WEB DESK: It doesn’t augur well – either way. If Imran loses it will get worse. If he wins it will get worse. Whatever the merits of the case, and he is neither the sharpest mind around nor a paragon of virtue, Imran has come to represent the national crusader.
He may choose his battles unwisely but fights them with an uncanny doggedness. He just doesn’t give up – like when he taught himself to swim. All of four years old, he was rescued time and again by his cousins as he just wouldn’t stop jumping in at the deep end – until he could swim across the width of the pool.
He may have lost the battle to get Ayaz Sadiq, Saad Rafique, Khawaja Asif et al unseated but won the war of getting the Election Commission to take cognizance of electoral malfeasance. Hopefully, stuffing the ballot boxes will now be as outdated as WWII weaponry and give way to more innovative ways to steal an election.
He has demonstrated, if any demonstration was needed, how the guardians – NAB, FIA, FBR, State Bank – guard the interests of the powerful and not guard the people against them. He reminds us how these agencies function elsewhere: across the border where they don’t need political permission – or prodding – to arrest a Minister or a superstar, down-under where the Prime Minister gets ticketed for a traffic offence, over there in the US where the head of FBI is not deterred from investigating a candidate in the heat of a tense election. Of course, our hardboiled agencies are not going to change their spots in a hurry but the reform script has been written.
He may have failed to eliminate corruption in high places but has succeeded to put it centre-stage. He didn’t allow the global reaction to tax havens, especially by holders of public office, to remain ‘their issue’. He brought it home. Doesn’t matter if the large numbers involved tend to reduce the stink of opprobrium or, to paraphrase Faiz, it will take many a monsoon to wash out the blood stains. The Accountant has been forced to sign the OECD convention on exchange of information on monies squirreled away in distant lands and islands. The issue of corruption is not going away, and like with the ballot box, it would require new ways to steal public funds.
Imran is the opposition. The Lal Haveli Sheikh’s claim that opposition consists of him and Imran is like his saying ‘between me and Imran we scored 100 runs’ – with Sheikh scoring only one run!
Imran is politically naïve. His strength – doggedness – becomes a weakness when he doesn’t know when to stop, as his dharna or the boycott of the parliament demonstrated. He is good at pulling in the crowds but not good at winning by-elections. He doesn’t show astuteness when he calls Trump, who he may have to deal with if his dream comes true, the biggest fool around. He has done a great job of keeping his foot firmly on government toes but his constant whining gives the government wriggle room.
Medal of honour for resolve, dunce cap for political acumen?
If Imran loses he is finished, and along with him the opposition. End of even a semblance of a check on the government. The only check will be Pindi. Not an appetizing thought. An emboldened Nawaz administration will be hard to stop until 2023. Scary thought. What if Imran wins? Nawaz will need a lot more than a legal battle to survive in office. It will be Dama-dam must qalandar.
And there is the rub. We can’t, at this stage, afford discontinuities. Yes, it is nice to hear ‘let justice be done even if heavens fall’ but heavens have a way of falling on the shelterless; not those with overseas shelters!
There is too much going on in Pakistan to risk uncertainty. The fight against militancy needs more time to build on the successes in North Waziristan. Yes, it is military led, and the change of command is not going to change its direction, but who knows what kind of forces an Imran win will unleash that might make the military take its eye off the militancy ball.
The economy may have come out of intensive care, but no one, the Accountant included, doubts that it is still wobbling. It cannot sustain any shocks generated by political uncertainty. Most at risk will be the stock market and the exchange rate. Business confidence, already not at dizzying heights, could take a hit and investment prospects further blighted.
How will it impact the CPEC, the ‘game changer’ that despite all the questions surrounding it enjoys as much ownership as we are capable of? How will we cope with it if it morphs into a new ‘great game’? Will LNG imports get affected? What will happen to the overall energy situation? Population census? NFC? The 21st amendment?
On the external front there is the Trump phenomenon to reckon with. It is not that our foreign policy has particularly sturdy legs, but who would the world speak to when there is no government to speak of? The sands of world order are shifting in new ways. We need to understand the new normal, and to adapt to it we need a continuous dialogue. No one can have a serious dialogue with ‘interims’. We will be placed at the end of the queue.
Then there is our neighbour whose default response to all its troubles is greater belligerence towards its neighbours. How would things evolve if there is a political free-for-all prevailing here? Revel in our miseries it most certainly will, but will it also take advantage of the political turbulence and raise the ante?
It is not that PML-N has covered itself with glory; but despite all its faults it has kept the system going. Co-existence has never been its strong suite, but it has learnt to live with checks, whether coming from Pindi, the media, or Imran’s incessant pot-stirring. Knock Nawaz out if you must, but through scheduled elections, not through a technical knock-out. That won’t make the spectre go. Nawaz loses we get uncertainty and its discontents; Nawaz wins we get more ‘badshahat’ and its costs. Either way, we lose. firstname.lastname@example.org