The past few weeks have indeed been stormy completely changing the normal course of action. But then how could one Roller-coaster ride define normal in the Pakistani context as it mostly remains in a state of flux that refuses to give way to normalcy as it is generally perceived to be. The most worrying aspect of the entire duration of political turmoil was the intensity of polarisation that has gripped the polity. The propaganda gimmicks shown by almost all involved in political conflict have not only pulverised the gullible people of the country but has also deeply seeped into the so-called intelligentsia that has added venom to the already polluted system. The problematic aspect is that the frenzy is not showing signs of slowing down as all segments of the people are actively pursuing their respective agendas.
On one side of the highly polarised spectrum is PTI whose deposed-from-office leader is rummaging through the land spewing venom on all real and imagined enemies. He has held three large public meetings with a view to browbeat the elements responsible for turning him out of office. He is clearly fuming over the military distancing itself from him and has come back in his proverbial and favourite container mode. Greeted there by large, enthusiastic crowd, he has shown tremendous aggression targeting the new government and confronting the state, which has set the tone for how his election campaign will proceed. He has already armed himself with a highly potent though risky narrative that is quite old in content but is still capable of provoking Pakistani masses.
The highlight of Imran Khan’s narrative is that it is the carbon copy of the exclusive stance taken by his benefactors in uniform who have since decades propagated that every individual, party or institution that goes against him is unknowingly complicit in an international conspiracy or, at worst, an outright traitor. This is a combustible mix made further lethal by Imran Khan and his followers sparking strong criticism of the military and judiciary that they considered responsible for removing him as the prime minister. This stance is held on to despite the military clearly debunking it publicly with the addition that Imran Khan’s more ardent supporters, many of whom seem to be quite averse to the military’s position in the vote of no-confidence episode, have not likely taken the military’s public rebuke and have started a vilification campaign against it.
Many analysts however opine that with 123 PTI MNAs having hastily resigned from the Assembly, Imran Khan has painted himself into a corner. He has without due consideration given away his strength to fight the system from inside and has heavily relied on street agitation knowing and experiencing well that similar tactics he employed in the past came unstuck. In the current situation he will be required to build enough pressure on the state that it capitulates to his demands. This pressure can either be built over time or by intensifying his rhetoric but both options are unworkable for him now but taking his tenacity in account such prospects appear worrying.
On the other hand, after taking over as Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has vowed to go full throttle but is apparently bogged down by his political partners. He is aware that he has to compete with his own reputation and he does not have much time to do so. He also realises that his government needs to draw a sharp contrast with the previous one in terms of governance, performance and delivery. During his tenure as CM Punjab he used bureaucracy efficiently for implementing his schemes while sidelining his cabinet and in the process he became a one-man show but as Prime Minister he faces a different set of challenges. The first hurdle he will face is that federal government is more about policy than projects and more about institutional coordination than oneman decision-making.
To his chagrin Shehbaz Sharif has to reduce his speed and adjust to a massively different framework. He will also need to adjust his working style in order to work through the cabinet instead of only through the bureaucracy. He will not find the situation conducive for his tendency to go on solo flight as he will be required to share policy space with important stakeholders particularly the establishment, many of whose strands are anxiously expecting him to fail. He will have to deal with cumbersome financial complications that were not his headache before and he will be forced to make compromises on crucial fronts. Actually it will be his ability to gain a common ground and foster consensual approach that would determine his future success or failure. It is certainly an uneasy ride but Shehbaz Sharif appears to have the wherewithal to overcome such difficulties and chart a successful national course of action.TW