Something’s cooking, for sure. This country, proverbially, is sitting on the edge of its seat. And waiting for the endgame to begin. We do not know who is whispering what in whose ears. The air is thick with anticipation.
Yes, there has been a sense of unease about the developing political situation for quite some time. Dire predictions about change and upheaval have remained in circulation. But the flavour of rumours that have spread in Islamabad this week is different.
In whispers that reverberate in social media and in talk shows, they are talking about some drastic measures that they insist are on the cards. A state of emergency? A change in the system to install a presidential form of government? Or, in a simpler move, an in-house change which actually means Imran Khan riding into the sunset.
A number of other outcomes of this political game of shadows that is now entering in its climactic phase have also been insinuated. However, there is ample confusion about which rules of the game would apply and how the referee would reach his decision.
One pointer of how the game may be won or lost is provided by Sheikh Rashid. It is his mantra of ‘sar par haath’. Imran enjoys this helping hand, he insisted this week. He is the federal interior minister and acts of terror this week have raised concern about the law and order situation in the country. But he loves to officiate more as Imran Khan’s spokesperson.
However, he appeared to have crossed the line with his public acknowledgement of Imran’s upper hand in the game of power. He admitted in a talk show that though he had been asked to retract his ‘sar par haath’ statement, he would not do that. You are free to make of it what you will.
Anyhow, the message here is that politics in Pakistan is conditioned by factors that cannot easily be deciphered. We are witness to how talk-show panelists and media analysts tend to beat around the bush because coming to the point is either beyond their comprehension or outside of their journalistic mandate. All they can do is to play with the pieces of the puzzle and be content with putting together separate, unconnected patches of the big picture.
Having said all this, without saying much, I can only affirm that the overall situation is pregnant with possibilities. To repeat: something’s cooking. And not entirely because some leading political players foresee dramatic changes in the immediate future. (One headline in this newspaper on Wednesday: “Govt’s ouster matter of days: Maryam.”)
Multiple other alarm bells are ringing, far from the flaming environs of our politics. The most dominant feature of the present state of affairs is the misery of the people and their inability to make any sense of what is happening to them. A new wave of anxiety and anger is visibly rising. Even when it is wholly preoccupied with political skirmishes, the popular media is constrained to present some glimpses of the chaos that is invading the lives of common citizens.
We have more than usual stories of suicides and murders that are born of poverty, mental illness and disputes within families. We have reports of numerous horrifying crimes such as a son killing his father or a man murdering his wife and children for whatever reasons. It is hard to imagine the depression and the desperation of the people who exist in the lower depths of our society. Somehow, they seem to have reached a breaking point.
On Thursday, there was a bomb blast in Lahore’s crowded Anarkali market. Three persons died and more than thirty were injured. Coming after the gun attack on policemen in Islamabad on Monday, resulting in one policeman’s death, the bomb blast in Lahore is seen as an indication that terrorists, including the TTP, are becoming more active.
“Do the recent incidents not prove that the approach adopted in dealing with [the] TTP was wrong?”, asked Raza Rabbani in the Senate on Friday.
But there is so much more that is wrong about how our rulers have dealt with challenges that Pakistan confronts. Again and again, we find evidence of the waywardness, including corruption, of the functionaries of the government at different levels.
On Wednesday, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar ceremoniously announced immediate suspension of 15 officials, the entire chain of administrative command, as a consequence of the inquiry of the Murree tragedy. The report identified “gross negligence, lack of coordination and team work as well as risk assessment”.
There is one particular crime that I think is an example of our social disequilibrium and the erosion of our administrative structures. A young man was killed in Karachi on January 12 when a robbery at gunpoint went wrong. The killer, investigations revealed, was a policeman who was still in service though he had received 10 show-cause notices during the past 12 years. On Monday, he was reported to have committed suicide when a police party was about to arrest him.
There is no dearth of stories that portray a society in deep crisis. Without any doubt, Pakistan is in a dangerous place. The overall mood of the people is of despondency and of fear about the future. This fear has been enhanced with a perception of political instability that has raised the prospects of a change in the ruling arrangement.
But what is happening or about to happen is wrapped in mystery. Serious observers are taking conjectures that are whispered in Islamabad’s corridors of power and in the party circles rather seriously.
Read this tweet, posted by PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal: “When the government, imposed through rigged elections, has ruined the country, then whispering of imposition of an Indira Gandhi-like emergency and change in the system through various formulas are being heard”.
But Ahsan Iqbal and his colleagues have to contend with Sheikh Rashid. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry calls the rumours ‘fake news’, though he himself has talked about four PML-N leaders seeking ‘sar par haath’.
The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail. com
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