POLITICS in Pakistan is like an Abbas Mastan film (think Race) where twists and turns come faster than an Agatha Christie novel and the end brings so much relief from the edge-of-the-seat moments that no one wants to think of the holes in the plots.
The only difference is that no one — just no one — in Pakistani politics can look as good as Saif Ali Khan or Bipasha Basu (I confess my heart wasn’t strong enough to risk watching the sequels).
And while there is much in the past one year with Race vibes (Khan-Bajwa or Bandial-Isa share a chemistry that can be matched by Saif and Akshaye Khanna but instead of sensuous songs we make do with audio and video leaks), the excitement over the weekend in Lahore really took it to new levels.
There was a bizarre raid on Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi’s house — bizarre initially because the cameras had obviously been called in to broadcast it live.
The phrase ‘the revolution will be televised’ has taken on a new meaning in our country, where we are forbidden from reporting on terrorist attacks or speeches of political leaders, but raids on politicians’ homes make for good television. And of course, what is broadcast live is also tweeted live. And so it was that Friday night rapidly went from TGIF to many of us wondering when should we switch off and fall asleep, as videos of the gate being rammed down and people being mauled were inundating phone sets across the country.
But there was more that was bizarre coming our way.
As with a murder mystery, with this raid, we just couldn’t find out who the culprit was. Who gave the orders? To the police and then the journalists? All those who reached the Chaudhry family residence late at night must have been told by someone and yet no one seems to know who ordered the raid. How is that for a mystery?
The federal government was at pains to explain its cluelessness — or shall we call it powerlessness — instead of holding a press conference and adopting with open arms whatever insanity was making the headlines. This was not all. Its sincerity was bought hook, line and sinker by the PTI which is usually never willing to see any goodness in the government.
No voice on television was willing to justify it either, till along came a tweet from the caretaker chief minister which seemed to imply he was not just in charge but had also green-lit the ‘raid’.
We are in the mess we are because the system works in mysterious ways.
In the crazy times we live in, it now seems that raids on homes have been normalised; something which once happened in the peripheries hard to reach for television cameras; now they take place in city centres and are televised. There is no shame about the use or abuse of state power, because the message has to be sent to so many more than the one who is the immediate target.
But then, the pretence about the neutrality of state organisations such as the police or caretaker governments is about as subtle as the Anil Kapoor character in Race.
Let’s not digress though. The raid was important because it had the potential to scuttle the talks between PTI and the government. When they had begun, there was hope among many that sanity had prevailed, everywhere (hint, hint).
Not only did both sides agree, the inclusion of Ishaq Dar was seen as a sign that Nawaz Sharif was taking them seriously. Senate chairman Sadiq Sanjrani also made a surprise appearance because it was decided that the Senate and its chairman should take the initiative to talk to PTI via its members in the Upper House — and more than Dar, his appearance was reassuring for those who thought mortal politicians had a snowball of a chance of making peace happen, if the gods are not agreed.
The judges too fell quiet; not just the ones who wanted elections but also those who wanted bigger benches to sit on.
All this could not be just a coincidence, thought the Sherlock Holmes among journalists, ie, those who really don’t have the inside scoop and have to make the best of the clues thrown their way.
Then came the Lahore raid, on the bastion of everything that is traditional and old-fashioned in our politics. All the clues turned into red herrings. More than that, though, it is what this raid says about our politics and the direction it is headed in — a train crash. For a major reason, we are in the mess we are because the system works in mysterious ways, and at the behest of invisible forces (even if most of the time, they don’t bother to stay invisible). And those who are officially in charge are in reality not in control.
As a result, no one bothers to take any difficult, long-term decisions because the invisibles feel it is the job of the ones who are in charge on the surface, while those in charge are so busy coping with the fallout of the decisions made elsewhere, they never bother making any decisions themselves.
Till this changes none of our serious problems will be fixed. Consider that despite Imran Khan being the one with the red line drawn across his name, those who are the favoured ones are denying — in off-the-record conversations — half the actions being attributed to them. Khan too claims his stint in power was no different.
Now at the time of a serious crisis, when nearly everyone is agreed, political instability is the reason for our economic fragility, and despite endless advice from friends about addressing our fault lines, we continue our decades-old strategies.
The twists and turns which take politicians by surprise continue. Until these stop and those who are to govern are also given the power to decide, nothing will change. Those who work behind the scenes have to understand this. Otherwise, elections, even if they take place, will not change anything.