For want of grace

July 28,2016

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Recent events in Sindhi politics bring to mind the following words: disgraceful and pitiful. Utterly, gut-wrenchingly lacking in decorum and South Asian political adaab.

In Pakistan’s political history, we have witnessed all kinds of weather: democratic, not-so-democratic, bureaucratic, military, various shades of khaki, stormy and not-so-stormy. Very few Pakistani politicians have experienced it all. Qaim Ali Shah stands among the notable few exceptions. But even he had not experienced what came through in the last 48-hours: our very own Et tu Brute? moment.

There is always something tragic about Frankenstenian stories, or so I think. Through over 50 years of constant service, Qaim Ali Shah devoted his life to creating, nurturing, and strengthening the PPP that has now turned its back on him.

Although some new-age political commentators with little understanding of Sindhi politics or tangible knowledge of alternative contenders might be happy to see Qaim go, the manner of his removal is something of a first.

We have seen turncoats aplenty. Floor crossings and internal squabbles are a fairly commonplace occurrence. Good-cop and bad-cop exercises play out every day. But we have not seen ostensible scapegoating play out at this scale before.

Those who claim to be ignorant of who really called the shots at the CM House Sindh or which interests had to be carefully balanced live in Lalaland. Saner socio-political commentators have long noted, written about, and recorded as fact, the multiple parallel governments in Sindh. With the party leadership’s inner circle arbitrarily controlling resources, jobs, contracts, transfers, funds, and even the CM’s airplane at one point, there was no single omnipotent chief minister in Sindh.

Removal for blustering governance, if any, merits removal of all of Sindh’s CMs – de jure, de facto and shadow. That then would deprive the PPP of its entire leadership, young, old, and somewhere in between. And that argument should have been applied and followed long ago.

What then prompted some PPP leaders to ignominiously remove their top government executive at this juncture? The sudden desire to fence in a better-looking team for the 2018 elections? To piece together rookies for Bilawal’s New PPP?

With the 2018 elections around the corner, removing Qaim will fool few. Contenders for office, including the other Shahs, have long respected records in NAB’s folders. And unlike Qaim, they have shown no balancing act and empathy capabilities. Sindhi politics warrants a fair bit of both. I wish them the best of luck, but I also caution against setting high expectations of them. Better looking is not necessarily better functioning when under the carpet hides the rot.

Perhaps the bigger tragedy for an ostensibly democratic party is that Qaim has inadvertently come to represent both the curse and the cure. Although he is the PPP’s most honest, most loyal, most experienced soldier, and his 56-year political record carries not a single corruption allegation, he has also inadvertently come to represent what the urban youth detest about the PPP: ageing, slow, status-quoesque and non-reactive.

In his 60s, Imran Khan has done a better job of branding himself as a youth icon. CMs Shahbaz Sharif and Khattak – also old and experienced – have strayed away from that ageing public image through responsive PR units. But this is not to suggest that Qaim needed a better PR unit.

This cuts deeper: Qaim’s delivery stood hostage to the crisis of the plenty – plenty of leadership centres, plenty of political parties to take along, plenty of powerful people to keep happy and plenty of problems to deal with. With some free hand, a little more independence and general freedom, the Qaim of 2008 might have delivered as the Qaim of 1970s did, or better. But as Bilawal House made clear in 1990: the Qaim of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s team it could not, and would not, stomach.

In all, what has transpired this week is sad. It is sad that Pakistan is losing its oldest, most experienced, 1973 Constitution drafting, political prison surviving, MRD-leading political veteran. The first to complete tenure as Sindh’s chief minister, the first politician to be re-elected on every election, the first South Asian politician to have a career spanning 56 years, Qaim Ali Shah shattered his way through several glass ceilings in Pakistan’s politics. With not inconsiderable poetic tragedy, his current exit, too, appears to be a first.

For the PPP then, the questions: why hara-kiri, why now? Why risk internal strife on the eve of November 2016? Why kill the mockingbird that does not one thing but loyally serve? If there is a lesson in any of this for PPP workers and generations, is it this? – serve not like Qaim Ali Shah; kings and princes look for the blacksmiths of Balkh.

On Balkh: a Persian ruler heard that a blacksmith had committed a crime in the city of Balkh. To appear swift in carrying out justice, he ordered the arrest and beheading of the culprit. Since Balkh was far away, the ruler decreed that the beheading of any blacksmith would do. His men were unable to find a blacksmith in nearby towns. They only found a coppersmith in the city of Shushtar. So the ‘zealous ruler called for the execution of the poor coppersmith of Shushtar lest the crime of the blacksmith of Balkh went unpunished.’ (www.guardian.com)

The writer is a lecturer of law at IBA, Karachi. Email: morialshahgmail.com


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