Tuesday March 28, 2023

For those who care

January 28, 2023

There could not have been a more inauspicious start to a government – and, that, too, just a caretaker one. Coming in amid loud protests by those who accused him of being partial, the Punjab capital under the nascent interim chief minister Mohsin Naqvi has already thrown up scenes that were most needed to be avoided.

The public vigil outside the Zaman Park residence of PTI chief Imran Khan is an ominous sign for his political opponents and the way an important member of the Khan coterie has been whisked away by the police has raised the spectre of the country entering one of the darkest periods in its political history.

Indeed signs are that we could be in for the ugliest phase in recent history. The PTI will benefit from it. The sizeable gathering out there to ‘thwart’ Imran Khan’s arrest does seem to further strengthen the PTI’s persistent agitational style of politics. Notwithstanding calls for a less confrontational approach, this latest vigil is just what the Khan camp would have wanted at this stage.

The PML-N has repeatedly chosen to counter the PTI charge with aggression, a la Rana Sanaullah who has a history of excelling in adversarial roles. And if anyone had hoped that the handling of the PTI would change with the arrival of the caretakers in Punjab, those expectations have been quickly dashed. The pause from the hostilities that was to be provided by the advent of an interim setup in all-important Lahore is missing.

The images of Fawad Chaudhry being brutally pulled up for his adventurous speech and the complementary unflinching huddle at Zaman Park are the bad advertisement that adds substance to the already strong allegations against the government in Islamabad. They aid the impression the PTI is eager to create about the Election Commission of Pakistan, which is the complainant in the case in which Fawad has been so dramatically held.

The innocence with which those at the helm are behaving is most remarkable. There could not have been an easier way of conceding ground to the PTI bandwagon which appears to be moving most vociferously ahead. Imran Khan’s biggest rival, the PML-N, continues to bungle and blunder with a regularity that should have been most awkward for a party that commanded so much popular support until only recently.

It has been time and again pointed out that the changing Sharif enterprise with Shehbaz Sharif as prime minister has been badly unable to effectively resist the Khan ascent politically. The current state of the government and politics in the country inspires little hope that the equation is going to change any time soon and chances are that the PML-N is going to weaken further in the face of the Khan advance. The reliance is on outside factors such as a court intervention that disqualifies Imran Khan from contesting polls.

The Fawad Chaudhry episode will be proof enough for many that the effort to use non-political means to stop the PTI have been stepped up. There is no doubt that Fawad was unusually indiscreet in the choice of diction as he warned government functionaries against any excesses. But to surmise that he was a brute intruder who hijacked some kind of a polite dialogue between two earnest parties to a conflict would amount to a great injustice. His tone was not dissimilar to what is a norm and others have been guilty of taking the same path.

The politicians, the media, we have all been putting in our share to turn our discourse into what it is today. Our contribution to the language that has finally landed Fawad Chaudhry in jail may not appear tangible at the first glance, but it doesn’t absolve us all of a role here. The sheer intensity with which we had been delivering our lines had to lead to an explosion sooner or later.

Those who have followed Fawad Chaudhry’s climb in national politics would remember that he once had the ability of being subtle with words. A young advocate of Gen Musharraf’s enlightened moderation, back in the day he could say it without really hammering it into his audiences’ heads. There was often sarcasm in his remarks but the sheer violence that later came in could have been a trait acquired through mingling by a budding politician visibly keen on consolidating position in the constituency where his family had been an important power player for long as well as in national politics.

It were the family’s preferences which had placed Fawad in the Musharraf camp. Having sided with the PPP for many years, his elders now chose to bet on the general – which turned out to be a timely digression given that the PPP’s fortunes in Punjab plummeted soon afterwards. In time, circumstances that were largely determined by the Chaudhry family’s long opposition to the PML-N in his hometown did bring Fawad closer to the PPP before Imran Khan’s search for lieutenants from among the jiyala stock finally opened the PTI’s door on the aspirant from Jhelum.

The new role as a spokesman for Khan did bring in some drastic changes in speech, which was sad, but more unfortunate not just for him but the entire country is the manner in which he is sought to be gagged.

The writer is a senior journalist.