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September 28, 2017
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A change of horses?

Opinion

September 28, 2017

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Nawaz Sharif has finally appeared in the NAB court. While predictions regarding the ultimate political dispensation, obtaining after the case, are hard to make, pointers are aplenty. Leading to these pointers are the three factors that have driven politics for most of our history; (i) the exigencies of the global powers; (ii) commitments by the state to the relevant global powers as demanded by these external exigencies; and (iii) local sentiment regarding the political ‘martyrdom’ status of politicians eliminated in the backdrop of the aforementioned (i) and (ii).

To analyse how the current political calculus might dovetail with the above, a look at the process of the political ‘martyrdom’ endowing nature of the system reveals that Bhutto’s political career started with one martial law and ended with the next, making him a martyr. Nawaz Sharif’s political career started with one martial law and only got interrupted by the next one – thus not letting him graduate to a full-fledged ‘political martyr’s’ status; his three tenures sandwiched between and sandwiching a PPP/military rule crisscross.

Bhutto was launched by Ayub and Nawaz by Zia. Musharraf could have launched Imran but chose others. Bhutto’s primacy followed that of Fatima Jinnah and Nawaz’s followed Bhutto’s – both the later ones being prime political opponents of their respective military patrons. Bhutto and Nawaz have both left behind political legacies and hereditary parties.

The PML-N might disagree but, viewed from a certain angle, our politics sure is getting less intense and more civilised (pun not intended).

So, has Nawaz missed his chance at ‘martyrdom’ and Imran at his ‘launch’? Or have the definitions of these two phenomena undergone a change with the changing times?

Imran’s ‘launch’ is an unclear affair and would seem to remain so. Nawaz, though, it seems will get his ‘political martyrdom’, as defined by a 21st century Pakistani polity, in the form of an ouster for a few years. So, at least for the foreseeable future, Imran may be the ultimate sufferer, deprived of both – a launch as well as, at least till now, a ‘political martyr’ status. A logical question arises here: has our politics developed so much as to allow an ‘unlaunched’ person to become a prime-ministerial hopeful? Just to quote a statistic, the PPP got 4 inaugurations while the PML-N to date only 3.

Coming to (i) and (ii) – foreign exigencies and their local impact – things are definitely changing, despite hiccups and martyrdoms, in favour of greater federalism and rule of law. The cold war, an undemocratic mindset and a tacitly West-aligned establishment required greater control at the centre and 1955 saw provinces being merged into One Unit. The year 2010 saw the Concurrent List being abolished. The 1950s saw a serving army CnC entering the federal cabinet and elected PMs going into exile. The 2010s saw the same happening to an ex-army chief – these developments along with a somewhat renewed judiciary have tempered the environment a bit.

The US’ relationship, worth $43bn in 60 years, with our state was transactional, sporadic and intermittent; China’s relationship with us, worth $53bn (to start with) in 10 years, seems all-encompassing, core changing and consistent. Moreover, along with Russia, its vocal defence of Pakistan on the international fora is an asset and gives a feel of being freshly adopted by a cosy household after being on the cold streets of international isolation for far too long. It seems China’s style, unlike that of the US, is not to support open unconstitutionalism to get speedy decisions in other states. And religiously motivated non-state militant groups are an anathema to the Chinese, as are they to the Russians. Also, the rising Hindu fundamentalism has provided a solid argument to the establishment against a Nawaz-style reconciliation with India.

China and India have been at an eyeball to eyeball distance on their border most of this last year. Our COAS along with the military top brass of China, Afghanistan and Tajikistan met last month to work out a peace formula for Afghanistan. India was neither invited nor was expected to join in. Just like in the 1950s, the basic contours of a new but ‘eastern’ emerging diplomatic and military alliance have begun to appear. Non-state actors will have no place in it. All the involved establishments will have to adjust to this principle. The engagement with India will have to be on the diplomatic front or on the outright military front with regular armies, and not militant outfits, facing each other. The way Chinese and Indian armies are at the moment despite a concurrent economic engagement in BRICS.

The meaning of this for Imran, Nawaz and Shahbaz: the 50 percent difference in the votes of the PTI and PML-N in 2013, can it be narrowed down or reversed? The determining factors at the moment are: perceived performance, endowment of political martyrdom and performance perception manipulation ability close to the last quarter before elections.

Political martyrdom and performance perception, especially since the Gulalai affair and the dengue issues, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have tilted in favour of the PML-N, though there is a long run remaining. Both parties are quite adroit now at perception management, which is the third factor.

Attempts at ‘second rounds’ have up till now proven problematic for our dictators and political parties. Ayub tried to have his in 1965 in an election against Fatima Jinnah, Zia by dismissing Junejo and Musharraf by reneging on his promise to take off his uniform. The PPP got its ‘second round’ chance after the demise of the last of the Bhuttos in 2008 and the PML-N is going to get its after the political demise of the Sharifs.

The issue was transparency and speed in CPEC projects and turf war. Both are going to be given away by the PML-N. The residual Sharif – Shahbaz – is more of a project manager than a leader. Nawaz on the other hand is not even that, but, he is ego personified and has given a face to the issue of civilian supremacy – and that is his prime utility at the moment. However, the sentiment favouring Nawaz will have to be taken benefit of by Shahbaz it seems, as was done by Zardari after Benazir.

The writer is a freelance contributor.

Email: [email protected]

 

 

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