111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

Playing with fire

Our elected PM is playing with fire. The opposition is also playing with fire. In our PM’s political calculations, he will burn the opposition down. The opposition has its own political calculations in which the opposition is working on burning down the government. This is revenge – not politics. This will be good neither for the PM nor for the opposition. And, for the 220 million Pakistanis it’s all a zero-sum game.

Yes, the PM’s media brigade is burning down the opposition to the ashes – in the media not on the ground. On the ground, the PM has entered a dead-end street. Yes, the Opposition has also entered a dead-end street. The opposition’s Plan A, to resign en masse, has flopped. Plan B, a dharna in front of the GHQ or the Red Zone, has also flopped. Honestly, our elected PM is not a [regular] politician. But, as a consequence, our PM’s non-political mind is not being able to grasp the real political implications of the Opposition’s movement on the ground-not in the media.

The opposition has so far failed to pressurise the establishment to do what the opposition wants done. Little denying the fact that the establishment is also in an uncomfortable position. Two things: our establishment is not used to becoming controversial and has always been extremely concerned about its image. Secondly, the establishment has historically played the role of an arbiter. The real hard fact remains that all major political players are currently jockeying to get under the establishment’s umbrella.

Asif Ali Zardari is now centerstage. The failed Plans A and B were about getting out of the parliamentary system and then fighting it out with the government. Plan C is about remaining in the system and taking on the government. Under the opposition’s Plan C, Nawaz Sharif’s aggressive narrative has been lodged to the backseat and Asif Ali Zardari’s duplicitous, dodgy narrative has jumped into the driving seat.

Yes, Asif Ali Zardari is now centerstage. Under Plan C, the Opposition will engage the Government on three fronts: the streets, the parliament and the courts (including the Election Commission of Pakistan). The focus at this stage is the PTI’s ‘Prohibitive Funding Case’ (commonly referred to as the ‘Foreign Funding Case’) followed up by wheeling-dealing by the master wheeler-dealer during the upcoming Senate elections.

To be certain, the PTI government cannot be brought down through street agitations. The opposition, with the support of its workers, has managed some big rallies but common Pakistanis (non party-workers) have not yet joined the opposition campaign. To be sure, the accumulated burden on common Pakistanis has increased manifold. As a consequence, the PTI has three real threats: the high rate of inflation, increasing unemployment and the rise in poverty. Will these real threats ever join the opposition? Only time will tell. Will the overburdened Pakistanis come out? Only time will tell.

Politics and economics are deeply, deeply interlinked. Political instability – whichever country it exists in – has always meant little or no economic growth. Pakistan’s current status quo has five elements in it: high food inflation, high unemployment, misgovernance (especially in Punjab), a demoralized bureaucracy and an extremely high degree of political instability. This status quo can only be sustained at an awfully high cost to Pakistan.

Dr Farrukh Saleem, "Playing with fire," The News. 2021-01-31.
Keywords: Political science , Political instability , Foreign funding , Economic growth , Food inflation , Parliamentary system , Political calculations