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Opinion

July 22, 2017

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A zero-sum game

Our prime minister is a slow-starter. PM Nawaz has had two chances to clear his name. But he has failed both times. Two is also the number of times his government has failed to complete a term in office.

It seems ‘two’ is the lottery number while ‘one’ is the magic number playing in the minds of the ruling party’s leaders and their supposedly scheming frenemies whom even they are hesitant to name.

The prime minister’s latest dilemma yet again entails his resignation. The usual suspects have made this demand. But this time, calls for his resignation have been vociferously backed by the JIT report. The current situation is a bit like the prisoner’s dilemma in the game theory, which is used to explain situations where players pursue their own self-interest even when they would all be better off if they cooperated with one another and made rational choices for the greater good of the group.

Nawaz Sharif’s party and his opponents can at least tone down the public animosity displayed towards each other in the media and outside the court premises. However, the peculiar nature of our politics makes everything a zero-sum game.       

The PTI desperately wants to see Imran Khan becoming the prime minister, so much so that at a recent political gathering Shah Mehmood Qureshi urged the crowd to chants slogans of “prime minister Imran Khan”. And it makes sense. Despite being a 64-year-old youngster, Imran is nearing his shelf life of becoming the prime minister and serving five consecutive years in office.

Similarly, Nawaz Sharif is going through great pains to maintain the status quo at the bare minimum. He and his supporters feel that the prime minister has done a great service to the nation by going through the process of accountability – which is a norm in any self-respecting society – and presenting himself and his family before the JIT and the apex court. Also, much of the PML-N’s vote bank draws its strength from the presence and image of Nawaz Sharif. The party’s MNAs and MPAs will suffer directly if Sharif resigns and the move will certainly be portrayed as an acceptance of guilt by his opponents.

The prevailing insecurity within the PML-N is that Nawaz is an unwanted player in power circles. Therefore, any indication of an attempt to cut the executive to size, which is papered over as part of the accountability process, plays on the insecurities of the ruling party and draws resistance. The wish is to quell any real or perceived notion of a prime minister acting as a proxy for other quarters. Nawaz Sharif’s stay in office is a form of defiant symbolism in the eyes of the PML-N lions.

Clearly, any level of rational cooperation is a black swan event for our politicos at the moment. But one caveat for the politicos is that the final judgment in the Panama case will set a judicial precedent that will be difficult to sway away from in all future cases of corruption and financial dishonesty.

It is in this context that one feels obliged to have a soft corner for politicians. The poor chaps are always at the receiving end whenever there is a fresh wave of love for accountability in the country. Daggers drawn, they gnash even at shadows sprouting from the corner of their eyes. But more often than not, these wild swings usually only result in self-injury.

The JIT report has had one very profound consequence for the PML-N: it has created enough doubts in the Sharif family’s plea of innocence that at least rational supporters of the PML-N have started asking questions. The PML-N is well within its right to play the victim card. But even then the party’s supporters deserve the truth.

The writer is a professional services consultant and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.
Twitter: @raj_omer

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