Many years ago, when I was lecturing at a university in Islamabad, I was introduced to the ‘war of narratives’ and the fact that in order to win this war, the narratives needed to be ‘attractive’ and consistent. There was, however, a third element that was equally critical to the success of what was being ‘sold’ and that was the individual and collective psyche of the target audience, for it was this that would create the required resonance. This psyche was likely to generate variable responses to what was being ‘fed’ and these responses would be directly proportional to the intellectual level and character of those being targeted. It is therefore not surprising that with its Machiavellian approach to politics (which revolves around ‘well thought out’ storytelling) the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) appears to have understood the dynamics of creating strong narratives with a finesse that neither Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) nor Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) have been able to master.

Whatever PPP may claim, they have shrunk from a national political force, to a provincial one and that too in what can be termed as their home province. The only person who has what it takes to resuscitate the ‘Bhutto Charisma’ is Bilawal, but in spite of what many analysts say, his ‘control lines’ are in other hands. The damage to PPP’s credibility and reputation is such (and they have themselves to blame for it) that it will take a miracle for them to build up a ‘narrative’ that can be marketed and retrieve their lost status.

PTI has a natural advantage over PML N, which more than compensates for their weaknesses. This advantage resides in the person of Imran Khan and the sincerity that comes through when he speaks. This gift, his old colleagues from the world of cricket say, is fueled by the PTI Chairman’s inability to lie. Imran’s extempore speeches during public meetings and later his two addresses to the nation as Prime Minister were a clear manifestation of this gift, wherein those sitting before their television sets got the feeling that their PM was talking to each one of them. Here, according to even some of his harshest critics, was a man, who required no script to speak from. Simply because what he said were not words crafted by a speech writer or a crony with equivalent skill sets but his sentences were his very own, laced with pain, anger, the will to defy intrigues and the passion to make Pakistan great.

I have often been asked the question if politics brings out the worst in human nature. My answer is a tentative no, for we have examples of politicians such as Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Nelson Mandela and Mahathir Muhammad, who were excellent role models. I am nonetheless tentative in my response, because Pakistani politicians are seen as stereotypes, epitomizing corruption, immorality and the brazen faced ability to lie in and out of Parliament. These so-called leaders (for they do not have the virtues of leadership) have been beneficiaries in their time and have therefore learned to manipulate a part of the nation.

Then once in a while comes a leader who breaks the status quo of the past decades. His actions appear inexplicable and he hurts those that have created the ‘status quo’ for their own ends. He is criticised for taking U turns, for destroying the notion of luxury and personal comfort. This is seen as unacceptable behavior by his opponents and beneficiaries. Public servants see him as a threat that will deprive them of their perks and nuisance value. All in all, he is rated as a ‘demon’, which is hell-bent on turning things upside down; when in fact he is turning an upside down dispensation the right side up.

Since outside the box and unpleasant, but necessary decisions threaten their influence and power, these ‘failures’ unite to erect every possible obstacle in the process of putting things in order and this is exactly what is unfolding now. It is for saner elements inside PML-N and PPP to decide if they want to go down in history as those who destroyed the Quaid’s dream or those who saved it. Those who think that history can be tampered with will soon realise that this not the long term truth.

 

The writer is a freelance columnist.