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Inordinate Ambition and Faustian Bargain

by Ejaz Haider

Tolga Akmen—AFP

To win needs indulging in and honing the same practices that one sets out to fight

Mian Nawaz Sharif is back, as is his daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif (or Safdar, depending on where one stands, politically).

This has put paid to analyses that they will not return. What’s the play now?

The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) is badly bruised. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has already determined that they will win the 2018 round and form the government. My Careem driver said he wasn’t voting because “Imran will win by hook or by crook.”

Ask anyone about what happens to the Sharifs and (s)he will tell you that the die is cast and their political career is finished. Could be, except it never ends until it does end and life, as most of us have noted, is usually stranger than fiction.

The interesting (and no less disconcerting) issue is the certainty with which people, ordinary Joes and Janes, can foretell what’s about to come, whether in terms of judicial decisions or election results, and they are mostly right, to the degree that if Pakistanis were wagering against others about what’s happening here, we would all end up being very rich.

Is that because we are good gamblers? Or is it because what’s happening is so obvious and blatant that even a fool would get his wager right?

I’d put my money on the latter.

Of course, there’s the issue of Nawaz Sharif’s ‘corruption’. This is comeuppance, pure and simple.

At this point, I want to hark back.

“‘… Once off the bush

The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.

I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair

That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.

Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.’

The right balance, then, is about hoping that the blackberries won’t rot but knowing that they would. Between this hope and this knowledge lies the space for action. Therein also lies Khan’s challenge.”

The above lines are from an article I wrote on Nov. 1, 2011 in the Express Tribune, titled, The Future Remains Unlimned. It was about Imran Khan and PTI.

After years of electoral failures, Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf had seen a groundswell of support with an impressive rally at Lahore’s Minar-e-Pakistan park. He was gearing up for the polls in 2013, offering an alternative to the voter against his rivals, the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz).

The slogan: tabdeeli (change)—changing the way in which politics was played in this country, improving governance, reforming the system, empowering the people, bringing in clean and accountable government, doing away with political wheeling-dealing and horse-trading, running a party machine with leaders and workers that believed in the vision, and burying dynastic politics and patron-client relations that define much local politics, especially in the rural areas.

In short, this was going to be a total system change, an electoral, bloodless revolution that would end politics as we understand it historically and which subsumes in itself both the idea of interests and conflicts as well as compromise and aggregation.

It was naive, for sure. Just like there’s no end of history, there’s no end to politics and politics is never linear. But to the starry-eyed as well as those outside the system, it looked impressive: the promised land. And it did garner votes, enough for his party to form the government in one province.

But Khan wasn’t happy. His sights were fixed on Islamabad and Islamabad’s path goes through the Punjab. He was learning on the job.

While the rhetoric remained, the chasm continued to grow between theory and praxis. There would be change, but since vision doesn’t have enough steam to bring about such a change, the visionary must get down in the pit and get his hands dirty. He might start looking like those he was out to fight, but he was still above them. His heart was in the right place. In any case, to win needs indulging in and honing the same practices that one sets out to fight, like a contrapuntal movement between vision and reality, Olympian heights and the frivolity and nadir of politics.

But let’s leave Khan here for a while and get back to the former and now-convicted prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The trials and tribulations of Sharif since Panamagate have been written about already by some of the best legal minds in the country. The most recent article by Babar Sattar lays bare everything that’s bad in the accountability court’s judgment and that’s far more than the remarkably sloppy language in which the verdict has been written.

I don’t have the expertise in matters legal or financial. But what I do know, as a student of political science, is this: what has happened since the formation of the Panamagate investigation team and the Supreme Court verdicts is not an effort to strengthen the accountability mechanism through an institutional approach—which would have been welcome and commendable—but a strategy to get rid of Sharif and, by extension, to bleed the PMLN in the run-up to the polls. Panama was a godsend.

In a way it’s a throwback to the seesaw we saw in the ‘90s. The military acting as the arbiter, playing on and exploiting the terrible fault-line between the PPP and the PMLN. The Charter of Democracy signed between the two parties manifested the realization that if they didn’t play the game according to some basic rules, the elephant will never leave the room.

Let it be said plainly, the principal issue now is not about Sharif’s alleged corruption (one look at the PTI and even a fool would know that) but about the traditional principal contradiction at the heart of which stands the question: who is to govern this country?

Once the PTI wins, and most of us think it will, the party will face this question squarely. The question that has haunted every party in power at the center. It will the PTI, too. There’s no gainsaying it and no escaping it. I dare say that some old hands like Messrs Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Shafqat Mehmood et al already know this. That’s also the point where the party will realize that those who are elevating it will also come collecting IOUs. It’s a simple quid pro quo. Sharif has learnt it after getting bloodied. Khan will learn it too.

Or perhaps I am being generous and he has already made the Faustian bargain, like Sharif did before him. We shall wait to see when the collectors come collecting.

At this point, it’s about the Macbethian tragic flaw: inordinate ambition:

“…I have no spur

To prick the sides of my intent, but only

Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself

And falls on th’ other.”

Haider is the executive editor at Indus News. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. He tweets @ejazhaider

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1 comment

Muhammad Feyyaz July 16, 2018 - 9:20 am

Impressive read Ejaz. Keep writing. love


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