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The theatre of the absurd continues -- only in Pakistan

The theatre of the absurd continues -- only in Pakistan
Amir Mateen
Saturday, August 30, 2014


Islamabad: Only in Pakistan can this circus of the absurd unfold like this. Everybody knew that the elephant in the room was the so-called ‘Umpire’. The government called it in for its protection; Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri kept mentioning it openly; the media and political gurus wondered what role it was playing and how it would ultimately settle the issue.


Yet when the Umpire finally intervened everybody seems confused asking who the hell invited them for help. Interestingly, politicians got busy blaming each other for inviting the khakis but did not tell us what they might do now; will it resolve the ongoing political crisis? What did they exactly tell Imran and Qadri? And what if they refuse to heed their advice? It was like discussing the tail, not the elephant.


It made sense for the PML (N) to explain to Parliament what exactly transpired between the army and the government. After all, the biggest factor that saved the PML (N) government was the support of almost all political parties against the PAT/PTI combo.


The National Assembly fumed over the media commentary that gave the impression that the PML (N) had bypassed Parliament and asked the army for an extra-constitutional mediation role.


It seemed like submission and failure of Parliament before a few thousand dharna-wallas. Nisar made his usual 60-minute ‘brief’ speech, which actually caused lots of confusion. Nawaz Sharif had to pass on a chit that, we assumed, was a request to cut it out.


The crux of Nisar’s speech was that the government (PM) in his meeting with army (chief) found it legally correct to request their role as facilitator for a possible resolution of the problem. This was after repeated calls by the PTI and PAT for the army intervention. Later, he got a call from an army officer asking for government permission while he was with the Prime Minister who approved the idea of the army facilitation. Now semantics was important as facilitation is within the purview of the law while army’s role as mediator or guarantor was not.


PPP’s Khursheed Shah perhaps made the speech of his life defending democracy and Parliament. His punch line was: let them burn the Secretariat, the PM House, the Parliament House and the whole Islamabad but we shall not let them burn the Constitution. Mahmood Khan Achakzai would not let he government go scot-free by protesting why the government didn’t clarify its role for 12 hours: You kept us in pain for so long for which you might need to fire a minister. This prompted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to reiterate Nisar’s version, saying,” I can sacrifice a government ten times but not the principle”. The PM endorsed Nisar’s version.


Perhaps Nawaz Sharif should have explained the details of how and when he asked the army to be a facilitator, particularly when Nisar has a bad habit of losing meaning in translation. One can’t blame the ISPR for clarifying the exact situation. Now, we are not sure whether the ISPR wanted to emphasise the Army’s role as facilitator, as opposed to guarantor or mediator, or it wanted to explain that the request came from the prime minister. Nisar further blundered by claiming that the ISPR had issued its Press release on his advice, which a channel denied quoting sources. Nisar’s second version had not arrived till the filing of the report.


The absurdity continued as Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri did not take the hint to pack up, if at all they were given. Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri kept telling us what they had told the General. I am more interested in knowing what the General told them. We got a hint of that from Imran’s speech delivered on Thursday night that he had asked politicians to resolve their issue. My guess is that they must have also informed the PAT/PTI duo not to cross a limit where the soldiers had to stop them physically. If the assumption is true this means the agitators may have lost their claws. No more threat from the kaffan-clad grave-diggers to storm Parliament or the secretariat. We don’t know how it will conclude but we know that the option of orchestrated violence has lessened. And if the agitators still resorted to that we know who would be blamed.


This also showed that the Umpire was not siding with the agitators as many of us suspected. Either somebody bluffed Imran Khan into believing that he had the support of the khakis or he bluffed with all of us. We got a hint of it when Sheikh Rasheed retired to his Lal Haveli and found Jahangir Tareen making extra effort to fake a smile - not to forget Javed Hashmi’s departure to Multan. Anyway, the cards are open but we have to see how this game of nerves unfolds further.


All we can say is that Imran Khan and company, particularly Sheikh Rasheed, might need helmets next time they come to Parliament. The old guard at the Parliament was furious how the institutions were being undermined by inviting the army openly. They had no issue with Imran Khan criticising Nawaz Sharif who may have left a trail of lapses in one year. But to call the whole Parliament corrupt and rigged was an offence that left many old-timers fuming. But then it is not just Parliament that has been called corrupt. He has used similar words for the Supreme Court, the Election Commission, the media and whatever and whoever came in between. Being pro-Parliament and pro-democracy does not make you anti-PTI. But then King Khan has developed a habit of pronouncing everybody corrupt without presenting evidence. And then Imran had the audacity to claim that he knows how Westminster democracy functions. For all we know he would better fit in a monarchy where Khan is the King.

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