Playing without an umpire

May 15, 2022

When Imran Khan was Pakistan’s prince of ‘the gentlemen’s game’, he claimed credit for introducing neutral umpires. And this credit was well deserved because the game lacked...

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When Imran Khan was Pakistan’s prince of ‘the gentlemen’s game’, he claimed credit for introducing neutral umpires. And this credit was well deserved because the game lacked neutrality when most countries would field their own umpires against touring sides. “The match should always be won fairly and squarely”, he had argued.

Ah, but now that he is playing the game of politics, which is immensely more consequential in the context of people’s lives and destiny, he wants his own umpire. He has no use for a ‘neutral’ umpire. In fact, he rejects the idea that an umpire should be neutral.

Pakistani politicians do not play cricket, metaphorically speaking. Yet, there are bound to be rules and regulations that dictate the practice of politics. It can be argued that the ultimate umpire in politics is the constitution, as interpreted by higher judiciary.

It is also this umpire that Imran Khan is not pleased with, as the entire saga of the vote of no-confidence against his government has underlined. A separate chapter in Pakistan’s history should belong to the devices that the PTI used in order to reject the simple logic of numbers in the National Assembly. Imran Khan’s stratagems to remain in power at whatever cost have yet to be fully grasped by the people of this country.

Anyhow, variations on the theme of a neutral umpire do baffle the people who are struggling to understand the present tussle for power. Ostensibly, the new meaning that Imran Khan is giving to the concept of neutrality, with that allusion to the word ‘janwar’, is born of his sense of betrayal by the powers that be.

At the same time, he does not seem averse to reconciliation if the umpire is willing to renounce his neutrality and come to his side. This is something that we need to examine against the entire perspective of Pakistan’s history. Everyone knows who has exercised ultimate authority in our game of politics, civilian or constitutional interventions notwithstanding.

Are the rules of the game now being changed, with the umpire professedly becoming neutral? We will need time to begin to answer this question. But the political equilibrium is visibly tottering, and we must thank Imran Khan for this burgeoning crisis.

He was our prince of cricket. Now he is the prince of our disorders. He embodies almost all of Pakistan’s contradictions and failures. This may be one reason why he is attracting a larger and more enthusiastic support from many who may have an inherent sense of guilt about their role in the evolution of the Pakistani society. They are encouraged by the prospect of a change that would not come in the name of the downtrodden and the underprivileged.

On a personal note, I confess to being a little puzzled by the latest political developments because I have just returned from an escape to Europe for more than three weeks. And suddenly, Friday the thirteenth has brought forth a topped up Imran Khan who is more candid in his attack on the neutral umpire. His complaint is that the ‘neutrals’ did not thwart the conspiracy against his regime.

In his Mardan power show, he warned that a “sea of people” was set to march towards Islamabad “to sweep everyone away” if the government did not announce a date for elections. He said that he was calling the people not for politics but for a “revolution”. But his followers may have no inkling of what this revolution will be in terms of its ideology and a manifesto for social change.

Meanwhile, the present situation may really be classified as revolutionary in the sense that the country is lurching on the edge of a precipice and does not seem to have a sense of direction. The new coalition government of Shehbaz Sharif has not yet found its feet and the spectacle of the prime minister and his PML-N minister flying to London to consult with Nawaz Sharif is not encouraging in any way.

The fact that Shebaz Sharif had to extend his visit signifies differences within the party on the question of when the elections should be held and also, apparently, on how to deal with Imran Khan. It is significant that Maryam Nawaz, thr PML-N’s charismatic face, is in favour of early elections, arguing that the coalition government should not carry the burdens of Imran Khan’s misrule.

With an economic meltdown staring Pakistan in the face, some drastic measures are imperative. Public discontent is steadily rising. There is no clarity as to what the lead players – the coalition at the helm, Imran Khan and the ‘neutrals’ – can do to bring the political temperature down so that concrete measures are taken on the ground.

As for the meteorological temperature, its rise is also a threat to our well-being in the coming years. Pakistan is facing an acute water shortage and this is bound to affect our agricultural production in a big way. Climate change is something a nation immersed in the lower depths of toxic political wrangling would hardly be able to attend to in a vigorous way.

Imran Khan is right in saying, as he did on Friday, that when people come out on the streets, many options open up. But who can harness the passions of the multitude in a society that has high levels of extremism, intolerance and religious fanaticism? For the sake of Pakistan’s survival, the only option is to tread the path of democratic evolution and promote democratic values.

Do we need the umpire to guide us on this path? As far as Imran Khan is concerned, he needed the umpire to come into power in 2018 and he is very angry with the umpire for not siding with him in April, 2022. And now he wants to lead a revolution.

The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at: ghazi_salahuddin

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