Four catalysts for change

The chain of events in the first two weeks of April has been turbulent and to some extent unimaginable. Who would have thought at the end of the year that Imran Khan would not be able to complete his term and that the opposition would thus prevail?

In a way, giving all the credit to the opposition for this transfer of power would not be fair. There were at least four catalysts for change that will go down in history as the harbingers of a new era of democracy in Pakistan. Some readers may not like the use of “new era” for this simple change of government. Perhaps the jubilation and ecstasy many of us felt at the ousting of an almost fascist regime led by Imran Khan is a little premature. But for temporary relief, let’s count our blessings for now.

The catalysts of recent change that I list here are Asif Ali Zardari, the establishment, the judiciary and of course Shehbaz Sharif. It’s in alphabetical order to avoid an argument over who played a bigger role than the other. Former President Asif Ali Zardari has emerged as a statesman with the courage and ability to move things in a positive direction. Although the media has not been fair to him and he has had more than his share of accusations, backbiting, accusations of corruption and a constantly derogatory portrayal of his personality, he has stood the test of time. .

Repeated arrests and long imprisonments may have diminished him physically but not at all mentally and politically. His recent interview on Geo was a pleasure to watch. His composure and respect for other politicians was impressive. Above all, there was no sign of bitterness in him that would have affected anyone else, going through the traumas he experienced in his life. His democratic credentials are second to none as he is the only president in Pakistan’s history to have voluntarily transferred his powers to the Prime Minister’s office.

Zardari was instrumental in reaching out to other parties for a realignment of the power structure in Pakistan. Despite his failing health, he has almost single-handedly led the charge against Imran Khan over the past few months. He is one of the most sensible voices in Pakistani politics and truly believes in a more inclusive approach to governance. The way he united various groups against Imran Khan, perhaps no other political leader could have achieved this. Imran Khan’s allies and his own disgruntled PTI leadership could not have unseated Imran Khan as Asif Zardari managed to do.

The role of the institution as a catalyst for this change cannot be underestimated. Multiple attempts by the opposition over the past 45 months have failed simply because the right nod has not presented itself. This sudden shift in the establishment may be the result of a nosedive economy and Imran Khan’s arrogance and failure to deliver on his promises. Imran Khan being impervious to any sensible advice, his idiosyncrasies would have continued to plunge Pakistan into an abyss.

Pressing it last week by the ISPR is a clear sign that a new era in Pakistani political culture may be upon us. An era where all state organs limit their roles to their constitutionally assigned duties. It may be a little too much to expect at the moment, but sooner or later, this is the path taken by all democracies, from Bangladesh to Chile. The failure of the last diet should serve as a wake-up call.

The catalytic role of the judiciary is visible to all. One of the reasons democracy has not flourished in Pakistan is that the judiciary has time and again validated martial laws and military coups. The attitude of the Pakistani higher judiciary has not always been in favor of the democratic forces. This is why observers were concerned about the decision taken suo motu by Chief Justice Bandial regarding the motion of no confidence. The verdict was clear and precise, confirming the constitutional provisions. Without this verdict, the opposition could not have succeeded in its attempts to depose Imran Khan and take power. Even then, the PTI did their best — or worst — to overturn the court order.

Again, on the day of the vote – April 9 – justice came to the rescue by opening the courts at night. The government’s design was to keep delaying and prolonging the session with long speeches and intermittent breaks – throwing the whole country into chaos. The tension was mounting and there seemed to be no way out of Khan’s shenanigans. Pakistan’s Supreme Court and Islamabad High Court intervened in a timely manner and sent a stern signal that any violation of the court’s verdict would result in severe penalties.

Finally, Shehbaz Sharif also played a catalytic role by accepting the offer to become Prime Minister, an offer made by Asif Ali Zardari. Shehbaz Sharif had been an active administrator and an experienced politician. Perhaps he managed to persuade his elder brother and his niece Maryam Nawaz to tone down their direct attacks on the country’s powerful. Some might argue that Shehbaz will simply toe his brother’s line, but with the Zardari factor and other allies in mind, Shehbaz is likely to tread more cautiously.

Shehbaz’s first days in power demonstrated that he meant business. He is capable of leading his team and adept at designing projects that benefit the masses. He’s a workaholic, and that too at 70. Imran Khan may have been fitter in a physical sense, but his lax attitude towards work and his inability to think wisely is quite a contrast to what Shehbaz has to offer. Shehbaz is perhaps the best choice at least for now and there can be little doubt about his commitment to his country, despite all the PTI rhetoric about him.

The four catalysts discussed here can become agents of change if all do their jobs well. The ISPR presser put an end to the conspiracy theory championed by the PTI and its leaders. Many people point out that the system has not changed and that this transfer of power is only cosmetic. In one of his interviews, Asif Zardari beautifully explained that evolution is white and revolutions are red. Those who expect a revolution, where the whole system would be transformed overnight by seizing the means of production, can tend towards their ideal; but for now the recent change gives us a sign of hope.

The author holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK. He tweets @NaazirMahmood and can be reached at:

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