But why has lurching from one ‘insurmountable’ crisis to the next become our government’s default mode in the last few weeks? What is up with the prime minister throwing down the gauntlet one minute and shifting to pacification mode the next? Why would President Zardari choose to set Pakistani politics on six and seven rather than buy the time and space to live to fight another day? Learning to turn the other cheek, and thus guiding the PPP through the most rugged of political terrains – hasn’t that been the hallmark of Modus Zardari?
Why is the PPP digging in its heels now? Is the threat of a military intervention really real? Is that what is making our dear leaders ebb and flow in wretchedness – that the bad boys are really, really, really about to strike this time?
Fear. When you’re convinced that an antagonistic robe is getting its cues and cuts from an annoyed uniform in Rawalpindi or an astute opposition in Raiwind, then you’re also convinced that the ultimate goal is your government’s ouster. Add to that ultimate fear the hardship of staying given the multiple messes you’ve landed yourself in. Unwilling to live, not knowing how to die; not having the heart to stay, nor wit enough to run away – what would you do?
Excuse the French but the PPP’s strategy at the moment seems to be two-pronged: say “screw you” to the courts and “screw us” to the army.
Getting an adverse judgment from the courts at this point would mean game up. Despite the PPP vultures hovering in a circle over the judges, distracting with their merciless yelping and yawping, the reputation of the judges remains untainted in the public imagination. The CJ is still Hero Number One; an ultra-hostile court is still better than an untamed PPP.
Up until now, the PPP has been able to stall things with the courts and buy time by planting what it considers political landmines (e g the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto reference) in the court’s path. It has wiggled out of implementing sundry judgments through legal hair-splitting and by raising the spectre of disastrous political instability if it were to comply with rulings. But when push comes to shove – and the PPP thinks it’s about to – it would be exceptionally hard for the government to villainise an institution that has come to be seen in the court of public opinion as seraphic, even messianic.
But the bad boys are a different story altogether. Since May this year, the generals have been behind the eight-ball, with tumultuous events occurring in quick succession to exacerbate suspicions about the tricks they’ve been up to.
Between the two villains – the robes and the boys – the PPP has figured one is a villain with better publicity. Perhaps for the first time in the country’s history, the army has a serious competitor for the slot of patriarchal saviour: the chief justice and his bench of unyielding sergeants. Thus, getting disgraced and booted out by the courts means losing in the court of law and the court of public opinion. No one’s going to stand by the government against the courts – not the opposition, not the people, not the media. But getting booted out by the boys means going down as martyrs – the last refuge of scoundrels who have nothing to show for themselves in terms of political success the principled, democratic way.
So win back the disaffected PPP base angered by another PPP government’s dismissal; let the media unleash a firestorm of rage and shame; see the judges bring their gavels crashing down on the boys’ undemocratic ways; let the political parties and the people take to the streets, especially the country’s educated and professional classes politically reawakened after the 2007 lawyers’ movement.
Is this the scenario the PPP increasingly sees as the only one with a fighting chance? Is this the PPP’s calculation: that the risk of a wrong decision at this moment is preferable to the terror of indecision? Because you know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road? They get run over.
But the skeptics will tell you something different: because the space for military intervention has been so drastically eroded in the last few years, were it to happen now, it would be more crimson than ever before. The cost of a military coup is now indirectly proportional to the chances of one taking place. But does the PPP get this?
The government has decided that to be born again, first you have to die. But the boys may have other things on their mind. After all, why assume the generals will be as forgiving as the civilians are? We can’t all be martyrs and saints.