As the PTI rolls up its sleeves for protests in key cities, public debate has shifted to the rights and wrongs of the party’s methods. In the fog of political war, the real message is getting hazy. That’s wrong.
In fact, it’s a sin. The mega-turbulence that Pakistan has been experiencing has got to lead up to something better for us. At some point, all this will end, and at that point, we should be better off than we were before the whole thing started. But for this to happen, clarity of goals and objectives is key. That’s a key which seems to have gone missing.
Well, it’s complicated, they say. There’s no solid proof of rigging in the last elections, and Imran Khan’s accusations are wild and unsubstantiated. They also say it is near-impossible to prove such things — this being Pakistan — and Khan should focus on Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and wait for his turn. Pakistan cannot afford this turbulence; parliament is solidly behind the government; military is in no mood to intervene; and therefore the government is under no pressure to concede to Khan’s demands. The lesson, therefore, is that the political cards are stacked against Khan and hence let’s stop all this silliness and get back to the old business of running the state like it has been run all these years. It’s complicated, they say.
Well, no it’s not.
What’s so complicated about righting a wrong — if a wrong has been committed? What’s so complicated about asking for justice? What’s so complicated about demanding a level playing field? And what, indeed, is so complicated about wanting to clean the electoral filth once and for all?
Forget what Khan’s personal and party position is, and forget for a moment the deeply partisan reactions to this position — and just focus on the simplicity of the message: let us right a wrong. Imagine this: you cheat on an exam and get promoted to the next level. If someone wants to determine whether you cheated or not, you say let’s not dig up this past because, you see, I’m already at the next level and it would be disastrous if I were to be brought back, or the exam nullified. So let the cheated past be the past, and move on.
Does that even make sense? Or does that sound so grotesque that it sickens every part of your being? If you are a person who values morality and righteousness; if you are a person who has internalised the sacredness of right versus wrong; and if your parents have instilled a deeply cherished value system in your heart and mind — then you will be revolted by someone who tries to condone a sin. You should be outraged.
So why aren’t you? The situation is not complicated at all. Khan says elections have been rigged. We don’t know. But we should find out. There are ways to find out. So the government should just pick a way, find out, and that’s it. Is that complicated?
Take morality out of politics; take righteousness out of politics; heck, take basic humanity out of politics, and what are you left with? Naked pursuit of power for its own sake. This is what we have reduced our politics to. And this is why there is a loathing for politicians and their slippery, slimy ways. This is why there is contempt for the system that breeds and legitimises such brand of politics. And this is precisely why all the hardened politicians join hands, heads and hearts to protect and preserve this edifice. It provides them nourishment, sustenance and livelihood.
There is a deep rot in the way we do politics here in this country. But what is worse is our gradual acceptance of this rot as a part of our lives. People have resigned themselves to the idea that some things will not change. So why bother, they argue. The law will never be equal for all. Politics will always be a preserve of the few. Power will always corrupt and the corrupt will mostly get away. The system will remain broken and up for sale. The government will always be inefficient and the police will always be a coercive force. This is part of our culture, you see. That’s how life is in rural areas and city slickers cannot fathom the harsh realities of life in Pakistan.
Such arguments have poisoned our minds and dulled our hearts. But they cannot extinguish the deep human desire for a better life. This better life will flower only through a sustained and deliberate effort to break the shackles of tradition. These traditions will weaken, and ultimately shatter, when fresh alternatives are offered, and a new way to do things is put in place. This new way will have to be built on the most fundamental of all human desires: right must prevail over wrong.
So it is not really complicated. If an election was stolen, it must be rejected. Simple. If Khan, his party, and everyone else just focus on this one point, the situation will indeed remain uncluttered. Yes absolutely, the PTI is making a mess of its Plan C, by bad planning, confused messaging and clouded thinking, and in the process hurting its cause. In fact, the PTI has done much to complicate the simplicity of its basic message. There are clearly some shockingly incompetent people around Khan, and their shockingly muddle-headed strategy is costing the cause dearly. There will be much back and forth between the government and the PTI in the coming days, and much turbulence if Khan comes true on his threat. Mistakes will be made, and a price will be paid. Narratives will get murky as events generate their own dynamics and the country goes deeper and deeper into a rabbit hole. The fog of this political war will thicken.
But the simplicity of the basic message must slice through this dense fog: we must know if the elections were rigged. Right must prevail over wrong. Period.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 4th, 2014.