Imran’s loss of authority By Ghazi Salahuddin

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If there were dreams to sell, as the poet mused, what would you buy? Well, what we have on offer are more like nightmares. But, yes, we still have a choice. And the scope of the diversity of disasters that we may encounter is unfolding right before our eyes.

This observation could be seen as a refrain because the situation has remained grim for quite some time. However, we now have some fresh evidence to show that the centre cannot hold. All around us, regular disorders are building into crises.

One unlikely example would be the proceedings of the hearing of Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s review petition in the Supreme Court on Thursday. Everyone agreed that this was unprecedented. It did seem very odd to see that judges sitting together on a bench would become somewhat emotional in disagreeing with each other. This is how Justice Isa’s case could be a catalyst in a larger, national context.

Less subtle and more clearly attesting to the system’s increasing disequilibrium is the unfinished confrontation between the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), technically banned for now, and the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The manner in which the entire issue has been mishandled is an indication of confusion and disarray within the power structure.

If law and order becomes our focus, a suicide bomb blast in Quetta’s red zone on Wednesday has underlined another unfinished episode, that of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), though it has properly been outlawed. Its significance was enhanced by the possibility that its target was the Chinese ambassador, who was in the city.

This is another kind of a message that we need to decipher. Given an increase in terror attacks, is the TTP resurgent in Pakistan? And why have our strategies to deal with terrorism and violent extremist not been so effective?

But who will undertake this inconvenient business of carefully studying and questioning the existing sense of Pakistan’s direction? There is bound to be a systematic and structured process of how policies are designed and executed. But the TLP saga, going back to that Faizabad Interchange in Islamabad in 2017, bears testimony to the utter failure of such endeavours.

The consequences of how the TLP was enabled as a political force are fully evident at present. Last week its passionate followers, very much like the lumpen proletariat in Marxist terms, played havoc with the writ of the state in Lahore and other places in Punjab for nearly three days. And the government has yet to contend with the demands of this religious group, after first banning it and then negotiating a deal with it.

This story demands a lot of explanations. One incredible twist is how Justice Isa figures in it because of the judgment he wrote in 2019 after the Supreme Court took suo-motu notice of the Faizabad Interchange sit-in. It was a two-member bench headed by Justice Munir Alam.

I need to shift the angle to include some other developments that pertain to growing instability in our political and social spheres. I see this as my theme though, not being a social scientist, I do not have the requisite expertise to explain a certain kind of change taking place in the structures and value systems of the Pakistani society. As a journalist, I can only be a witness to things cracking up while there is a surge in deviant behaviour in all sectors.

For Imran Khan and the PTI, struggling to deal with the TLP challenge, a potential source of upheaval within the party is refusing to lie low. Estranged Jahangir Tareen, who crafted the strategy for Imran to come into power, made another show of strength on Thursday when he attended the hearing of his bail in two FIRs filed by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in Lahore. Now he claims that he has the support of 40 PTI lawmakers.

Jahangir Tareen said on Thursday that members of his group were likely to meet the prime minister in a few days. But this would not be an easy decision for Imran Khan. If he engineers some relief for Tareen, his credibility would suffer. But there is no denying that there are fissures in the party even beyond the group that is tied to Tareen.

Another political development this week was the bail granted on Thursday to PML-N leader Shahbaz Sharif, who is the leader of opposition in the National Assembly. Earlier, there was an interesting mix-up when he appeared to have been granted bail by a division bench but it was later revealed that it was a split decision. So, a full bench of the Lahore High Court was constituted and that bench announced its decision on Thursday.

So, something is happening in and to this society that is meaningful in terms of mounting pressures on the system of governance. The TLP’s slogans were raised by the opposition in Friday’s brief and rowdy session of the National Assembly. The political temperature is rising, as the harsh and angry exchange between Speaker Asad Qaiser and the PML-N’s Shahid Khagan Abbasi in the National Assembly demonstrated.

Finally, I would assign much significance to the disaffection of a group that is not able to raise slogans or address a press conference. Reports have appeared about the deep resentment felt by the officers of the Punjab Police over the deal that the government had made with the TLP. For them, it showed the weakness of the state and its willingness to wilt under pressure.

If you find all this very depressing, there is so much more to contend with in this season of pain and grief. On Friday, we were officially warned that Pakistan may soon be facing a situation similar to India if the current trend in the spread of Covid-19’s third wave continues. Prime Minister Imran Khan has asked the army to assist in the enforcement of the prescribed SOPs.

It is advisable to isolate yourself. And this should give you some time to think.

The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail.com