Politics in Pakistan is an indulgence of drastically fluctuating fortunes, more so, than the unpredictable game of cricket. Only a few weeks ago, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf was ruling the roost, riding high on the waves of its massive vote bank and an enabling judiciary, seemingly on the road to recovery from its long-drawn intoxicating euphoria.
Since Khan came to power in 2018, only to be later ousted through a vote of no confidence last year, Imran Khan has repeatedly and condescendingly refused to engage, in any context of the word, with other political players in the realm of Pakistani politics, dubbing them chor, daaku, lootairay. In fact, the use of derogatory terms like the ‘three rats’ and “three stooges,” while referring to Shahbaz Sharif, Fazl-ur-Rehman and Asif Zardari has become the mocking norm since the former prime minister’s container days. And though he was neither able to curtail corruption nor bring home the looted billions stacked abroad - the two goals topping his manifesto before he came to power - Khan was most potent in spewing diatribe round-the-clock.
During his three-and-a-half-year tenure, Khan’s governing attitude had always been tantamount to uncompromising authoritarianism, exhibiting total disregard for opposition’s mandatory role in the country’s affairs.
Khan has always considered himself too sacrosanct to deign to attend parliament sessions together with his rivals or ever sit across to his political opponents while in power, conveniently disregarding the role of a strong opposition in the running of a democracy, however malfeasant that very opposition might be. That an active opposition keeps the wheel of democracy chugging and charged for ready dispensation of the system of governance was totally and repeatedly ignored by Khan.
Nothing could bring the former prime minister to budge from this stance of refusing to engage with the blatantly corrupt opposition, no matter how direly the country needed him to do so; or however urgently the political, economic and security situation entailed dialogue and restraint, the latter stood no chance against Khan’s inviolability and swollen egocentrism.
During his three-and-a-half-year tenure, Khan’s governing attitude had always been tantamount to uncompromising authoritarianism, exhibiting total disregard for opposition’s mandatory role in the country’s affairs. He didn’t realize that in order to cleanse Pakistan of the chorr dakus, as he had claimed was his aim, Khan had to engage with them and oust them through parliamentary processes rather than street-led strategies that proved to be counter-productive in the long run. Opportunities for talks with the opposition were always kicked aside by the former prime minister with insults and tawdry name-calling excessively hurled at political opponents.
How Khan thought he would manage the affairs of the country without the balancing check of a forthright opposition, no matter how ‘opposed’ he was to that opposition, is baffling. Pushing presidential ordinances through or striking deals on how Malik Riaz’s forfeited money would be brought to the state treasury or the Supreme Court, bypassing the parliament without debate and with utter disregard for its sanctity, the PTI-led government enacted the highest number of presidential ordinances. At least 77 ordinances were goaded through within its short tenure, the number being the highest by any regime in the country’s history. Even the Supreme Court also knocked Khan’s government in 2022 for promulgating an excessive number of ordinances.
The PDM government seems to be mimicking the same contemptuous mannerism, as it perpetuates this endless cycle of imprudence, repeating PTI’s gaffes.
For Khan, it was always a ‘die or dialogue’ sort of a stalemate, and he unfailingly would rather opt for the former of the two choices; just like he proclaims death as desirable over a life of ghulami (slavery), death seemed desirable over dialogue. And a very slow death it might have led to, as his party’s political trajectory has eventually proven to be suicidal, with the current disintegration of PTI suggesting the gradual beginning of a near-certain decline, if not the end.
It was all these years of haloed narcissism and his holier-than-thou disposition, not just the rioting events and vandalism of May 9, that have triggered what might be safely called PTI’s dreaded descent, though, it would still be wrong to write off PTI as yet. Khan was both right and wrong when he recently told his followers that regardless of whatever PTI is going through, it has already won the narrative war. Though it might have won the war of narratives, countries cannot be run on narratives alone; those narratives must transcend into actions. There’s a difference between running a country and running a campaign.
Ironically, the country for whose sake Khan now may contemplate leaving politics if his departure can benefit the nation, is the country for which he could never previously compromise his bloated ego and unprincipled principles. Till recently, in his live addresses almost every day, Khan was pleading to hold talks with the institutions, with everyone. With roles brutally reversed, Khan has been asking for immediate talks, having formed a committee to hold dialogues with anyone, while the erstwhile opposition that now holds the reins as coalition government, has behaved in exactly the same manner as PTI did, rejecting the offer to sit across the table for the sake of sanity, sagacity and salvation.
As actors change while actions don’t, the state’s playbook hasn’t changed either. The zero-sum fight between the two symbols of unchallengeable invincibility, Pakistan’s most popular politician and the country’s most powerful institution, should also bring home some lessons for all political leaders and parties, anyone among which may fall out of line sooner than later.
The PDM government seems to be mimicking the same contemptuous mannerism, as it perpetuates this endless cycle of imprudence, repeating PTI’s gaffes, with no derived learning on PDM’s or PTI’s side. How fortunes may turnaround and fluctuate sooner and faster than expected, is a lesson none has learnt or is desirous of learning. As from “no dialogue with chors,” we are down to “no dialogue with those who attack state symbols,” the already travailing public is left further disgusted and speechless.
As actors change while actions don’t, the state’s playbook hasn’t changed either. The zero-sum fight between the two symbols of unchallengeable invincibility, Pakistan’s most popular politician and the country’s most powerful institution, should also bring home some lessons for all political leaders and parties, anyone among which may fall out of line sooner than later. But the incumbent government has all too willingly forgotten the lessons of the past, if there were ever any learnt, when the former itself had been at the receiving end of the miltablishment’s wrath.
Imran Khan’s conspiracy narrative and playing the victim, while also repeatedly voicing the not-a-slave narrative, the haqeeqi azadi mantra and the proclamation of threat to his life from every disparate source around him, have been so overused and abused that it is almost possible to predict what narrative Khan would next churn out in self- defence. There are pertinently essential lessons for all political players in the manner and pace at which PTI is dismantling; lessons that our politicians never seem to heed when hubris is at the hub of their political pursuits.
Elections this year might be our only legitimate hope but the question is, what would polls change except for a change of roles. The same players with same ideologies and strategies. The losing side would cry foul for eternity, while the winning side would rule as if there was no tomorrow. The same old tussle, tug of war would begin with highly predictable moves and narratives for the cycle to be hopelessly repeated.
A very apt analysis by Asha Amirali in Al Jazeera suggests that regime change is not going to change much in Pakistan’s political landscape; this “inter-elite warfare” will only seek to keep Pakistan locked into this cycle of perpetual crisis state.
It’s time for reflection, not rejoicing. The ones rejoicing the fall will fall from grace too, yet again.