Life In Times Of Shifting Chaos In Pakistan

Life In Times Of Shifting Chaos In Pakistan
I’d moved to a friend’s home for a couple of days. My home was getting renovated. Workers, painters, carpenters, furniture out of place, dust, things piled up, books off the shelves. Chaos. Normal. Unsettling.

As I was sipping my morning coffee, I was browsing on my phone. Such an unhealthy habit, isn’t it?

Imran Khan arrested at the court while he was making one of his many appearances. Circus. Usual. Boring.

Wait a minute! ‘Arrested,’ in court, in front of court officers, while the police looked haplessly as a hoard of armed black-clad, baton-wielding security personnel kidnap him. Who were those armed personnel?

Judge asked.

Inspector of Police of Islamabad did not know.

Eyewitnesses said, “NAB.” Some said “Rangers.” Some said, “Well, who knows, ISI clad in police clothes.”

Does it matter?

An arrest warrant emerges, of course. Dated a week old.

Imran wearing his trademark black glasses sat with his hand on his jaw, looking at this spectacle through the glass window. The black cloud bleating away, broke the glass down – whisked him away as he was filling some paperwork.

I should be relieved. Finally.

Imran has been a pain in every sense of this exquisite word. Since he arrived on the political landscape of Pakistan, he has been a PAIN. In all its manifestations: a misogynist, anti-democratic, obstinate, obstructive, destructive, regressive polarising force, in a fragile polity. He just would not relent. His twisted U-turns and lack of direction never ceased to annoy and irritate.

It is exhausting. I am exhausted.

I’ve seen many ‘emergencies’ in Pakistan. General Musharraf’s takeover, standoffs, dharna sieges of Islamabad and the madness of the vote-of-no-confidence, endless series of crises and now this.

Sitting in Islamabad as an ordinary citizen, I am a witness to another circus, but more twisted than the Cirque du Soleil, minus the music, costumes or the sophisticated choralography.

But a circus it is.

A horrifying one, a terrifying one. The kind that crawls from dark corners, imagined or real crevasses – one that we can’t quite see but feel heavily.

Processing in Pakistan is a constant state of being.

As I sipped and watched my phone, Amna my friend and host, walks up to the table I was seated at and says, “Did you read?”

“Yes,” I replied.

In unison we say, “Now what?”

Yes. Now what?

Looking at television, we realised the ‘news’ was on a loop. Only in the land of the pure, a live, uncertain, ongoing ‘emergency’ has no news.

No reporting.

All ‘our’ ‘news’ is through social media. ‘We’ are informed through a random series of citizens journalism. That’s our reality in Pakistan. Has been for decades now. Videos of burning buildings, tear gas filled smoky streets, messages about a death in Quetta, beaten up protesters in Dir, Peshawar, Lahore. Images and voice notes from the four corners of the country feed the fear. Small. Medium. Large.

Who knows what is true or not.

There is no formal reporting.

The idiot box sharing the same stock images of the ‘events’ first few minutes, the black hoards swarming into Islamabad High Court’s premises, and lifting Imran khan amongst a sea of security. That’s the image. One hundred security personnel pushing pulling sweating swaying around one man.

That’s the message. On a loop.

Should I laugh? Lord have mercy. Who is taking on whom?

The permanent circus in Pakistan is no longer a drama, it happens predictably, frequently - but this time there is thicker unease.

Amna and I look at one another, I take a deep breath and we try to brush the lingering thoughts of “Who is in control of this country?”

The prime minister is out of the country, as usual seeking direction from his older brother basking in the sun of Hyde Park. Asim Munir, our chief of army staff, whose name I forget constantly, (I wonder why), is palpably invisible.

No one - even those who secretly trust the permanent powers - trusts him.

Uncertainty. That’s it, we are in a permanent state of disequilibrium, which is shifting without full permission.

Rana Sanaullah droning in the background. His moustaches irritate me. I try and concentrate to comprehend what he is saying, but I cannot. Mind shuts down.

Later, Ahsan Iqbal, the gentler stoic, is speaking in English, to an audience – as to who it is, I am not quite sure of. It could be, I think, that foreigners perhaps aren’t convinced?

That’s what comes to my mind: no one in government speaks in English otherwise. Where is our information minister Mariyum Aurangzeb?

Does it matter? Random thought. This is our normal.

WhatsApp messages, full of memes, flippant commentary, but for the first time, there is a sense of more than shifting sands. All the conspiracy theories, scenarios, are disquieting. Games within games is par for the course here.

But no one is in control. That is our truth. We all feel it.


The next day.

Amna and l meet for breakfast, smile, resilience is thy name.