The Nation Periscope
“Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after ten years; power is the old stone building that stands for centuries,” goes one of the many intriguing lines in House of Cards, an enthralling American political drama television series. It is a great soundbite except it isn’t true. Power, especially political power, is ephemeral and evaporates quicker than the rulers wish for. Nawaz government finds itself confronted with this reality as it is fast losing credibility just over a year into taking over.
The perception about the current government falling off tracks is so acute that it has raised Nawaz’s political nemesis, the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, from the dead. It was amusing to hear the Chaudhrys announce Sunday that the government has lost its mandate to govern. But it is a measure of how quickly the political sand has shifted in the past two months. And, it has catapulted Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the flamboyant maestro of TV talk-show mumbo jumbo who cannot win a single parliament seat on his own, to the forefront of the national politics. The steep fall of the government, which isn’t even hit by the incumbency factor yet, should give Nawaz sleepless nights.
Making the matters worse is the increasing bellicose tones and overtures of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri. The preacher from Canada is heralding a ‘Green Revolution’ although the potential for blood and violence hidden beneath the surface is enough to make it anarchic and catastrophic. Qadri remains a cultish figure but he has shaken the political ethos by arguing that the current system of elections is nothing but a sham. The structural failures in the system are perpetuated by the winners and Qadri couches his message powerfully to an eager and desperate audience, which is hungry for change and devastated by deteriorating living standards. The undercurrents are very powerful as - whether one likes it or not - Qadri represents a tectonic shift in Pakistan’s decadent political culture.
Imran Khan, on the other hand, is forging ahead with this maximalist demands and shows no signs of relenting. Imran has set his stakes so high that he risks losing face. But he seems least perturbed to ponder over this possibility. On Sunday, Imran equated Nawaz rule with a monarchy and raised questions about nepotism and ill-governance that resonate with the masses. Imran once again vowed to amass one million people in the capital and declared that his followers wont’ leave until his demands are not met. Both Imran and Qadri have urged their followers to take law into their hands and resist state power. The emotionally charged and threatening rhetoric is music to the ears of Imran’s party workers but once translated into reality, it will lead to nothing but anarchy and destabilisation. Even if Imran and Qadri achieve their objective of toppling the government, they won’t set an ideal precedent and their opponents would walk on the same highway to carry out their demands.
Nawaz, like always, is counting on his obsessive mega infrastructure projects to answer to the charge of Khan and Qadri brigades. But the dividends of these projects are not immediate and given the immediacy of the dangers, the response by Nawaz government is dismally lacking. A dichotomy has widened in the political system due to the government’s policies of over-centralisation of power, lack of accommodation of opposition’s demands and an insular, almost haughty, form of governance.
Political authorities should learn to take responsibilities of their actions rather than holding conspiracies for their downfall. Rulers in Pakistan want power democratically and yet want to act with impunity, with an authoritarian mindset. The sooner Nawaz realises this, the better he can crawl out of the political quicksand. Otherwise, all the prayers and pleading in Jeddah won’t do.
The writer is Resident Editor, The Nation in Islamabad.