiting France and the UK. But the latest dash to Dubai has caused ripples in the Pakistani media. The reasons are not incomprehensible though. From Liaquat Ali to Maulvi Tamizuddin, and from Fatima Jinnah to Z A Bhutto, Pakistani political melodrama has remained underpinned by palace intrigues and ugly conspiracies. Pakistani history has been jolted often enough by hiccups caused by pricks to the sensitive egos of civil or military officials.
Like in the myth of Sisyphus, we are moving in circles. Military dictatorships give way to democratic order amid great optimism. But every time the system gets derailed within a few years and we begin from zero again. Not that I am an apologist for the current government, as the list of its acts of omission and commission is a long one and I have been expressing my concerns quite regularly in these pages. However, if the PPP-led government were sent packing through a soft or hard coup, it would prove a pyrrhic victory for Zardari’s political opponents, especially the PML-N. While in other countries like Burma and Turkey the role of the army establishment is receding, men in uniform have staged a comeback with a vengeance in Pakistan.
Had the present government been voted out in a free and fair election, it would have strengthened the democratic process. But when two grade-22 officials of the government decide the fate of the political order in the country behind closed doors, we are back to square one. The situation is a bit more alarming now that there is another overbearing player in the game as well. In the Roman Coliseum spectators would yell ‘iugula’, meaning kill, generally by slitting the throat of the defeated gladiator. Today we see many ambitious talk-show anchors encouraging the zeal of blood seeking adventurists. In this situation any new government that comes to power will find the going very rough. The problems Pakistan is facing today are very deep rooted and complex. Any potential solution would most probably end up cheesing off the military establishment. Sovereignty cannot be divided and shared as there can only be one boss. And the boss will not like a serious challenger winning the race.
The organisers of gladiator sports in ancient Rome were known as ‘editors’. Our important media personalities do not appear much different if one listens to their rhetoric these days. For instance, the other day I was listening to the editor of a major English news daily. The honourable editor was castigating the PML-N for not coming out on the streets to bring down the government. Creating this kind of war hysteria is neither healthy nor advisable. The role of an opposition party is not that of a suicide bomber. It is doing its job well if it is highlighting the failures of the ruling party and offering alternative policies. Expecting a political party to be a congregation of holy monks is also not a realistic expectation. Nowhere in the world are politicians considered the epitome of virtue and purity. Surveys reflect very low public opinion of politicians even in the UK. A political government should, therefore, be assessed on the basis of its responsiveness to public perceptions and complaints. However, certain media outlets appear to be in cahoots with the scriptwriters for enthroning the old kid on the block.
In an earlier piece on memo-mania I had raised my concerns about the ascendancy of the military establishment. The PML-N is fooling itself if it thinks that it will be the beneficiary after the dust settles. When a new boss ka aadmi (the boss’s man) is available, there is little likelihood of Nawaz Sharif winning the blessings of an emboldened establishment. Imran Khan qualifies as a better choice in many ways. He is a flexible and multi-coloured personality. One evening he is enjoying a glamorous evening show with Sushmita Sen and the next evening he is seen sipping tea with Zaid Hamid and General Hamid Gul. One morning he is cursing Musharraf for selling out the nation, and the next he is playing with his gift puppy. Behind which mask hides the real Imran Khan is an intriguing question. At times he sounds ambitious, flexible, pragmatic and playboy-ish. And at times he sounds as if General Hamid Gul is using him as a mouthorgan. It is this chameleon like character of Imran that raises both hope and fear.
The boss seems to have done power calculations for the next elections. It is not hard to infer from Imran’s rhetorical discourse that the evergreen MQM is going to be part of the next ruling arrangement as well. There are indications that the MQM will offer rent-a-rally service to Imran on December 25th if he goes ahead with the planned rally. An impression of solidarity and peace will be created to set the stage for power sharing. Similarities with Musharraf’s game plan are strikingly similar. I will not be surprised if Musharraf also became a part of this new ‘mufahimat ki policy’ (reconciliation policy). Learning from past experiences though, the boss would not like to see Imran becoming too powerful. Perhaps it has been decided that Imran’s party should bag 20 to 30 seats in the next elections. With support of the MQM, independents, PML-Q groups, forward blocs of main parties, FATA members, and pliant sardars from Balochistan a ‘choo choo ka murabba’ (mixed fruit pickle) coalition will be installed under Imran Khan. Not all game plans succeed fully as there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. The gullible youth have been promised that a revolution riding on the shoulders of pir (spiritual master) Mehmood Ghaznavi Saani (Shah Mehmood Qureshi) and Musharraf’s reconditioned team is coming. Perhaps it is our destiny to keep moving in circles.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org