Let us see tomorrow | Talat Hussain


Fast forward to October 30. What do we see? Cameras and news reporters tell us that Islamabad is choking with people: that there is a roaring multitude of oceanic proportions the likes of which has never been witnessed in modern history.

If past claims are a guide, the number will range anything between one million to two million. (Just to give you a sense of how many constitute ‘millions and thousands’, Islamabad’s total population is barely over 1.5 million. The votaries of faith who flock our holiest place of worship for Haj from all over the world every year never go beyond 1.8 million. The world’s largest football stadiums can house around 80,000 spectators. The tablighi gathering is half a million).

Because they don’t want to count, therefore, the news reporters will tell us that there are countless men and women who have brought revolution to Pakistan’s repeatedly attacked and conquered capital (weren’t we supposed to conquer Delhi and win Srinagar instead of Islamabad?)

This time we will see a planned attempt to block Islamabad’s eight entry points by the ‘Shikari brigade’ and see Mr Gandapur and Mr Murad ably assisted by Mr Asad and others as holy warriors carrying out the task of implementing the blockade. We will see Islamabad’s hospitals on high alert but empty of patients as the threat of a clash will loom large. Schools and colleges may have to be shut down and businesses, along with supplies of daily goods, will become hostage to a regime of fear and uncertainty.

On the venue, or just outside, we will hear Imran Khan and his brother-in-revolution Shaikh Rashid claim with supreme confidence that this is the will of the 200 million people who want Nawaz Sharif out of the PM House and pay for the Panama misdeeds that he is accused of.

The suggestions for accountability may vary depending on the mood and state of mind Imran Khan is in that night or those nights – in case the siege is extended over many days. He can ask for a simple resignation of Nawaz Sharif or he can ask for his public hanging and even lynching. On stage he can say anything. And to anyone: therefore the lash of his tongue will also inflict maxim damage on practically every federal institution (minus one exception of course) and anyone who is in the unenviable position of pointing out his follies, fallacies and contradictions.

Of course, we will see endless hours of analyses and ‘pukka’ (solid) information about things that ‘shall’ happen the next hour so that the public, by now reasonably addicted to the thrill crystal ball gazers generate, stays awake and interested in every minute of the 24×7 cycle of the world’s biggest guessing game. We will see all future ministers and wanna-be-ambassadors besides the other land-me-a-job queue-makers crawl out of the woodworks and write new prose in praise of the glorious revolution unfolding right before their eyes, even though an ordinary mortal may not be able to see anything that remotely resembles a revolution.

On the government side, we may see a desperate move, or a string of desperate moves, to stall and prevent this gathering of self-styled saviours. But that would be an administrative impossibility considering the fact that a city like Islamabad cannot be closed to incoming crowds without, ironically, shutting it down through rings of security and other road blocks. And that itself is an admission of defeat and in a way the fulfilment of the aim of the opposition. So we will see a government dithering and vacillating between crackdown and capitulation and in the end settling for managing the entry points of the city in a way that fewer and fewer people are able to come in.

But it will not be able to do anything about the show the PTI wants to put up. We will see cracks within the government widen. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan will insist on taking the lead in tackling the situation but, considering the state of his relationship with Nawaz Sharif, he may have to co-share the responsibility with the prime minister himself. That could send him on a long sulk road from where he might return after a long time.

We will also see the government pay the price of its incompetence and foolishness in handling sensitive matters. Its intransigence in not finding a quick outlet to the build-up around the Panama leaks, a scandal that has become low-grade news in every other country in the world, including Panama itself, except Pakistan. The government will suffer the burst of bottled-up frustrations within the political field with its monopolistic control of the levers of power, pelf, privilege in Punjab, its insane desire to stamp everything with the Sharif seal, its contempt for institutionalised decision-making and its unabashed cronyism.

All this load of three years of shoddiness and living-everyday-as-it-comes politics will stare the government in its face. This will jazz up television brawls and create a press conference galore. Social media battles will rage and outrageousness and open abuse will become the new normal.

Yet, we may also see that, for all its fervour, the PTI and its allies in rebellion will not be able to force eject Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from his seat; he, for all the accumulated burden of his recent past, will still be able to stand up or sit tight. He will have the backhanded support of the PPP whose new-generation leader Bilawal Bhutto has read enough history to tell the equivalent of a Munich Putsch when he sees one or recognise the difference between revolutionaries and storm troopers.

At any rate the PPP knows that after Nawaz it will be their turn and considering how wily Mr Bhutto’s father is, he won’t let this cushion fall away between him and the hands that hold the handcuffs for him. We will see smaller but significant parties like the ANP, and the JUI stand firmly with the government and thus create a division in country that could shake it to its very foundations.

Then we may see a repeat of the fascinating familiar. An attempted siege becoming a national headache; a government and its allies holding firm; a media shouting full throttle ‘give us a solution’. At this point suggestions will emerge that there should be a Kayani solution – behind-closed-doors suggestions that a mutually acceptable way must be found – or a Kakar solution: Out you go Mr Prime Minister because I say so. There can also be a Musharraf solution: use the judiciary to endorse an extra-judicial murder of the fundamentals of the constitution.

But that, as we might see, is easier written about or mentioned in glib talk shows than implemented on the ground. At this point in time there is nothing Nawaz Sharif would want more than the army (or the army and the judiciary combine) to boot him out. He has reached a point in his career where the consequences of his defiance do not matter anymore. Sometimes you grow spine in your old age and, while you may not use it wisely, it does allow you to walk straight.

So Nawaz Sharif, we may see, would dare the establishment to bring out in full view their subterranean coup that has been unfolding in slow motion in different guises. He would make sure that his response to the siege of Islamabad borders on mutually assured political destruction, or the equivalent of a scorched earth policy that would leave nothing for Imran Khan to cherish.

At this point we may discover that no country in the midst of a war on terror and surrounded by a ring of hostile states can afford revolutionary zeal to deeply disturb the social fabric. Those who do so bear a heavy cost in foreign and defence relations. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia that culminated in November with the storming of the Winter Palace faced its ultimate test when the Reds led by Vladimir Lenin had to accept humiliating peace with the Germans in the shape of this treaty of Brest-Litovsk – this happened six months after succeeding to overthrow a useless regime. They could either fight abroad or focus at home.

Even the original revolutionaries who knew the art of war and wrote the basics of core revolutions understood their limitations. So if trouble really expands and violence spreads on and beyond October 30 we may see a more modern solution to emerge: the General Sisi solution. Hang them all, take over and then go to Saudi Arabia for financial help.

If we see this then there may not be much of a tomorrow to see. Hopefully, the days before October 30 will be spent wisely to avert self-immolation.