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Sunday April 21, 2024

Crossover channel

By Asha’ar Rehman
March 25, 2023

It all made so much sense then. The Imran Khan government had appeared so incapable of pulling the country out of economic quagmire. His control on governance was loose, his party members including those in his cabinet looked so wary and most importantly all estimates of public sentiment pointed to the Kaptaan having lost big on account of public sympathy.

On the other hand, the reputation of the Sharifs as good administrators was intact and even some of the sanest people in their moments of desperation betrayed a mindset that was willing to believe when Ishaq Dar made all those tall claims about bringing the dollar down.

Against this background, it was not difficult for many in Pakistan to take sides with the Khan alternative led by the PML-N. People, including those who might have earlier had some ideological issues in appearing to support the PML- N, could back the Shehbaz Sharif-led setup and boast that they were doing it for the sake of what they loved most – something called democracy.

How the situation has transformed in one year. So many, not least among them a large number of those whose job it is to comment on national politics, are faced with the gravest truth. The Shehbaz government which the most balanced and fairest (avoiding a reference to the ‘neutral’ here) of them all viewed as some kind of an unavoidable followup to the failed Imran Khan rule has proven to be the lamest horse anyone could have bet on and this has disastrous consequences for those who have been found opposing an unstoppable Imran Khan.

Silence is perhaps the safest refuge for those who had been encouraged by evidence to publicly place their faith in the PDM-driven government and who are now bombarded with some of the anger that has inspired the Khan crowd. So strong is the popular force generated by the PTI that even the most committed anti-Khan pundits today seem looking for opportunities to somehow rationalize and correct their stance in an effort to stay relevant to a majority of Pakistanis.

The Sharifs might have been not solely to blame in this case, even when they earn the wrath of experts in the media who were misled into backing them. Much of the intensity in the analyses probably owed itself to the extreme sentiments the Kaptaan generates, particularly to his choices of allies along the way ever since he formed his party all those years back. Only the other day, a picture of him meeting a delegation of civil society activists in Zaman Park brought back memories of the inaugural PTI meeting at the then Holiday Inn in Lahore in 1996. The picture has journalist-cum-politician Imtiaz Alam as usual trying to impress his views upon his subject – which reminded me of a brusque, dismissive remark Khan made when Imtiaz Sahab tried to teach him politics back at the PTI’s launch.

This is not to say that Imtiaz Sahab, with all his powers to convince and prevail upon an audience, was ever essential company for a power-seeking political party. Only the memory of that brief exchange between the leader and the aspiring ideologue or guide is reflective of how certain political commentators must have found it impossible to take their seats among the official Imran Khan consultants in the increasingly polarized Pakistani politics.

Such had been the trajectory of the politics in the country that by the time these television talk shows came into vogue, it had become almost impossible for a commentator-journalist to not carry the badge of a political party. In the last couple of years, there has been tremendous pressure on these erstwhile opinion-makers to bow down to public opinion, no matter what they made of national politics in light of their own ideological creed. A whole galaxy inevitably succumbed to the condemnation of the old and boring and found their posts close to Imran Khan.

The commentators who have been left (in the wilderness?) are by and large PML-N sympathizers, and those who had been moved by the necessity of saving democracy to throw their weight behind the Ishaq Dar kind of remedy one year ago. Also ‘caught at the wrong end of history’ are our learned opinion-makers the now pro-resistance, matured and anti-establishment PML-N had inherited from a now very depleted Pakistan People’s Party.

In this world where the experts ostensibly existing outside the party fold cannot help but toeing the line of the party and the leader heading it, we might be in for a phase where individuals will be scrambling to cross over to the Khan camp. For some of them, this departure from under the PML-N umbrella will be their second migration in quick succession after the circumstances forced them to declare separation of their agenda from the weakened PPP.

Such party-hopping could well have been avoided except that no other way appears possible on a land where commentators proudly report on how they had been advising the prime ministers but also the real rulers in uniform, and where these ultimate providers in uniform have been responsible for not only ensuring that the media treads the right path but also securing the coveted jobs for the best amongst us.

The writer is a senior journalist.