Long before Monday’s fracas in Faisalabad, it ought to have been clear to all and sundry that little good was likely to flow from Plan C of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI), and the party chief’s earlier implication that there are a lot more letters of the alphabet associated with his intentions provides cause for despair.
Plan A, presumably, was to sweep last year’s elections, possibly along the lines of the regional triumph back in 1970 of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). It didn’t happen, and most electoral observers were not surprised, let alone alarmed, by the popular verdict. It may have been shortsighted of the electorate to vote in a tried and tested alternative that had failed before, but it wasn’t exactly unexpected.
No one in their right mind, with knowledge of how the political game is played in Pakistan, could altogether rule out instances of rigging. But scale does matter. In the context of the 1977 elections, even Gen. Ziaul Haq acknowledged that the PPP would have triumphed even if elements within it had not gone out of their way to guarantee a favorable verdict in particular constituencies. Likewise, not many of the critics of the 2013 electoral exercise are willing to claim that the result would have been drastically different in the absence of malfeasance. It would nonetheless be good to know of instances where anomalies did occur, and to put into place measures aimed at deterring a recurrence.
Demanding the premier’s resignation was a remarkably dumb way of going about it, though. The PTI has since resiled from that demand, and although the prospect of negotiations with the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) has been jeopardized by Monday’s unfortunate events, it would be sensible of the PML(N) to accede to the clamor for a judicial inquiry. It ultimately may not do much good, but most likely wouldn’t do any harm.
This is not to suggest, though, that Khan will necessarily live up to his promise of accepting the consequences, even if they don’t conform to his imagination. Too many vows have been revised for that assumption to be taken for granted. In the wake of last year’s elections, which provided Khan with a platform in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa (KP) province to demonstrate his mettle, his best option ought to have encompassed a campaign geared to the next elections.
It is arguably not unreasonable to assume, though, that the electoral exercise in 2018 will likely be tainted unless last year’s ghosts are put to rest. If they remain up in the air — boosted by the PPP’s allegations that it suffered more than the PTI from discrepancies in the Punjab — then there can be little hope of a democratic continuation.
That aspect of the political process was bandied about without abandon in 2013, which was the first time that one civilian dispensation made way for another without a military-sponsored interlude. That was an intriguing landmark, and it could have been achieved in 1977 under comparable circumstances. It was not to be, however. The military intervention of that year has lately been bandied about as a cautionary tale, but it’s useful to remember that Ziaul Haq struck after the PPP and its adversaries had struck an agreement on an electoral re-run. By then the army had routinely been deployed against the agitators, with Z.A. Bhutto counting on military support to see him through the ordeal. It was not to be.
It is quite remarkable how every Tom, Dick and Harry — or Asif, Nawaz and Khan — has sought to dress himself in ZAB’s mantle, with Khan claiming allegiance to the “roti, kapra aur makan” (food, clothing and shelter) mantra, yet sprouting regressive tendencies that see him effectively condoning the Taleban, collaborating with indefensible elements and ultimately hoping to be catapulted into the top spot.
It isn’t difficult to empathize with those who suggest that as someone untested at the helm, Khan deserves a chance that would enable him to demonstrate his finest qualities as an administrator. It would be naive, though, to take him at his word in this — as in so many other — respects, not least because his colleagues and collaborators in this jihad, from PTI stalwarts to allies in various Jamaats (parties), leave much to be desired.
As things stand, there is no obvious reason to assume that PTI would be a vastly preferable alternative to the tried and tested, and in many ways appalling, PML (N) or PPP. And the fact that all three are currently prone to defections is neither entirely surprising nor particularly deplorable.
The fact is that none of them has much to offer the nation. At the same time, the prospect of a military or strictly Islamist alternative strikes most reasonable Pakistanis as even more appalling than the unpleasant status quo. The future is unwritten, and quite possibly also untenable. It does not belong to the PML(N), which has been in power often enough, in Islamabad or Lahore, since 1988, and has invariably proved unequal to the task. So has the PPP, with and without Benazir Bhutto. Her widower, evidently in conflict with Bilawal, recently declared that the martyred princess had bequeathed the party to her husband rather than her son.
He was right in that respect, going by Benazir’s published will, although it doesn’t do much credit to her. The legacy of her father, meanwhile, has been appropriated by both Khan and the PML(N), and although this reinforces their opportunism, their status as Bhutto heirs is barely less credible than that of the PPP under Asif Ali Zardari, apparently at daggers drawn with his son Bilawal.
Zardari has lately made an ass of himself at the PPP’s foundation conference in Lahore, sprouting cricketing analogies that took him beyond silly point and reinforcing his status as an opposition figure determined to uphold a status quo that all too many Pakistanis find distressing and untenable.
For decades Pakistan has appeared to be up excrement creek without a proper paddle. Sadly, the paddles currently on offer, peppered with holes, offer little cause for hope. A reversal of fortune isn’t inconceivable, but its likelihood has lately been relegated to the twilight zone.