Who is the most powerful communicator in the world? A new born baby. Hungry, sleepy or sick, a baby needs to communicate everything to her parents to stay alive. But she can’t say a single word nor has conscious control over her body language. But by varying the pitch of her sounds, she has all her needs met. Perhaps the most surprising need of a baby — more frequent than being fed or having their diaper changed — is the desire for attention. They’ll cry, scream, and whip up a storm only to quiet down as soon as they’re held by their mother.
Pakistani politicians are a special breed of new born babies. And they have a love-hate relationship with the boys who nurse them. For the past two years, the PDM’s rhetoric against the boys reached fever pitch. Things never said before, which should have been said when they were in power themselves, were said openly in opposition. And then suddenly, right before the Senate elections, Yousaf Raza Gillani says the establishment is “totally neutral”. On election eve, Gilani’s son is caught red-handed on video, schooling lawmakers how to manipulate their votes. The morning after, Gilani wins a surprise Senate seat, pulling off an upset that defies democratic mathematics but is celebrated as a win for democracy by mainstream press.
This government is selected and PDM’s fight isn’t with Imran Khan but against the selectors, argued PDM’s leaders. This rhetoric electrified genuine supporters of civilian supremacy, faux liberals on Twitter and our sheep-walking mainstream press. PDM’s first call was to the Pakistani people in a series of public rallies which were going to lead to mass resignations of opposition members in the assembly. When the people didn’t turn up in numbers PDM considered good enough, they changed tracks. Suddenly, the rhetoric against the selectors was diluted. Imran Khan was enemy number one again.
“Aik Zardari sab pai bhari,” tweeted credible liberal journalists on Twitter like the Sydney orchestra after the Senate elections. What goes unsaid between the lines is that either Zardari was cutting a deal with the boys or was dealing in cold, hard cash. If this was about voting one’s conscience, the same lawmakers wouldn’t have voted for PTI’s candidate on the other Senate seat from Islamabad. It’s the oldest playbook in the world. Maryam Nawaz plays bad cop with the boys, and the doyen of democracy, Zardari, plays good cop. Such is politics in Pakistan and more power to you, quite literally, dear sir. But then, please spare me this holier than thou lecture from your son on selected governments when you’re romping around under the cover of darkness with the selectors, after giving them an extension.
So, the game is on. But it’s not the game PDM says it is. It’s the game PDM’s political parties have always played — politics of power versus principle. Playing nice with the boys when it’s time to rise to power. Blaming them for everything that goes wrong on your way out. It’s the same old Lucky Irani circus.
And then comes Imran. Perhaps sensing that PDM is flirting with a halal software update, he pulls everyone’s bluff and calls for a vote of confidence himself. This was PDM’s end game, as they would try to end PTI, while swinging with they who-must-not-be-named. Imran decided to flip over the chessboard and let the chips fall where they may. I started writing this piece when proceedings began for the confidence vote in parliament. My deadline for the column was 3:30PM and I wasn’t sure if Imran would be prime minister by the time I finished writing or if we’ll have a decision in either direction by then.
Finally, the votes are in. Imran lives to fight another day. Now, he is the civilian supremacist-in-chief. It’s time for him to live and rule boldly.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 7th, 2021.