Monday May 29, 2023

Primitive politics

May 22, 2022

Einstein had a definition of lunacy: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We perhaps need a milder expression to interpret our rulers’ inability to learn from history in dealing with a crisis of unfathomable dimensions. And the rulers are all of them, including the superior judiciary.

Take a deep breath and try to comprehend the existing state of affairs. We have, in recent weeks, exhausted our reserve of words and phrases like a ‘meltdown’ and ‘the perfect storm’. We are tottering on the edge of the precipice for quite a while.

So, how do I brace myself for any meaningful reference to the events of this week, with a specific focus on judgments made by the Supreme Court of Pakistan the Election Commission of Pakistan? The easy and almost instinctive response would be to plead guilty of not getting the hang of it all. Something very serious, deadly perilous, is enveloping us like a shroud and we feel helpless about it.

But there surely are those who are watching the entire landscape from their perch in the citadel of power and they pretend to have the authority and the ability to set things right before it is too late. In the midst of the many unsettling headlines, we have speculative analyses by well-informed and credible media professionals that something is cooking in Islamabad, perhaps a caretaker setup. Expectedly, ISPR, when asked about these reports, said: “These are all rumours and baseless statements which have no truth”.

We know that there is a lot of chatter about the probability of the present government opting for elections rather than taking the hard decisions to, for instance, reduce or remove the fuel subsidy. At the same time, there is utter confusion about the consequences of this week’s crucial judgments.

There is new twist in the Punjab ‘paheli’ after the Election Commission de-seated 25 dissident MPAs of the PTI who had voted for the PML-N’s Hamza Shehbaz in the election for Punjab’s chief minister. Earlier, on Tuesday, the Supreme Court declared by a majority vote of three to two that votes cast by legislators in violation of their party’s stance are not to be counted. Does this amount to rewriting the constitution, in the context of how Article 63-A is to be interpreted?

Meanwhile, former prime minister Imran Khan is demonstrating his rising popularity with his string of rallies across the country and the one in Multan on Friday was meant to be the high point in his campaign and everyone was waiting for him to announce the final date of his long march to Islamabad. Now, this date will be decided by a core committee meeting in Peshawar today – and it will be between May 25 and May 29. Can that long march be a decisive turning point in the ongoing confrontation?

As I said, there is a surge of questions that have to be left unexplored. Essentially, Pakistan is threatened at this time with economic collapse, political instability and civil unrest. In some ways, all our old certainties are in question. That is why it is necessary to not do the same thing over and over again. Yet, there is no evidence of any rethinking of the ruling ideas that have governed us.

It has become evident that our rulers do not have the sufficient intellectual and moral resources to resolve or even understand the crisis of Pakistan. But they are still not willing to reach out to the diminishing band of Pakistan’s independent thinkers, historians, social scientists and committed political activists.

Pakistanis who feel passionately about the present state of affairs and who have diligently meditated on questions of history and social development have no opportunity at all to contribute to the national project of setting things right. As it is, the size of our intelligentsia is very small. In fact, our educational and intellectual deprivations are at the root of our present problems.

Yes, there is a spirited movement for a liberal and secular political dispensation in Pakistan and a number of very courageous activists and defenders of human rights are working at the grassroots level. Simultaneously, there is a larger group that helplessly agonizes over the national drift. But it is hard to close your eyes to the tragedy of bright and sincere citizens of Pakistan becoming irrelevant in a situation where partisan and potentially primitive passions are ruling the roost.

We do not know how confident the rulers are that they will find different results this time after doing what they have done before. For once, it cannot be business as usual. This is what the learned observers in the civil society can clearly envisage. Beyond the print, broadcast and virtual media, I have the opportunity of sharing the thoughts of friends and acquaintances in private encounters that deserve the attention of the wielders of power.

And by way of one intervention, let me conclude with this brief note by Shaheryar Azhar: “I think the old Pakistan may be dying before our eyes but we are not aware of it yet…. how does the centre exactly hold? In my opinion, we are approaching zero hour to implosion of a 1970 kind. How would that play out?”

Scary and unrealistic? But I am hearing many similar voices and, honestly, get very confused about what is happening to us.

The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at: ghazi_salahuddin