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Handling black holes

MY eyesight is fading. I can no longer see a future in the ballot paper. Electoral symbols to me now are as indecipherable as hieroglyphics. That is why on Oct 14, I chose to spend my Sunday with friends sightseeing rather than queuing outside the Defence Public School for Boys to cast my vote in the by-election for NA 131 Lahore IX.

The contest was between Saad Rafique (a former minister of railways, a PML-N stalwart and therefore the subject of an ongoing investigation by NAB) and Humayun Akhtar Khan (a former minister for trade and commerce during Gen Musharraf’s time and a recent convert to the PTI). It should have been a modern Passchendaele with each candidate wrestling in the mud for political credibility. Instead, that polling day seemed more like a stylised performance of wayang puppets — a paper tiger (PML-N) pitted against the silhouette of a cricket bat (PTI) — both controlled by sticks propped up by invisible puppeteers.

In July’s general elections, Saad Rafique had competed against the PTI’s Goliath — Imran Khan. Between them they received 167,946 votes. Saad Rafique lost by a sliver of 680 votes, 0.04 per cent of the total votes both of them obtained. For the past four months, Saad Rafique has been shuttling between nursing his constituency and nursing his bruises at the hands of NAB, while his opponent Humayun Akhtar Khan enjoyed all the privileges that an incumbent government can extend to its protégé. Despite this, Saad Rafique won by a margin of 10,031 votes. The PTI’s support fell from one Khan’s 84,313 votes to another Khan’s 50,155 votes.

Every person with political pretensions must be busy tilting these albeit unofficial results through their own individual prisms, searching for a different spectrum of meaning. The PML-N will naturally crow that it is a truer, more accurate result of an election that was truly ‘free and fair’, a harbinger of the PML-N’s revival. The PTI leadership will wonder why their candidate could not fly the PTI flag in Lahore without the support of a mast grouted in Islamabad. The numerous independent candidates must be wondering why they bothered to contest at all.

 The sins that politicians commit live long after them.

Some regard these by-election results as an augury of conflicts to come. Others feel that elections in Pakistan are degenerating into a sham when their very purpose — to elect representatives to a national forum where informed debate, meaningful dissent and legislative progression can take place — has been vitiated. The National Assembly is being treated with contemptuous ennui by those who fought bitterly in July to enter it, and by disheartened resignation by those who still believe in democratic norms and traditions.

Some critics see the recent erratic U-turns, the private revelations and public recantations, the absence of unequivocal leadership as signs of an inherent dyslexia. Others take the more charitable view that these are teething pains. It is being argued that 100 days are too short a period in which to assess the performance of the new PTI government, or for that matter any government anywhere.

Remember J.F. Kennedy’s a thousand days. Mao Zedong thought a hundred years was not long enough. Lahorites, a century from now, will regret and disparage as we do, the unsightly scar of the Orange Line. It will still be there, until the year 2118 and beyond. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the sins that politicians commit live long after them; any good they do is oft interred in their own memories.

Today, even those who did not vote for the PTI have to reconcile themselves to the reality that whatever decisions are taken by the federal government will affect every Pakistani, regardless of his or her political persuasion. The next few months will be the first winter of the public’s discontent as the prices of gas, electricity and fuel costs increase. Gradually, as the government stumbles from one economic quicksand into a deeper one, it will be forced to take (and justify) decisions which will be at best unpalatable and at worst indigestible.

Dr Stephen Hawking’s scientific research and Pakistan’s economic performance share unexpected similarities. Both separately discovered the theory of black holes. Dr Hawking’s are in space, while Pakistan’s are the insatiable voids of PIA, the Pakistan Steel Mills, the Pakistan Railways, and the circular energy debt. The present government should not look to bureaucrats and economic specialists to provide the answers. They were the ones who created the riddles in the first place.

New leaders are condemned to eating off used plates. Take British Prime Minister Theresa May. She is battling to implement Brexit policies she inherited and which she voted against during the referendum. Her critics accuse her of having reached the limit of her own incompetence. Our prime minister is fortunate. He has the next five years to prove he has not.

The writer is an author.

F.S. Aijazuddin, "Handling black holes," Dawn. 2018-10-18.
Keywords: By election--NA 131 , Utility bills--Increase , PML-N’s revival , PTI leadership , National Assembly , Brexit policies