Unsustainable politics – 12 Nov 2022

Some loose ends seem to be on the verge of being tied, as Pakistan moves towards a finale of the largely unfounded and wishful thinking inspired speculations involving the month of November. As a London huddle by the prime minister and his party’s de-facto head Nawaz Sharif makes some important decisions regarding the future not just of the PDM but perhaps also of an agitating Imran Khan’s next steps – placing the constitution above all other considerations – there is hope that the recent political paralysis the country has been put through will gradually ease as the month nears its end. That hope, however, hinges on the expectation that Imran and his party do not propel politics any other way given the announcement to be made this month. Things still seem uneasy as the former prime minister continues his near-daily media appearances on national and international TV and the PTI resumes its rather long march to Islamabad and Rawalpindi, even if it comes in the form of baby steps. The question still unanswered is: what will the PTI do once it reaches Islamabad? There has been no clear declaration of intention although the party has said it will not return before it gets a date for fresh elections. Many political observers have been of the view that the long march is less about demanding early elections and more about creating uncertainty and placing pressure on the government and others regarding the November appointment.

For the past few months now, Pakistan’s politics has been compared to the 1990s – a time when the PML-N and the PPP would leave no stone unturned to go after each other’s government, often turning to the only force that had the power to help them in that. However, what we have been witnessing since April this year is way beyond the 1990s: a 21st century political meltdown. Partly known as the parties of the ‘boomer’ generations, the PML-N and PPP may in many ways still be stuck in the 90s but the PTI has mastered the art of social media and technology like no other political party in Pakistan. The party knows that in a post-truth world, the only thing that matters is perception. And that is one currency they have learnt to trade in with perfection. This is why even despite the loss of the ‘foreign conspiracy’ narrative post Imran and others’ audio leaks, all the party has had to do is offer another narrative. This time it has gone for the most controversial subject: non-political interventions in Pakistan. Ironically, they have done this all the while indulging in closed-door negotiations.

All else aside, there is right now an opportunity for all political parties to focus on issues that matter the most so that elections can take place next year. These include electoral reforms, local governments, a charter of economy and a new political framework. It is time to bury the hatchet, call it a new day and move forward. In a country where too much is decided behind drawn curtains, it is perhaps finally time for a new politics because a return to the politics of post-April 2022 will just not be sustainable for the country’s survival.

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