A rudderless ship | Shahzad Chaudhry


Has anyone seen the prime minister lately? He has been missed. There have been sporadic sightings but nothing that could pin him to one location. He has received guests – by the look of it in the PM Secretariat – and he was a chief guest at a Risalpur Graduation Parade. That should do his confidence some good. For how long though, is another story.

Reportedly, the PM House is no more central in his personal and functional life. There hasn’t been much functionality anyway. The cabinet finally just met this week after a rather long hiatus. The National Assembly has now been prorogued for some time and whenever required in the Senate, the relevant ministers attend to issues pertaining to their role. The PM may also not be well; he was recently reported to have visited a couple of privately run hospitals in Lahore. Jati Umra is his base wherefrom he ventures out for either leisure in Murree or briefly to the PM Secretariat when a visitor comes calling. Done, he proceeds back to his lair in Raiwind.

That is absent leadership. The zest is gone, the obdurate defence against Panama has wilted, the forever present and the very eloquent Marriyum Aurangzeb, and the irresistible Khawaja Saad Rafique have gone quiet. Only Daniyal Aziz continues to battle on in social media, alone and unsung. Haven’t heard much of Maryam Safdar nee Nawaz either for some time. The signs are not good; the prognosis ominous. Do they all know something we don’t?

This is when the PPP has gone wild and is reading the riot act to the government, having lost key aides of their sun-king Asif Ali Zardari to someone who just came and lifted them into obscurity. Everyone from the veritable Khurshid Shah to the easily aggressive Nisar Khuhro are up in arms, ready to lay down their lives in first recovering the personal aides of the King Lord and then if needed to shield the King from any malfeasance. The constrained chairman of the Senate of Pakistan too has been found making the right noises in support. Actually, there is little new that these aides can tell anyone on Zardari, his life already an open book. It seems like an innocuous attempt at giving the untouchable AAZ some sleepless nights and something to think about. Beyond that, there is little juice in this sting. Except that it keeps AAZ thinking – indeed if he is so naive.

Unless of course another son of Lyari, and the PPP, Uzair Baloch has had something to add beyond his linkages with India’s now condemned spy, Kulbhushan Yadav. But that may sound conspiratorial at this point of our national and political journey, and I better desist. But to simply think of such a possibility is mouth-watering from a media perspective; more so from the evening entertainment point of view. But let that wait.

Who picked the aides? No one is willing to admit. The possibilities are numerous. An unchecked Chaudhry Nisar is a handful, and no one has been able to impose their preference on him in these entire four years of minding the interior ministry with some veritable arms of law enforcement under him. Some say even the PM could hardly enforce any of his direction on him. But then his is not the only outfit to have caused slur to AAZ. The establishment is always the usual suspect in matters relating to the PPP – per PPP’s tenuous relationship with it, but any such projection is curtailed by the imbecility of how Messrs Asim, Memon and Kazmi have found easy escape from the gauntlet. There surely are bigger players in this game. Sindh itself is reasonably well equipped for the mundane. Again, the possibilities are many. Is it an inside job to enable the PPP to reinforce their cause against a poorly disposed central government? May seem far-fetched but nothing is beyond the domain of possibility.

In the meanwhile Kulbhushan, the man from ‘seema paar’, caught red-handed in Balochistan spilling venom, killing people, destroying property, and destabilising Balochistan on orders from his employers in India has reached his logical end. His confessions as an active duty senior officer of the Indian Navy on a mission to do an Ajit Doval on us meant that the choice of his fate was rather limited – the firing squad or the noose. His FM, the ebullient Sushma Swaraj, a person of many flavours, spelled the ultimate rites on him by calling him, ‘Hindustan ka beta’ (son of India). Simply, what was this beta doing in Pakistan and in Balochistan? Not vacationing for sure.

The rule is pretty simple – don’t get caught as a Mata Hari; because if you do your goose is cooked. In earlier cases India had waited to honour its other sons, Kashmir Singh and Sarabjit Singh, when they were repatriated as a goodwill gesture by Pakistan – the latter being buried in the Indian flag in recognition of his services for spying against Pakistan. This time they were tied in knots with little escape from a self-confessed senior spy found on Pakistani soil.

Swaraj threatened Pakistan with deteriorating ties, whatever that means, but this was per the script. Usually, when choices are limited the tone of the harangue gradually lowers to a whimper with time. Unless Pakistan buckles, which it should not knowing the state of play, we should soon see some more pragmatism tempering Indian bellicosity.

And while all this was happening our government seemed to have gone on a vacation. The defence minister did make a belated appearance, post facto, while the adviser on foreign affairs tried to catch up with the implications. The prime minister, always derided for avoiding naming the Indian spy in any of his statements since Kulbhushan was first apprehended, finally uttered something about seeking a peaceful neighbourhood while ensuring Pakistan’s security on priority. If that meant he agreed with Kulbhushan meeting his logical end, he did not say.

Literally, this is a rudderless ship with no one minding the wheel. One can speculate why that is the case but with gathering storms and buffets that can put the ship of the state in easy jeopardy the least one entrusted to steer the ship can do is to go down fighting. We need someone to fight the storm and steer this ship to calmer waters. The prime minister would do well to come back where the helm is. Else he may have heard that the mice tend to frolic when the big cat is away.