Déjà vu forever

Pakistan’s power play is a joint venture between politicians and the establishment.


Durdana Najam October 21, 2021
The writer is a public policy analyst based in Lahore. She tweets @durdananajam

In any democracy, the appointment of a spy chief is a routine matter. Important but not as critical as to upset the political cart or become the issue of government’s survival. Cheers were heard from the opposition camps and disappointments reflected from the faces of PTI stalwarts as the so-called summary sans Prime Minister’s sign lingered in the corridors of power. Finally, the dust has settled, or will, but not before soiling the relationship that has been apparently kept in a tight compartment for three years. The one-page syndrome is perhaps unique to Pakistan used as a metaphor to suggest the interplay of power and control.

Pakistan’s power play is a joint venture between politicians and the establishment. It is always a so-called “deal” that determines a party’s rise to the echelons of power. Someone is always selected over the other. Someone has always been the chosen one. As for Imran Khan, his selection became extraordinarily controversial because of the overarching support he received — such as Imran winning all the five seats from all over Pakistan. The question is: did Imran deserve this grand win? One credential that endeared him to the “powers that be” was that he was not carrying any political baggage — the so-called untested politician. Another criterion that stood him apart was his honesty: a rare quality in the case of our politicians.

It is said that even to date, the establishment lacks his alternative. In other words, the popular belief is that Imran Khan is the only politician having the wherewithal to work honestly for Pakistan. In our political lexicography, an honest leader does not use the taxpayers’ money for personal use. Indeed, a restricted definition, but in a country where politicians are filthy rich and become even richer once they step into corridors of power, while a huge segment of the population sulk in poverty and the country’s entire budget is run on borrowed money, the definition makes sense.

What, however, does not make sense is the hanging fear of the government’s removal or dismissal emanating from the one-page syndrome.

When TV anchors ask their guests about the probability of the current government sent packing by June next year, the first realisation to strike is that we had not grown an inch politically. We may have learned to tolerate a democratic dispensation. We may have learned to tolerate the electoral process and expect a third democratically elected government to change hand with the fourth — not without the chink in the armour, though, because no prime minister has been allowed to complete his tenure. However, we have not changed the rule of doing business. Or, to put it plainly, we have not learned to trust the politicians despite our insistence on their honest demeanour. It is the same plot, the same storyline, and the same rule of doing business. Nothing has changed. The one-page bonhomie goes as far as it derives acquiescence to the tenet that “we go our way and you go yours.” Any crossing; any interference; or worse, any deviation from the script could sour the cream in no time.

Of late, even the audience has become bored of this script. If honesty and trust are critical, why are dishonest, or as colloquially called NABzada, politicians allowed to do politics? Why was one convicted politician allowed to travel abroad and another given a free hand to challenge the “powers that be”. In corollary, why is accountability not resurrected with a new life and put in practice? For how long will henchmen be used to increase the political weight of the chosen one. It goes without saying that Imran Khan is doomed because of the people close to him. He is indeed not surrounded with the PTI stalwarts with the typical PTI vision.

The overuse of the religion card, the overdependence on Sufi Islam, and the incessant practice of pushing the opposition to the wall are just a few glimpses of how Imran is strapped to the rollercoaster of disaster and failure by none other than the henchmen appended to him to accelerate his trajectory to power. Instead of desiring at the helm someone who does not disturb the establishment-defined governance cart, it is perhaps time that trust is restored in one another and honesty is redefined as a reciprocal quality.

One wonders where China places us after seeing us dragging one another in the mud while the country deteriorates economically. In Chinese culture, a public tantrum may signal nao xiu cheng nu, or “from shame to rage”, meaning the specific form of high decibel meltdown staged by someone facing humiliation.

Notwithstanding our love for the Prophet (peace be upon him) that is part of our belief, the fact is that we are fast sliding down the humiliation path reserved for dishonest and hypocrites.

If anything, the notification saga has exposed the political duplicity across the board with no ambition to grow in the geo-economic domain — as has been so fervently desired.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2021.

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