A house divided against itself cannot stand, said Abraham Lincoln many moons ago, adding that it will become “all one thing, or all the other”. His words are remembered to this day as he spoke of a nation divided on the issue of slavery. But what would he make of Pakistan, a land with far too many divisions?
The people are divided, as are the provinces. The judiciary is perceived as divided. The political class was always divided. Within parties, there are divisions and the mother of all institutions is in no better mood, it is said.
The Pakistan Muslim League (N) is finally in power but it appears to be struggling between its democratic credentials and its atavistic origins. The Prime Minister is trying to make all the right noises on mainstream media, promising to clear bills and ensure the right of speech, as his information minister promises to do away with all the bad, mad laws of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf era.
On the other hand, his home minister of old times and the present is twirling his luxurious Hercule Poirot moustache as he treats the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf wallahs to raids, arrests and tear gas shells. And he is now threatening to do it all over again, while Shehbaz Sharif plays the great statesman and offers a grand dialogue, whatever that means. Let us all figure it out at D-Chowk around a table set in the middle of the tear gas clouds and providing the perfect photo op.
And then there are reported and unreported differences within the family. No number of niece, uncle and cousin appearances can stop the people from speculating about the sheen and the noon and all those in between.
But all this could be forgotten, if the government was governing. The experienced ones are no more inspiring than the inexperienced ones so far. The new prime minister is obviously dealing with separation anxiety – away from the chief minister’s comfy job with its prolific spending habits and no headaches about earning dollars, questions about loss-making discos or a water crisis.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif still looks comfortable at hospital openings and chairing lengthy meetings – a day after announcing an austerity plan including reducing petrol expenses, he called a meeting in Lahore. Did the cabinet members get to Lahore on flying carpets or did Scotty just beam them up? And then there are his son’s foreign appearances. Enough said.
But this would get highlighted more if Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf were not running around heedlessly (or is it heedlessly?). Imran Khan is on the rampage, but without a plan. He surely is the man of steel whose kryptonite is a simple question: “what next?”.
Now that he has called off the great march – inexplicably say some while others point to the low numbers that turned up – he continues to make it up as he goes along. But this time around he is confronted, as were others before him, with state violence, which is always effective as long as it is not being neutralised, as it was in 2014 or with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan on its annual picnic trips to Islamabad. Khan is beginning to learn, as did the others, that the khalai makhlooq are not his BFFs.
Is he listening to the lyrics “teri nazron main hai teray sapne, tere sapno mein hai naraazi [in your eyes lie your dreams, in your dreams there is displeasure]” from an AR Rahman number? Or is it the makhlooq which are singing this song to him or is it Shehbaz Sharif who is serenading his brother? The possibilities are endless.
Anyway, back to Khan: he is not happy with his knights either. Many Galahads did not show up at the marching party and those who did, did not bring enough people for Rana Sahib to beat and tear-gas. So, the party is being turned upside down once again and the nazriyati lot is taking centre stage once again, just in time for the hard times.
From Omer Cheema to Iftikhar Durrani to Aun Abbas Bappi, they are being lined up to shed blood, sweat and tears. The fair-weather friends, who were there once upon a power time, are now hiding or playing water polo, lotas in hand.
Perks of unemployment
Khan’s only unchanging plan is to count on the powers that be to call elections. In the meantime, the two having fun in his party are Shaukat Tarin and Hammad Azhar. Their trolling of the Noonies is relentless – unemployment comes with its own perks.
Others too have their own story. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Pakistan Peoples Party are trying hard to play nice even though their talks are going nowhere; the fighting is feared to return, as did the load-shedding for the rest of us. And in Balochistan, Balochistan Awami Party and its government are perpetually on the ventilator, like so much else in Pakistan.
The Pakistan Peoples Party, as always, is sitting pretty, with a government in Sindh and federal ministries where photo ops are pretty much the hardest part of the day, be it Benazir Income Support Programme or the Foreign Office. Other than the selfie moment, the party spends all day, plotting for the number of seats it needs to make it back to the Prime Minister seat. “Along with Sindh, if we can manage five from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 10 from Punjab and….” It is less a political party and more of a math bee. But on the upside, there is very little indication of any friction within.
Back to the divisions: there are many singing “tere sapno mein hai naraazi” among the grand adjudicators. There is always talk about who is allowed to adjudicate what and when as there are fears about certain crownings.
However, there is yet another, most important division which is rumoured to exist. But like Voldemort in the magic world, we Muggles cannot really speak of it, though we do hear of it all the time. But the problem is that even the storytellers are divided – about whether those who cannot be named are divided against Khan’s ouster or the Sharifs’ rise or their own U-turns. We all wait in the dark and the heat for the truth to be revealed. It, eventually, always is.
This article first appeared in Dawn.