. . . . . .  

Pakistan has a surfeit of leaders, but a vacuum of leadership. Its pantheon is over-crowded, filled with terracotta warriors moulded from the clay of ambition.

Recent events have shown how close it has come to political agnosticism. Nothing is sacred anymore: not personal dignity, not laws, nor orders from the courts, certainly not the Constitution, not even distant Medina - the last resting place of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).

Take the recent shenanigans in Lahore. Lahore's history has always been a besmirched tapestry of coups, betrayals and assassinations. Never before, though, has it witnessed the absurdity of a PTI Punjab governor [Cheema] propping up a moribund PTI chief minister [Buzdar], in a farcical re-enactment of the 11th century Spaniard El Cid, whose corpse was fitted with armour , put upright on his horse and sent into battle.  

Buzdar, declared dead, refused to accept the coroner's verdict. Incredibly, he chaired a meeting of his defunct cabinet, who sat disconsolate in various poses of rigor mortis.

Never before has any Punjab chief minister-elect needed to approach the courts, not once, not twice but thrice to have himself sworn in by the competent authority. Eventually, the Punjab High Court summoned the Speaker of our National Assembly in Islamabad to install Humza Sharif in the contested chair.

Watching the shot-gun oath-taking, one shared Maryam Nawaz Safdar’s disappointment. She had witnessed her uncle being sworn in as prime minister in Islamabad and now in Lahore, her cousin as Punjab's chief minister. The fruit of her tireless endeavours, her exhausting rallies, and her relentless advocacy on behalf of her absent father Nawaz Sharif fell, but in someone else’s lap.  

Had she lived in Ancient Egypt or Romanov Russia, where thrones were shared jointly by relatives, she might have hoped to become co-Chief Minister. Who knows?  One day she may be her own queen-maker.

Buzdar's sterile chief ministry has left a residue of doubts regarding the judgement of his sponsor and his sponsor's sponsor. Now that Imran Khan is no longer prime minister, he has waived personal infallibility, He has begun admitting avoidable errors, one of them Buzdar his choice for Punjab.  

This candid admission is shared by Imran’s own sponsor General Qamar Javed Bajwa. In ‘secret’ conclaves the COAS held with students and faculty at LUMS and later with rusty retired service personnel, he shared too his misgivings about Buzdar. He conceded that Buzdar as ill-equipped to reign over a province that is larger than Bangladesh.

Why did both sponsors condone such a damaging choice for so long? And why could they not ensure a swift surgical end to Buzdar's gangrenous administration?

Buzdar is now a footnote. His mentor, our former PM, is determined to remain in the spotlight. He condoled with the Chinese whose CPEC he derided when in office. He has held mammoth rallies in major cities. (One is reminded of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s short-lived show of strength after his ouster in 1977.) He has called for an assault on Islamabad after the Eid holidays, at the end of a punishingly hot May.

He is deserted by his erstwhile friends, most significantly Jehangir Tareen (his former open-pursed ATM). An ailing Tareen returned to Lahore and congratulated PML-N’s Humza Sharif on his selection as CM Punjab.

Imran’s personal integrity is being eroded by allegations of corruption by those with familial access to Banigala. Belatedly, he disowned the misbehaviour by his PTI stalwarts against a PML-N government delegation outside the Masjid-e-Nabi in Medina - the sacrosanct city he touts as the model of perfect governance. 

Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman could not have taken kindly to such hooliganism on his turf. The Saudis do not care who is in charge in Islamabad, so long as its gutter politics do not overflow into their kingdom.

Delegations from Pakistan have always been accorded singular courtesies by the Saudis – a call on the king, admission to the inner sanctum of the Holy Ka’aba, VIP hospitality, luxurious resalable gifts, crude oil on concessional terms, and most importantly financial subventions to bolster Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves.

Joint Statements issued at the conclusion of each visit are a predictable wish-list of repetitive intent. The one issued after Imran Khan’s visit in May 2021 spoke of ‘the Kingdom's 2030 vision and Pakistan’s development priorities emanating from a shift from geo-politics to geo-economics’. The latest one, after PM Shehbaz Sharif’s exactly a year later, emphasised ‘diversifying trade exchange…and intensifying communication between the private sector in the two countries in order to discuss trade and investment opportunities and turn them into tangible partnerships.’

The reality within these platitudes is that we need Saudi oil and money, while the Saudis need our muscled manpower.

We should be careful, though. Saudi Arabia’s patience with us could run out before its oil wealth does.




[As there was no DAWN issue today, 5 May 2022, this is the article that would have appeared.]  

05 May 2022
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