Faint ray of hope gone too – Abbas Nasir


WITH the tiniest rays of hope for a change in the country’s skewed power equilibrium disappearing with the disintegration of the PDM, the politics of compromise by the compromised leaders of the main opposition parties has left one political player unchallenged and ascendant.

You get no points for guessing who that is. And in the current circumstances where, according to the prime minister and his information minister, the media is totally free, I don’t have to tell you as you would know already.

After all, what good is a media, especially if it’s freer than in the West, as Imran Khan often tells us based on his ‘18 years of experience of playing cricket and living in England’, if it leaves Pakistanis uninformed about what is happening at home?

However, in the unlikely event you don’t know, don’t expect me to tell you. I am unashamedly meek; lack the spine some of my journalist friends have displayed. They did so, knowing well the likely consequences: hardship on themselves and their dependants by being forced out of their jobs.

Not only the transgressors but the ‘opposition’ political parties too will be judged brutally by history.

I can’t really afford to be jobless. Or, to be more accurate in my case, column-less. This column affords me an opportunity to struggle, to breathe in a suffocating environment. Please don’t hate me for being truthful, it also enables me to pay some of my bills. This is also very important.

Yes, important in times such as these when many journalists — who are resistant to foisted authoritarianism cloaked as patriotism and still believe the will of the people ought to be supreme — are often found wishing they knew how to update the database of the ‘lifafa’ givers/senders.

What else would explain the case of the missing lifafa (envelopes bulging with cash), apart from the missing current address of the recipient? Surely, hybrid-sponsored social media activists seem to know, are able to count and make public each such instance complete with the beneficiary’s name.

The ‘beneficiary’ thus becomes a two-time loser. First they face the slur of being on the take of an individual, party or a foreign power(s) hostile to Pakistan, when they speak up for the rights of their own shirtless compatriots, the voiceless and then the ‘lifafa’ too gets lost en route to them.

The term ‘two-time’ loser may not adequately describe such a wretched member of the Fourth Estate. I’d say three-time loser may be more accurate. Yes, because in between the slurs and the forced joblessness, the more defiant ones will also get thrashed, shot at, even killed.

It is equally true that watching the idiot box one gets the distinct impression that there is no shortage either of ‘co-opted journalists’ who have fully embraced authoritarian values and thrive on regurgitating those unembarrassed each morning and evening, like a life-affirming mantra.

And then there are those who can be likened to Nero playing his flute while Rome burned. Each will have to carry the cross of their own ‘brand’ of journalism on their backs whenever history is written or narrated. Rest assured it will be. It always is.

Also, rest assured, not only the transgressors but the ‘opposition’ political parties too will be judged brutally by history. For their compromises, the foremost of which is to accept as a given the ascendancy of a power that ought not to have a role in a constitutional democracy.

Many are disappointed at the way the PPP has conducted its politics. The truth is the PPP now appears reconciled to ruling Sindh and Sindh alone well into the foreseeable future and thus its ambitions are informed by that reality. It has Sindh.

Why should it let someone else proclaim ‘I have Sinned’ and imperil the freedom of top leaders Asif Zardari and Feryal Talpur? If there was any doubt the PPP was placing expediency above all else it disappeared in the manner of its candidate’s notification as the leader of the opposition in the Senate.

It is not clear if this is why the PDM forced the PPP’s hand the following month by asking for resignations of its parliamentarians ahead of the planned long march. What was clear was that it wasn’t going to happen.

The party’s leadership made that clear on a number of occasions since the PDM’s formation. The reborn PPP will not rock the boat. It feels it has sacrificed enough for the cause of democracy. It was someone else’s turn to fight while it enjoyed the fruits of a deal or ‘dheel’ as some observers say.

One would have thought the final battle whenever that happened would have been decided in central Punjab with Nawaz Sharif’s October 2019 Gujranwala narrative delivering the required street support and any deficit being made up by the JUI-F’s cadres.

Enter Shehbaz Sharif. Released on bail in his own words from “a day less than seven months” of imprisonment. Looks like he enjoys his freedom too and resembles the PML-N leader who kept 50,000 plus supporters well away from the airport in Lahore.

He did not wish for a confrontation that would pit PML-N supporters against the state when his brother and niece were arrested on arrival ahead of the 2018 elections and sent off to prison. They’d been convicted on patently spurious charges. Some said he did this for a greater cause: he’d been promised Punjab after the polls.

That was not to be. But his faith is undiminished. He says he eschews confrontation because the country can’t afford it. Agreed. He dreams of a new social contract with free, fair elections post-electoral reforms, where all institutions remain within their constitutional ambit, the judiciary is independent and free from all influences and the popular will prevails.

With not a word about his proposals from the key arbiters, or even a clue who will be the guarantor of such an arrangement, he has either fallen for what the (currently) ‘good cop’ has whispered in his ear or prefers to be the modern-day male reincarnation of Alice in Wonderland.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.