Finally, the “boots” are here. Not the sort many having been cheering on though. As soon as rain continues for few hours in Lahore, one can be sure that Mian Shahbaz Sharif will be on the front pages of all newspapers the next day. Monsoon in Punjab is incomplete without the younger Mian Sahib, in his military-style jacket with padded shoulders, a variant of the Mao cap, striking the quintessential Iqbal-like thoughtful pose and most significantly wearing long boots standing knee-deep in a pond of water on a Lahore street. He is been doing it for the past six years. The chief minister is hands on and fearless enough to throw himself into the breach once more, every year. Is this possible loss of this photo opportunity the incentive for not fixing the sewerage and drainage system?
Nobody needs the chief minister to immerse himself in rain water; however, it will be nice to have a government that ensures that Lahore does not turn into Venice every monsoon season. Efficient local and municipal governments are needed to run cities. We don’t need a chief minister hunting down dengue mosquitoes and braving torrential waters. We need a legislator who does some legislation and policymaking once in a while.
Devolution of power, local government and reforms in bureaucracy are not glamorous, just necessary and efficient. He is a man of visibility, for himself and for everything that he does, hence the Metro bus sails on rain water today. The younger Mian’s administrative capabilities and sincerity is never in doubt. In times of crisis the message is very clear, that Mian Shahbaz Sharif is the Punjab government. Very well, if we are destined to have a Mr Punjab, Mian sahib, the younger is an excellent candidate, deserving all the credit for the good and some blame for the bad. Then what about Model Town? It was the police officers’ gone rogue, we are told. Mian Shahbaz, we are told was heartbroken on the episode. Good Cop, Mian Shahbaz Sharif; Bad cop, the cops.
That is our world today, divided between good and bad cops (real and perceived).
The recent circus has made the lines between the individual and the institutions very permeable. More dangerous implications of this confusion are now on display. The prevailing ‘theory’ regarding the ‘boys’ involvement in the Islamabad standoff is that five corps commanders were backing Mr Imran Khan and the ‘Chief’ supports democracy and is neutral. At its harshest this is fomenting rebellion in the Army, and the mildest interpretation is that the Chief has lost some control over his Generals; both harrowing thoughts. However, none of them is likely to be true since the assertion itself has to be taken with a tank of salt. The Army Chief is a democrat always, up to the point that he is not. The separation of individuals and the institution is a trick as old as the hills. In this case it is an all or nothing deal really. The ISPR can perhaps give a detailed statement saying that the Army and its command is completely united and stands behind the elected government, and that will be that; except, it won’t say it. Good Cop, General Raheel Sharif; Bad Cop, General Zaheer-ul-Islam and the five corps commanders?
Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain recently made the accusation that General (retd) Kayani was involved in the rigging of the 2013 election. He clarifies by saying that the former Chief did it alone, and the rest of the Army was not on board. One can only speculate what Chaudhry sahib meant. Is he saying that General (retd) Kayani ‘rigged’ the election in his personal capacity? Patently absurd, is it not? The ISPR has to respond to this very serious (and highly improbable, to say the least) accusations, since they have been made in the public domain by a senior politician. Chaudhry Shujaat’s theory: Good Cop, the Army; Bad Cop, General Kayani
Mr Imran Khan maintains former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry ‘rigged’ the election. How, he doesn’t say. However, in lucid intervals he seems to imply that the former chief justice perhaps personally instructed the Returning officers; similarly he asserts that the prime minister somehow controls the election tribunals. Anyone with a rudimentary familiarity with the process knows the statements of Mr Khan to be completely impractical and untrue. Curiously, Mr Khan’s argument is not about insulating the judiciary from the electoral process since he demands a judicial commission still; it is about only Justice (retd) Iftikhar. Mr Khan’s theory: Good cop, the Present Supreme Court; bad Cop, Justice Chaudhry
Beneath all Mr Khan and Allama Qadri’s hubris is a personal obsession with the Sharif brothers. The purpose of the entire charade in Islamabad is to get rid of individuals. Good cop; democracy; Bad cop, the Sharif government.
Somewhat similar to the ‘five corps commander with the democrat theory’ is the “poor, simple, innocent Mian Nawaz Sharif in trouble due to evil advisors”. There is certainly more credibility to this theory than about the army, yet it makes the same core mistake. It is the institution and the party stupid.
The PML-N has a model of politics which is personality and ego-centered, with the establishment traditionally thinking of them as one of their own, even if sometimes estranged. That has changed now, and the PML-N government does not know which side is up. The PML-N and the PTI were running spectacular election campaigns when the PPP and the ANP were being blown to smithereens by the TTP; that is the only real way that the last election was rigged. However, they have had their revenge and the Parliament for now belongs to the excellent and fiery Mr Aitzaz Ahsan and Syed Khursheed Shah. Take a bow, gentlemen. One did a lot of pleading with PML-N and PTI pre-elections to at least condemn that violence; perhaps the PML-N achieved power without much of a fight and hence has yet to learn to value it. Yet, friends still maintain: Good Cop, Mian Nawaz Sharif, Bad Cop, the cabal of malicious, reckless advisors.
Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan is the sole exception in playing bad cop, bad cop and then some more all by himself, for now at least.
There is a common thread to all of this, all top men in power, all the three Sharifs are denied any and all personal agency and are hostage to those around them. While all past top men, Kayani and Iftikhar Chaudhry did all harm by themselves. The dangerous and nonsensical politics of Mr Khan and His holiness perhaps is not the real challenge, to quit the doublespeak and seeing the whole picture and more difficultly saying it is.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 7th, 2014.