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Tuesday June 18, 2024

A plan against plans

The past few years we have been held hostage by the mention of not one but two London Plans

By Editorial Board
May 22, 2024
A vendor holds a Pakistani flag as he waits for customers beside his stall alongside a street in Islamabad. — AFP/File
A vendor holds a Pakistani flag as he waits for customers beside his stall alongside a street in Islamabad. — AFP/File

Pakistan is all about the plans – five-year plans, ten-year plans, local plans, budget plans. But our favourite are the much-coveted London Plans. The past few years we have been held hostage by the mention of not one but two London Plans – one talked about by the PML-N’s Nawaz Sharif and the other more recent one by the PT’s Imran Khan. Till now, though, one of the plans – the one hatched allegedly in 2014 – seems to have some concrete evidence to back up the claims. Addressing the PML-N’s central working committee (CWC) meeting in Lahore last week, Nawaz Sharif had said Imran backstabbed him by committing to cooperate with his government and then conspiring against his government in London through these secret meetings. At least one journalist has said they were witness – accidentally – to the meeting but were later threatened not to report it. It is not the first time that these details have come out in public but the details are important. Nawaz Sharif is not wrong in asking for accountability – though some observers have questioned why he is asking for selective accountability. The general idea among most is that the road to accountability may never truly materialize due to institutional protections. One could even stretch that to the media and the role it had played back in 2014.

All that transpired in 2014 was not really just about individuals. It ended up destroying the roots of democracy in Pakistan. After the Musharraf era, both the PPP and the PML-N tried to establish a new democratic order envisioned in the Charter of Democracy (CoD). It did not mean that they didn’t do politics against each other – they did, from the PPP imposing Governor rule in Punjab to Nawaz’s long march for the restoration of judiciary to his role in the Memogate case, both parties opposed each other politically. The one thing they did not do was hatch conspiracies against each by using interventionist institutions to oust each other’s governments. The other thing they did do was form a consensus on provincial autonomy and other such issues – the 18th Amendment and NFC Award were two examples of what political parties could achieve if parliament worked together for the betterment of the people. Politicians were taking back the space that was ceded in the Musharraf era. The media and judiciary also grabbed some space for themselves.

And then came 2014; there were already divisions within the media, and the 2014 dharna was used to take back the space the political class had cultivated for itself. Many in the media were used as tools to attack other media organizations and pro-democracy journalists. Unfortunately, all this usually has a boomerang effect, something we are seeing these days. If we are to reverse this hybrid model, the first step would be an acknowledgement by all who were involved in such plans – old and new. If they don’t acknowledge what happened 10 years ago, then they cannot expect that the country will move forward and only talk about the present because the basis of what’s happening currently is directly tied to what happened in the past. And after this, perhaps our politicians can make one more plan: there will be no more plans in London or any other city other than plans to uplift the long-suffering people of Pakistan who have through no fault of theirs had to be paralysed witnesses to whatever high-stakes game our political and institutional leaders are forever indulging in.