Chances are that if you stood still for too long on a Karachi road yesterday, you would have been painted over as a wall chalking advertisement for the Difa-e-Pakistan Council. Karachi sported advertising for the Sunday conference at Mazar-i-Quaid, worth millions easily, with not a single wall along a main road left unmarked.

Difa-e-Pakistan council billboards in English and Urdu, with pictures of the expected speakers and fiery slogans, designed by amateurs and some seemingly professionally done, fought for attention between billboards for designer lawns. The exorbitant and free-handed spending power the Difa-e-Pakistan Council organisers demonstrate, points to generous funding. Where the money comes from, is a question many are curious to know the answer to.

An aspect of the Council worthy of note is that barring three Senators (due to retire on March 1, this year) from the JUI, not one member of the D-e-P family is part of the National Assembly, Senate or Provincial Assembly. Which gives rise to the question: given the numbers attending the rallies organised by the D-e-P and thus the implied hope that such attendees invest in the Council for implementing the agendas voiced from behind the podium, how do the organisers hope to influence national policies according to the wishes of those they have gathered together? The answer perhaps lies not in effecting any actual change or influencing policy at all, but in demonstrating that a passionate desire for a change in policies does in fact exist. Such a desire although expressed by persons with no political office, echoes a larger disillusion most Pakistanis relate to in the context of Pak-US relations.

This stoking of public sentiment (much like shaking a bottle of soda), through nationally broadcast, public functions, will have the effect of increasing pressure not just on elected representatives in the Assemblies to distance Pakistan from the status of an ally in the war on terror, but may also serve as an amplified warning and pressure lever in negotiations to reopen NATO supply routes.

The routes will inevitably be reopened - when the price is right. At the moment, US policy does not seem to be built around winning hearts and minds, but instead on getting the job done, whether anyone likes it or not. Displays such as the D-e-P may thus be designed to encourage the Americans to have a little more sympathy for the difficulties those in the higher echelons of the Pakistani civilian and military leadership face, when following the War on Terror plan against popular public opposition. Such sympathy if expressed in money terms, will help to bring the two sides closer to an agreement for reopening NATO supply routes.


Meanwhile, in the background Balochistan burns. If anyone in the country tries to tell you that they know what is happening there, feel free to call them a plain-faced liar. An area that constitutes one-third of the land of Pakistan and the majority of its natural resources is now a place where Pakistani flags are not displayed. Media reports from there are practically non-existent and traveling to the province is impossible without a protection detail. Imran Khan's jalsa on the 23rd of March has had to be postponed due to the reluctance of Balochis to be seen to be 'celebrating' Pakistan Day. The PTI 'tsunami' seems to have lost some steam since the well-known names of Javed Hashmi and Shah Mahmood Qureshi, among others, were added to their ranks. A curious phenomenon, given that Imran Khan was initially criticised for having no 'electables' in his party. Damned if you do and damned if you don't, it seems. The Imran Khan/PTI brand was expected to have such resonance and strength, that "if he had even put forward an electric pole as a PTI candidate, it should have been elected," say disillusioned PTI supporters. Imran Khan's nuisance value will be determined by the number of seats his party manages to take in the National Assembly. It is unlikely at this stage that he will sweep a two-third majority, as he would like.

In the next few months, as the elections draw nearer, things will magically start to improve. Loadshedding will be better managed, a serious effort will be made to keep prices stable and a budget geared towards winning over 'hearts and minds', to borrow a phrase, will be announced. If the government survives till election time, despite all the justified and stinging criticism over its appalling governance record, the PPP may just find itself assembling a coalition government for another term. It sounds impossible? Yes, I can imagine you shaking your head as you read this. But this is Pakistan and the choices Pakistanis make, are not always understandable.