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The right moment

Cyril Almeida

IF you think you’re crazy and imagining things, you’re not. A moment of stability quickly yields to instability and confusion and the threat of chaos.

But there’s a pattern all right.

Nawaz and Maryam go quiet, the system goes quiet. Nawaz and Maryam switch the megaphone back on, the system roars back.

This time it may be for good.

The inimitable and excellent Sohail Warraich has described it as a desi-style tug of war between Team Democracy and Team You-Know-Who. He’s declared it the Beginning of the End.

Warraich is worth listening to carefully because he’s got it right pretty much every step of the way over the last year or so.

When more naïve types, including one here, thought the court couldn’t possibly oust Nawaz on the weight of a flimsy JIT, Warraich had already penned The Party is Over.

The fresh logic may be irresistible.

It starts with the Senate elections, but it isn’t really about the Senate. Even before the Balochistan machinations, the PML-N was only poised to gain a handful of seats in the Senate.

The people can’t be trusted to deliver the right result and massaging the process takes a bunch of doing.

Sure, the N-League will still grow to be the largest party in the Senate and with allies may grab a majority, but there’s no discernible legislative agenda that needs thwarting.

As for the reverse — the boys and their allies needing something done legislatively which Nawaz may be tempted to block — remember this:

Of the five constitutional amendments in this era of democracy, three have been pushed from outside parliament. Military courts twice by the boys; judicial selection once by the court.

But imminent democratic collapse is still possible.

Just as nothing Nawaz had actually done or threatened to get away with in the future made it absolutely necessary to oust him and yet he was chucked out about anyway, forget about the specific things the Senate election implies.

Think instead of it as a moment.

A moment to set right much that is wrong with the democratic project at a time of great danger to Pakistan from external enemies. Fail now and it could be irreversible disaster.

Twenty eighteen is unique because the electoral stars aligned to put the Senate and then all the other assemblies into play. It is also the opening act in a potentially long external struggle.

Trump and Modi combining to hurt us means a united national leadership is needed to navigate the threat, protect CPEC and pivot towards new friends and allies.

It’s not very bright or sophisticated, but then it never is.

So, go for the kill now rather than get into an extended mess from which it may be hard for the boys to extricate Pakistan, themselves or anyone else they may want to save.

Basically, hold your nose and get over with the unpleasant stuff because delay may escalate the cost of intervention.

Work through the options.

If the N-League gets to the Senate elections, it could dissolve the National Assembly the next day and trigger a general election. If that happens, it would be much harder to stop an election and the assemblies from reconvening.

The problem with a general election is it’s unpredictable.

The people can’t be trusted to deliver the right result and massaging the process takes a bunch of doing. Roll the dice and Nawaz may win. And if he wins, you can’t trust him to abide by anything he may promise before.

Like letting Shahbaz become PM and run the show.

The other possibility is Imran and the PTI get their act together and win a bunch of seats by themselves. But the problem with that is the first bit: Imran and PTI getting their act together.

And even if they do, they can’t be trusted to win themselves a majority.

That would mean a whole lot of massaging and a bunch of mainstreaming. All well within the realm of possibility, but still a messy affair.

Plus, what would that really achieve? Nawaz would be shut out, Shahbaz stuck in limbo and Imran could be PM — but it doesn’t amount to all that many years.

And even if that scenario manages to get to 2023, you’d need a bunch of new faces then. Age isn’t favouring any of the current options. So why give them the chance to select their own successors.

Pause the system now and a total reboot may be possible.

A clean start. New faces, leaders for the future, shined up, polished and presented for public approval. And in the meanwhile, set a bunch of apolitical experts — code for amenable to the boys and sceptical of democracy — to fix the rot and prepare us for greatness.

You can see why the dream never dies.

It may also explain the tug of war. One week up, the other week down; back and forth, tugging and tearing and pulling at each other.

Because the cost keeps rising. To pause the system is to shut out everyone. And everyone doesn’t like being shut out, especially with hungry-for-office types like Shahbaz and Imran prowling around.

The next-best option is to play the Imran and ultra-right card. But Imran is Imran and can’t seem to concentrate. And to prop him up with the necessary ultra-right support makes it messier still.

The worst option is to let the chips fall where they may, risk an election that gives Nawaz his greatest victory ever and have to deal with him all over again.

The Beginning of the End may be upon us. If you think you’re crazy and imagining things, you’re not.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm

courtesy Dawn.

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