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When fear is the trigger, hugely consequential errors result
So what about this drive for no-confidence in the prime minister? Does it derive from an opposition function to dislodge a sitting government — we wrongly assume it is the only role of an opposition than be the shadow government and critique policies to refine those in favour of the country and its people. Or, is it to relieve the people of this government’s ‘draconian’ economic rule which has literally impoverished poorer segments of the society because of its misplaced policies? Or is it to escape a closing gauntlet of legal cases that this government wishes to pursue earnestly around allegations of corruption and financial misappropriation by leaders of opposition parties?
None of these I dare say. Consider. When the PPP won the elections in 2008 and Asif Zardari swore himself in as the President, there were two peculiarities in that set-up: one, the government ran from the Presidency — none thought odd of it despite it defying the essence of the parliamentary nature of government; Yousaf Raza Gillani was just such an affable man — but what did emerge in these five years was a riding fear that ‘the establishment’, PPP’s assumed nemesis, will upend the ‘democratic’ government at any moment. Zardari feared for his life. The paranoia gave root to a great amount of anecdotal humour among the chattering classes but fear was dominantly palpable even if misplaced. At the end of their tenure the most notable PPP achievement of their democratic tenure was completion of its five-year term. Democratic politics restricted itself to such inconsequential paradigms.
PPP wasn’t unduly concerned. They had lost Benazir Bhutto to a catastrophic event and ZAB to a military dictator. This was two bright stars of our politics lost to tragic circumstances of history. PPP’s past record of its relations with the military and the unease and distrust it spawned among some in the military and the political-bureaucratic establishments is almost proverbial. The entire decade of 1990s was lost to a fratricidal itch among the two political parties, the PML-N and the PPP, as the country got pushed back by a decade of inaction — only the power elites benefited and captured the country to their advantage. The judiciary and the military, and a predatory constitutional empowerment through a highly injurious article enabled such juvenility. That they are better understood now by others under Bilawal Bhutto is a credit to the young leader even if their electoral promise stands significantly curtailed.
The PML-N has charted a different route to its eminence. It got germinated by and under the military and their lavish support but the 1990s taught it a different lesson. A contentious Benazir could only be upstaged with a little vile. Each iteration of the Sharifs in power was curtailed by her with the support of those who could. That only turned Sharifs madder and assaulted first the Supreme Court and then the military in an attempt to always get ‘their’ man at the helm. Each time they were surprised by the men they chose who either remained neutral or went along with other power brokers of the time to force an early closure to their tenure in government. The Sharifs found the need to ‘manage’ the brokers. The annulment of Article 58(2)(b) provided some relief but the army command remained for it the unconquered frontier. Events like DAWN leaks only complicated the grounds for PML-N’s 2013 tenure. Imran Khan, then in full eminence as a political player, along with the veritable Tahir ul Qadri rang the bells of change allegedly not without support of influential quarters.
The PML-N has pushed back, naming and shaming, inciting a revolt in the ranks in the name of democracy, urging people — someone, anyone literally — to stand up against what it termed was an unfair interference by the ‘institution’ and then after a widespread rejection of the slander charging a few at the helm. It wants a free rein where all that may be traced to its doors should be conveniently overlooked free of scrutiny amid allegations of amassing wealth through unfair means; where the only power in the land is the power that Sharifs wield. Recent reports mention the party again cosying up to the same military as a guile to find its way back into power. Now if it was not a patently tribal and familial interest but a genuine recourse to let a political dispensation justly perform its constitutional function there would only be widespread support. That it remains a begging need goes to show that there is so much more for the peddlers of the narrative to come clean in their closets and bank accounts. The army thus remains ‘unmanaged’. And this is the rub.
The PTI is in a difficult place. After three years of unreserved support of one and all, retired, serving, former, present, to turn from a non-functional, half-hearted, lethargic governance and administrative machinery into a vibrant, progressive and rapidly developing nation it finds itself seemingly dumped and for the most part on its own. That it has proved unequal to the task is now a cliche widely accepted including among those who once were on the same page. This triggers another saviour moment in the cornered mind of Imran Khan. But what works best on the cricket field is laden with high-stakes risk in this game of exercising power. An abiding lesson is: power once used is power lost; and, even power has limits. IK exercised part of it last November when he quite unnecessarily insisted on having his way in a certain appointment. It was an unforced error that lost him a part of his power.
Finding the space the opposition political parties have only increased the din and are constantly drumming failure in IK’s ears who is super-sensitive to his image. In so doing they hope to impose a forced error of an uncalled reaction from him as he stands aggressively agitated. This can come in many ways but will eventually upturn the political stage. If it does, letting newer occupants of high places in, they will then assume the powers to make the changes at the head of institutions which in normal turn would have lain in the domain of Imran Khan. The opposition, possibly fearful of a certain choice, would then be in a position to appoint its own men in critical positions. Past experience of preferred choices though should inform otherwise. The current spate of the political war is to deny Imran Khan the right to effect such nominations than achieve some grand political purpose.
If politics remains as contentious and polarised as it stands it remains vulnerable to multiple errors by most sides which might serve the cause of some but will inevitably harm the country in its prospects and stability. It remains fear or the urge to fight fear that is driving the current course of politics. When fear is the trigger, hugely consequential errors result. We need to avoid taking such a course and leave institutions out in this war based on fear.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2022.
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