The time is out of joint. O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!
(Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 1 Scene 5)
Cornered tigers are out of the Governance Cup in the qualifying round. Who will survive till the ‘death overs’?
This question hangs in the air like a noxious odour. And why should it not? When the captain is forced to york his own star batsman, the universe is clearly not in alignment. Someone somewhere is deeply unsettled at the state of affairs in the realm. Someone somewhere is deeply concerned about the captain, his team and their shocking level of incompetence.
A few things are now obvious: a) The PTI does not know how to govern; b) we are in a deeper hole than we were in August 2018, c) The Prime Minister’s writ has been significantly diluted, and d) Cabinet reshuffle is an act of desperation not an act of redemption.
Redemption requires something bigger. Much bigger. But in the escalatory ladder of political brinkmanship, this ‘something’ is still on a higher rung. What is slipping down the rungs is the experiment called the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. Here’s how:
Imran Khan, the ultimate Pakistani success story, jumped into the political jungle in the mid-nineties and kept roaming the wilderness till 2011. He had a small and committed band of loyalists — Faisal Javed, Naeemul Haq, Umar Cheema, etc. — who fought bare-handed for him against the awesome might of the mainstream PPP and PML-N. It was a hopeless fight against hopeless odds. And yet Khan persevered as only he could. Fuelled by the combustible combination of tenacity and idealism, he refused to give up and refused to give in. At some point in this journey, important stakeholders — fed up with the corruption, nepotism and dynastic sense of entitlement of the two main parties — took a close look at Khan and marked him as a possible Plan B. Or Plan C. The plan was boxed, ribboned and placed in the top drawer of a big mahogany desk. And there it lay, like the Ring of Power in The Lord of the Rings, waiting for someone to find it and draw power from it.
Men (and women) are drawn to the Ring of Power.
The plan was unboxed when it became clear that Khan and his band of merry men could never win power on their own through the existing system. A decision was then made deep inside the bowels of power corridors: Khan needed help to defeat the forces of status quo. It was here, at the point of this decision, that the fairy tale of PTI evaporated in a puff of incandescent smoke and a new re-scripted tale began anew with, “Once Upon a Time in a land far far away…”
The transformation of the PTI never really stopped after that. It is a fascinating journey — this transformation — if you see how it evolved with the need of the times:
STAGE 1: Khan and his original loyalists storm the mighty PML-N/PPP fortress in the 1990s armed with nothing but political sticks. They are beaten back with contempt.
STAGE 2: Khan and his loyalists are joined by a swarm of opportunistic electables after the historic jalsa of October 2011 in Lahore. Khan’s team balloons into a political juggernaut and storms the traditional PML-N/PPP fortress again in the 2013 elections. The Khan army puts up a brave fight but in the end is unable to scale the walls or swim across the moat.
STAGE 3: Khan, his loyalists and opportunistic electables are now beefed up by an entire corps of electables from inside the PML-N/PPP fortress. They bring with them legions of followers armed with ladders and catapults to storm the impregnable fortress. In the 2018 assault, the Khan army breaks down the gates of the fortress with heavy battering rams, vanquishes the army inside and raises its own flag. Khan is placed on the throne as lord and commander.
STAGE 4: Khan can’t govern the fortress. Khan, his loyalists, opportunistic electables, post-Panama electables are now further beefed up by a division of technocrats. Khan needed helped to win the war. Now Khan needs help to win the peace.
Think Stage 1. Then think Stage 4. That’s how PTI lost itself in itself. So today, after suffering eight months of the PTI’s atrocious governance, Pakistanis are justified in asking: Was the PTI a laboratory experiment gone wrong? Was the PTI a theory without facts? Was the PTI an idea without context? Was the PTI an aspiration shorn of reality? Was the PTI a need in search of a demand? Was the PTI a test tube baby struggling to survive the first trimester?
But what now?
Curing governance by changing ministers is like curing cancer by taking Panadol. A grim reality is now slowly sinking in: the PTI is out of its depth in government. Bringing in the technocrats may now be less an event and more a trend. How many English players do you add in the Pakistani team before you stop calling it a Pakistani team? The question is the answer.
And the answer is evident: Pakistan needs runs on the board. It doesn’t matter how they come as long as they come. Our problems are entering a red zone. In this zone, the need for solutions trumps the need for maintaining legitimised structures of governance. Or so they say. What are we looking at now? Parliamentary, Presidential or Proportional Representation system?
You like potato and I like potahto
You like tomato and I like tomahto
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto
Let’s call the whole thing off
Except calling it off is the last thing we can do given the royal mess we find ourselves in. If the PTI was Plan C, say hello to Plan D. What is Plan D is? It could be Plan C plus. Or minus. Or Plan A minus Plan B plus Plan C divided by a fraction of A,B,C. Or something, something.
When dreams die, do they make a sound?
Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2019.