Thursday May 23, 2024

Wonderful winds of wishes

By Aamir Ghauri
January 27, 2018

“If I am here for 45 days, I will try to complete the amount of work that requires 45 months.” This is what Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said when he spoke first in Parliament after taking oath of office in August 2017 as the 18th prime minister of the country. Pakistan’s perennially perilous politics was jolted after the erstwhile prime minister Nawaz Sharif had to step aside after the Supreme Court found him less than honest person who “tried to fool the people, Parliament and the courts”.

Since August last Prime Minister Abbasi has hobbled from crisis to crisis but strangely he never looked as feeble as his “robust” predecessor whose frontline companions constantly reminded the people that the former prime minister and still the PML-N supremo was hounded on purpose by phantoms fed from Rawalpindi. In fact, Abbasi is gaining confidence within and without Pakistan.

The prime minister is back in the capital from his breakneck trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. That the schedule of his meetings and interviews was a nightmare for his press officers would be an understatement.

They could not cover it all for no independent media house could afford him that much airtime. The few TV footages that showcased him along with his small entourage huddled in a room that could best be described as a shoebox.

He, however, availed every chance to meet as many world notables as possible. From Microsoft’s Bill Gates to Renault-Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn to Uber Technologies’ Dara Khosrowshahi to Telenor’s Sigve Brekke to Siemens AG’s Jo Kaeser to Mitsubishi Corporation’s Ken Kobayashi to Professor Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum and many more. How he stuffed over two dozen meetings with global business and industry leaders in two days and still came out breathing shows he meant what he said in his maiden speech.

In his public conversations, Abbasi defended the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as a global project that is not only financially and environmentally sustainable but as a lead project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a project for the world to invest in and benefit from.

He spoke to international media and gave interviews to global news outlets. In a nutshell, a trip worth a while and money well spent. Trips to Davos by his predecessors were lackluster and mostly expensive but meaningless excursions.

But these lines are not meant to praise Prime Minister Abbasi’s gains at Davos even if they read like one. It is about what is being discussed in the drawing rooms and tea and coffee bars of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. For most Pakistanis Islamabad is a purpose-built city for national governance. For others it remains a fortress of rhetorical political statements and conspiratorial intrigues. They are increasingly trying to read into prime minister’s innocent posturing as the country’s prime elected politician. Why?

Ten days into Prime Minister Abbasi’s ascension to the highest administrative office I posted a theoretical question in a tweet asking if Shahid Khaqan Abbasi could serve the purpose for the real power holders in the realm that they proverbially expected from late Makhdoom Amin Faheem against Benazir Bhutto. Many joked. Others poke fun at the suggestion. But some saw sense in the suggestion for their own reasons.

Since August 2017, SKA -- if I’m allowed to call the prime minister without infuriating him – has sent mix signals in multiple directions. For those who desire to see Islamabad on the right side of Rawalpindi, the prime minister participated in an exercise training mission in September aboard an F-16 aircraft as part of the elite No 9 multirole squadron, the first for any Pakistani premier.

The very next month, he test flew a T-129, a Turkish attack helicopter – another first for any head of government in the country. In December, he was seen sitting astride PN Saad, a submarine that he boarded to the open sea where he took part in diving and surfacing procedure thereby earning a Dolphin insignia of the Navy that is bestowed upon submariners.

Social media activists liked his attempts at getting close to Pakistan’s soldiery. Others doubted his assertion in his first prime ministerial speech that “I am sure that the real prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, will return to this seat.” For them his other sentences were weightier – “within four days, the democratic process is back. There are no defections. There was no dissension in our ranks.”

Power, they say, is an absolute aphrodisiac. It works wonders on weaker souls. Those hovering around and those walking the power corridors sense the moods and changes earlier than the rest. We know that the Supreme Court is to consider within days if Nawaz Sharif is to be ineligible for a year, for half-a-decade or for life. It is too early to predict if it is possible for Nawaz Sharif to return to power? Will such a possibility be allowed by powers that be?

Spring is still a few weeks away from Islamabad but shoots of a different scenario are springing up. Small and medium-sized gatherings often frequented by those too close to the power discuss the dramatic but imaginable. Friendly polls are offered around dinner tables as to who could be a better prime minister after the next elections – Shahbaz Sharif, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Asif Ali Zardari, Imran Khan, Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi or someone else?

To the amazement of many if not all, Abbasi is gathering moss. “He is humble, intelligent, acceptable, educated, successful and workaholic,” opined someone already working closest to the ruling team. “What about Shahbaz Sharif?” asked someone. “Well, he is running Punjab very effectively, isn’t he,” came the reply.

Nawaz Sharif’s ouster might have been torturous for the party and may be sensing the gravity of the challenge at the time, Prime Minister Abbasi had warned in Parliament: “Be it the government, bureaucracy, opposition or the army — we are in the same boat, and a hole in this boat will sink everyone.”

Prophetic words to many in Islamabad and Rawalpindi who think quite a few in the government, some in the opposition, many in the bureaucracy and most in the army have picked up a liking for man tall enough that they think it might not be a bad idea to look up to him.

But someone had once sarcastically said that Pakistan’s capital is a few kilometres away from Pakistan, so the people of Pakistan would decide decisions about the future leaders of the country. They have an amazing sense of things and can startle all of us once again. Elections, where art thou?