Sunday July 21, 2024

Let the curtain rise

By Ghazi Salahuddin
June 04, 2023

Last week, in this space, I had invoked the concept of the Greek tragedy to portray the gradual decimation of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the growing isolation of its leader Imran Khan. The focus, of course, was on how the protagonist – a titan – can fall because of his personal failings and circumstances with which he – or she – cannot deal.

There is a hint here that finally it is some kind of a divine intervention that seals the fate of a leader. In Imran Khan’s case, look at how deeply superstitious he has been even when his image has also been of a modern leader pretending to take destiny into his own hands. His present wife, along with the circumstances in which the first ‘nikah’ was solemnized, bears testimony to how the game was played by the skipper.

And he did win in 2018, though with the obvious support of forces that are more concrete than any otherworldly phantoms. That was supposed to be Project Imran, meticulously designed in the citadel of power. At the same time, supplications to supernatural elements had reportedly continued, under the guidance of revered Bushra Bibi. Wasn’t the appointment of Usman Buzdar to the second most powerful position in the civilian government an evidence of wifely interception?

Anyhow, in keeping with the plot of an ancient Greek play, the end seems very much in sight. There is an increasing string of leaders who have so far left the PTI and/or politics in the wake of the events of May 9. According to media calculations, the defectors have already scored a century – and the counting continues.

But is this another kind of an omen that now, on Friday, the former chief minister of Punjab, Usman Buzdar has also quit politics? This he announced in a press conference, a practice that has gained a ritualistic significance. The wicket of Wasim Akram-plus has fallen. Not unexpectedly, Usman Buzdar has condemned violent incidents of May 9.

Against the backdrop of these defections that do seem to be theatrical in some ways and even absurd, the overall political situation in the country is increasingly causing concern to those who swear by liberal and democratic values. Civil rights are seen to be under threat in Pakistan and the defenders of human rights have protested against the extensive arrests of PTI supporters including women, something PTI activists would not protest when it came to their political adversaries.

That the ongoing crisis has the potential of harming our democracy was very candidly elaborated by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in a news conference held on Wednesday in Lahore. HRCP chairperson Hina Jilani said that civilian supremacy was appearing to be the greatest casualty in what was happening. She faulted the government for not being able to safeguard civilian supremacy or preserve the dignity of parliament.

“At the same time”, she added, “the political opposition’s history of hostile politics and contempt for rule of law has played no small part in triggering the wanton destruction of property during May 9 and 10.”

Concerned by the pace at which “nonpolitical forces are wresting the space for which Pakistani civil society has fought long and hard”, the commission not only opposed what it saw as ‘political engineering’ in the 2018 elections but also objected just as strongly to tactics being employed in the attempt to ‘reverse-engineer’ the democratic process.

This is a profound observation and conveys a message to all political parties to adhere to democratic, peaceful and bonafide means to further their political agendas.

One measure of the present critical situation was the ‘abduction’ of prominent social activist and lawyer Jibran Nasir by unidentified men on Thursday night in Karachi. Since Jibran has fought bravely for all the right causes, his disappearance was widely protested by numerous civil society organizations and, thankfully, he returned home safely on Friday night.

Coming back to the defection of Usman Buzdar and of others, mostly more significant PTI leaders than him, there is growing confusion about how this merry-go-round of political loyalties will ultimately come to rest. Considering what they had been shouting from the rooftops, the betrayal of so many PTI leaders so readily has surprised political observers. Leaders and workers of other mainstream parties had shown a lot more resilience under pressure.

With national elections set, hopefully, in October, the entire political scenario is in a flux. New political formations and new alliances are in the offing. Where, for instance, will Fawad Chaudhry be in October? Why are some leaders abdicating only from party positions and not the party as such? How drastically would the landscape change? Where will, say, Shah Mahmood Qureshi be located and at what distance from Jahangir Tareen’s proposed party?This is not the stuff that a Greek tragedy would embrace. However, I am reminded of another play: Luigi Pirandello’s ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’. It was first staged in Italy in 1921.

The rehearsal of a play is interrupted by the arrival of six characters who are not in the script. The leader, father of the family, explains that the author who created them did not finish their story, that they are unrealized characters who have not been fully brought to life. This classic play explores various levels of illusion and reality. I thought of it because there appear to be a number of characters in our politics that have not been properly scripted. Or they have not been told what their roles are going to be. But they are there, on the stage.

Who, pray, is the author who will give them the lines they will speak and who is the director to chart their movement from this corner to that? In other words, who is the kingmaker in Pakistan’s politics? Well, let the curtain rise.

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