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The Biblical scriptures tell us that the prophet Noah loaded his Ark with a pair of every species, especially rodents. He calculated that if his Ark was ever in danger of sinking, rats would be the first to jump ship.

The recent exodus of the senior leadership from the PTI is unparalleled in the history of Pakistani politics. Over the seven decades of our dyslexic democracy, every political party whenever it came under pressure has challenged it, or withstood it, or made sacrifices despite it. None more so than the Pakistan People’s Party, to whom prison became a home away from home.

Never before, though, have so many in the PTI owed so much to so few, in fact to one sole benefactor – their leader Imran Khan. Yet, they have deserted him with unseemly alacrity. Even the leadership of the Nazi Party in Germany waited until it was clear that the Second World War had been lost before they abandoned Hitler.

Here, the PTI high command when in government had postured, pretending to be leaders with a lofty mission to effect ‘true change’ in the country. Then, suddenly on a caprice, they quit Parliament, effectively abandoning their constituencies, and after the shameful events of 9 May, within days, one by one, they betrayed their modern messiah. Gethsemane became a rout. Disciples became turncoat Judases – all but one, that is. The only one who continues to stand by him – his Senior Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi – pledges a feigned allegiance.

What must Imran Khan be feeling now, when even a nonentity like Usman Buzdar, whom he disinterred from obscurity and made Chief Minister Punjab, resigns from the PTI? Buzdar’s elevation in 2018 inevitably drew comparisons with the legendary nomination by the Roman emperor Caligula of his horse Incitatus to the Roman Senate. Mr. Z. A. Bhutto’s selection of G.M. Khar as Governor Punjab in 1971 evoked similar derision amongst those who understood the pun on his name ‘khar’.   

Was the elevation of both Khar and Buzdar a deliberate slight to the Punjabi elite, or simply an extreme example of cronyism?

Imran Khan’s faulty selection of his team (some of whom are padding up to play for the other side) makes one appreciate why the Pakistan Cricket Board uses a panel to select players who will play for the nation. Favouritism has no place in any game, especially not in one as dangerous as politics.

Recent machinations have made it clear that Mr. Jehangir Tareen - the Croesus kingmaker who helped make Imran Khan prime minister in 2018 - is mobilizing his resources to create another realm. For whom? For himself? Before he can enter the fray, though, he needs to be rid of the ban that prohibits him and Nawaz Sharif (PML-N’s king across the waters) from contesting elections.

Once these gilded handcuffs have been removed from both of them – it has to be before the next general elections - one should expect to see Nawaz Sharif reigning in the presidency and Jahangir Tareen (health permitting) ruling if not from, then certainly behind the throne in Islamabad.

Switching loyalties or changing parties is not a Pakistani phenomenon. It has happened wherever there is a functioning democracy and a choice of causes – in India, the United States, even in the United Kingdom, where, in that mother of parliaments, the father of parliament Winston Churchill began as a Conservative, crossed the floor to become a Liberal, and then returned to the Conservatives.

Do such changelings have a ‘predictably insecure future’? As Churchill’s subsequent career demonstrated, apparently not. In Pakistan, being a political turncoat is almost a qualification. Take the revolving door loyalties of Sheikh Rasheed: 1988, the Islamic Democratic Alliance; 1990, against IDA ticket; in 1993, PML-N; then PML-Q, his own brainchild the Awami Muslim League, and most recently cohabitation with the PTI.

Or the voluble Fawad Chaudhry? All Pakistan Muslim League; 2012, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP); PML-Q, 2013; PTI, 2016.

The list is endless, as is the queue to quit the PTI.

Now, the issue in Pakistan is not who wins the next general election but who thinks he is another Kamal Ataturk or Recep Erdogan, with a mandate strong enough to rehabilitate the economy, to modernise a hierarchical society, and to put khaki back in the barracks. It will require a superhuman effort in a nation that has no superheroes, only papier-mâché Caligulas.

The truth is that the public has lost faith in its politicians and all other organs of governance. They have seen it too often to take elections seriously. They can foretell from experience that when any modern Noah reaches Mt. Ararat, he will find the same rats waiting for him on dry land.



[DAWN, 8 June 2023]   

08 June 2023
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