Much ado about something

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

MUCH has been made of the legislative dexterity that allowed Nawaz Sharif to return to being official president of the eponymous PML(N). What leaves anonymous citizens confused is that there are (at least) two starkly different interpretations of that bit of legislation.

One reading has it that the move exposes parliament as a farcical misrepresentation where parliamentarians connive in trampling public interest underfoot and are better circumvented in the cause of the state’s eco-political interests. The other reading is that parliament is to be congratulated for asserting its electorally mandated legislative powers and has embarrassed extra interventionism. It’s a tug of war figuratively speaking right now, but the mandated government and the mandated opposition seem determined to keep on pulling till something snaps.

For the PML (N) this isn’t  corruption, but adherence to parliamentary democratic form.  For the PTI, the party  is almost certainly the only real opposition — the only clean alternative, overwhelmingly beloved by those who eschew political evil. Foe the PTI supporters elections that do not endorse a leader’s popular presumptions and incontestable assumption of the highest office are an electoral nonsense.

We all agree our democratic process is sadly flawed and needs watching and weeding. But we do not all feel it is entirely worthless and best written off when short of the PTI standard. The reckless PTI logic of reworking the existing democratic mandate can take us down the path of judicial politicking and military social regularisation. Having established the parliament as wanting, it need not be beyond our powers to turn it inside out.

Radical departures and experimentation by elements where the only manifest is a carte blanche inevitably create question marks regarding the nature and intent of governance.  In the case of unscheduled or abruptly altered modes of popular reference , questions could be asked about Pakistan’s orientation and direction by friends and enemies.

Our conspiracy theories are hard to dispel as our theorists fight shy of specifics. They rely on portentous innuendo and vague warnings but they can predispose audiences by creating an ambience by using the social media– tweet and tweak. If I were to make so bold as to attempt to deconstruct intangible prefabricated conspiracies; I would discern two distinct genres. One where the components are all indigenous, no matter how varied the forms and combinations and propositions. The other where foreign partners are involved as controllers. They need not necessarily be regarded as rogue in their own contexts but would lack bona fides with us and by definition be subversive.

Political executive power may be experienced as a frivolously delightful end in itself. It can be purposive and sought to serve an agenda. Human nature being what it is, for the less cerebral even the trappings of power may be enticement. And so people can be used without much caring why or how or even without suspecting it. From this point of view it is reassuring to know our intelligence agencies are alert and active. And, from the same point of view, we can also watch out against a tendency to paint them black. True, there is much to be held against them historically, but we must also allow their more virtuous endeavours – especially in an ongoing  operation – cannot be publicised but do exist.

Part of the unsettling media-exacerbated buzz hums about the non-existence or incoherence of foreign policy, a conflicted interior ministry, a politically oriented divisive civil-military friction and divergent goals. Of course this could well be taken as indicative of a systemic failure of governance. Debate surrounding the response to external provocation and insult, excoriate pusillanimity rather than finding wisdom in considered deliberations. Harping on the interior ministry’s over-use or lack of access to its due power; habitually denigrating the motives of those in public office or service, whether intentionally or unintentionally, supplement the thesis of rampaging governmental irresponsibility and incompetence. Security can appear imperiled to a degree that generates popular panic. There is a right to information but there is also a need for editorial judgment.

Politicians appear fools or knaves when they treat crucial issues (reforms in FATA and the problem of religious bigotry) as cannon fodder to blast the government. Are ethnic nationalism, ‘righteous’ rage, mob fury, stoked deliberately or thoughtlessly? Cannot politicians see what the silent majority sees: the common good in using the parliamentary forum and working calmly till the next mandated electoral verdict. Why seek upheaval? Are ‘they’ scared this government may work? And so I come back to a question rather than a theory – who is conspiring with whom?

Imran Khan is said to have said Nawaz Sharif is instigating institutional conflict and inviting martial law so that he appears a victim and is politically resurrected. Poor thinking: Nawaz Sharif already appears victimized. And as for his political resurrection: He is as yet far from politically dead. And yet again, accountability in the public eye at any rate, has already become a witch hunt.

But the significant democratic development – which gives cause to put in a good word for the effects of a decade of the ‘rotten’ democratic system – is that the witch-hunting this time is not conducted by the democratically empowered government. Also, although the former PM has been disqualified his party goes on: not banned, not defunct, but mainstream. Let the next election further clear the waters.

Are the stage hands, props and managers of our political theatre listening?