If there was a conspiracy and this is the outcome, the conspirators deserve a long stint in purgatory – or what the Chinese used to call a re-education camp. After the long marches and the dharnas what do we get? The turnips more red-faced than ever, some of the confidence knocked out of them, but still very much in place. If this had to be the outcome the conspiracy was best left untested.
It was a close call for the turnips, no doubt about that. What a ride we’ve had. But then what’s the result? Will the Khawajas and Butts – for sins unknown and unexplained, the country’s ruling class – have learned some lessons? It seems highly unlikely.
I was watching the speeches in the joint session and the prime minister seemed most swayed by the oratory of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, especially when he said that the PTI resignations should be accepted at once. A light shone on the prime minister’s countenance and he couldn’t help beating his desk. If this hawkish line is still what appeals to him it is a safe bet that his mind remains stuck in its old grooves.
It is the PPP and the Jamaat-e-Islami which are helping the turnips come out of this mess. If it had been left to the PML-N and other Lahori champions of democracy the conspiracy, if there was one, would have surely succeeded. In petroleum’s hall of fame Maulana Fazlur Rehman now figures as the international symbol of diesel. If it had been up to him and to that other firebrand democrat, Mehmood Achakzai, we might yet have seen more games played on Constitution Avenue.
It can be taken as a sound rule of Pakistani politics that whichever side Maulana Fazlur Rehman is on it is best to take the other side. Once upon a time as part of the MMA he was a cheerleader for the Musharraf regime. Now he is amongst the leading champions of democracy. What does it say about democracy?
Wiser heads have prevailed but the beleaguered paladins are far from grateful. The PPP and the Jamaat-e-Islami coming to their defence and saying that the PM should not resign is like pouring salt over their wounds, for it indicates that they are beholden to others for their survival. Do they like it when Asif Ali Zardari, of all people, mounts a high horse and gives them advice about seeking a political end to the crisis? Do they like it when Rehman Malik is part of the team talking to the leaders of this half-baked insurrection, the Reverend Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan?
And how does it sound when Rehman Malik politely requests the Reverend to have the tents of his followers removed from in front of Parliament House and the Reverend, all sweet reason by now, obliges. This is to add vinegar to the wounds.
So Gawalmandi democracy, the heavens be praised, survives but there is no fun in the victory because it is from a poisoned chalice that the Sharifs drink. They know they have survived because of two things: (1) parliament rallying not so much to their standard as to its own defence; and (2) the conspirators either losing their nerve at the last minute or the consummation of the conspiracy never part of their script.
For let us not forget that if ever there was an excuse for a coup it came with the capture of state TV on the corner of Constitution Avenue. You only had to have your eyes glued to your TV screens to get the feeling that order had broken down completely and chaos was descending on the capital. Never was a moment more tailor-made for a coup. But the moment passed.
111 Brigade moved but only to get the TV headquarters vacated. And then the army chief came visiting the PM and the worst of the crisis, as even armchair insurrectionists like me could see, was over. This was on Monday morning. On Tuesday parliament met in joint session. Had the army not stopped the protesters from going beyond a certain point the previous day, parliament could not have met. This means that even if we take all the talk of a conspiracy at face value, it was a half-cocked affair, with the conspirators’ full hearts not in it.
But the question arises: why then go to all the trouble? Why have the ISI and the army generally come to specialise in these half-measures? Memogate was another half-conspiracy, undertaken for what rhyme or reason, to score what point? Heaven forbid that I should be suggesting full measures, full instead of aborted pregnancies…only this that for achieving limited aims, such as teaching the Khawajas a lesson, is it worthwhile to undertake a full adventure costing so much in lost time and energy?
The turnips had already lost much of their roundness and lustre. Even if further cutting them down to size was a worthwhile endeavour from the army’s point of view, was such an extended operation needed, spread over the whole of this summer, to achieve this relatively limited aim?
The Americans wanted to remove Mossadegh as prime minister and they sent a CIA operative, Kermit Roosevelt, to Teheran with ten million dollars in cash and he successfully managed the ouster, choreographing street demonstrations and army intervention. The Soviets wanted to remove Amin from power in Kabul and put Babrak Karmal in his place and they had to send in an army which remained stuck in Afghanistan for the next ten years.
If the ISI is into the Soviet model of doing these things it is high time it got itself some new textbooks. Of this summer’s events in Islamabad Kermit Roosevelt at least would definitely not have approved.
But good things come of even half-cocked affairs. The turnips know they have been knocked about but there is nothing they can do. Thanks to Model Town, Shahbaz Sharif is a diminished figure in the satrapy of Punjab. But will he step down? Perish the thought. This is not part of any Gawalmandi script. His finger will keep wagging but mercifully with less force than before. In future trips to Turkey and China and other business destinations, hopefully extended clan members will keep a lower profile. And hopefully they will not travel in the executive jets of the cement mafia. But we’ll be stuck with the metro-buses and flyovers. There is no escaping them.
And there have been other political developments. Notice something strange? All the derisive and dismissive comments about the Reverend Qadri have largely disappeared. Dislike a man as much as you may, it is not easy to take him lightly when he has followers in the thousands ready to brave hail and sunshine for him. Especially amongst the liberati, apt to get such things wrong, he was not taken seriously. This half-cocked conspiracy far from destroying him has raised his stature and made him come out as a power in his own right at least in the puissantprovince of Punjab.
I know drawing room democrats will choke on this observation but they should look around carefully. Who else in Punjab has the same street power? And street power is a mighty thing, not easy to downplay.
Much depends on how the Reverend plays his cards in the days ahead. If he stays put in Pakistan the liberal Islamic coalition gathered around him can become a more serious player. But if he decamps toCanada again – whatever the pretext – there will be no stopping cynicism from gaining more ground.
There is no future for the young in the PML-N, none in the PPP, both parties representing a past that is dead. The coalition forged in the heat of this conflict holds some promise but only if the merry evangelist who heads it stays here.
Imran Khan must be got down from his container. He has struck a chord amongst the young, both men and women, and that is something to build on. A mark of true generalship is to know when to step back. His long march has come to its end. He must now be able to conduct an orderly retreat.
Tailpiece: And, by the way, Imran should take some lessons in public speaking from the Reverend. No Naya Pakistan, no azadi, is worth his mind-numbing oratory.