The problem with moral authority is its stickiness, its lack of transferability. The prime minister is learning this at his expense with his choices of provincial leaders. Chief Minister Usman Buzdar in particular, is at the cusp of legend, what politicians can only dream of. He is, in a short career of slightly over one year, on his way to becoming a verb. ‘Buzdar’ is quickly taking on the meaning of not doing anything. ‘Buzdar works’ is currently the country’s shortest joke. The PM dismisses all lack of confidence in his selection of CM Punjab with his trademark charm and swagger, recently on full display at the UN. “Don’t worry, I’m here. Remember it is me you believe in. All others are vessels to carry my vision, mere pawns who open the board up for me to go forth and conquer” is the constant message.
A similar problem is being faced by the umpires. But this one has much deeper consequences. It has been a hard slog to make you understand that it is the PM you believe in. But it is time to worry, because the PM might have stopped fully believing in some of them.
The problem with arming puppets with sharp objects is that they can use them on the strings they are pulled by. Some puppets also do not perform when they realise they are being manipulated. It is, after all, their act which is up for judgment. What a problem then, to have tied strings to the arms and legs of a most single-minded individual, who has just begun to see them as hindrances rather than reinforcement.
There is a deal in the works. Everyone tells you this except the PM. His own cabinet goes on the record to say so. News leaks daily speak of meetings with Nawaz Sharif, and the back and forth of offers and rejections. Nawaz’s own lawyer, armed with the most compromising evidence of a judge’s partiality, asked for three months to argue his client’s right to freedom. This, in a situation where leading lawyers agree his client’s case for liberty could be successfully put forth in a week, and won on the accountability judge’s admitted conduct amounting to mistrial alone.
It was always about the goal being greater than the cost of getting it. The goal is now scored, and has brought with it the realisation that it was only a qualifier
Fazlur Rahman is threatening a march against the capital, allegedly armed with the support of some individuals who do not choose what they wear to work. The PM dismisses the likelihood of anything in the works, and reminds you not to worry because he is here. And it is him you believe in.
It was always about Faustian bargains after that 2011 Lahore jalsa for the PM, the event which framed him as a contender in the country’s power game. It was always about the goal being greater than the cost of getting it. The goal is now scored, and has brought with it the realisation that it was only a qualifier. Costs have been paid, evident in the team selection itself, but more are being demanded. And some of those demands go against the muscle memory of a popular champion. They go against the central idea he has peddled since he retired a champion, that of a clean break from past wrongs, a move towards justice. He built it into the name of his party, the one thing that still hasn’t changed about his party. To him, every compromise thus far can be excused as not really a compromise, but a necessary cost of moving forward, the price of opportunity. So what if he has to be silent on certain areas of policy, so what if he has to look the other way when those he picked as his vessels are discarded? The seat is his, and time is on his side.
Yet this compromise feels like an actual compromise. It contradicts his longest standing and most repeated promise. It is unfamiliar territory, and goes against a trait in the PM which everyone took lightly to their peril in his days as a cricketer: a manic single-mindedness.
We were told Pakistan would finally be on the chaotic road to constitutional governance the day a Punjabi leader, holding the largest political piece in the game, stood up to the establishment. That happened, but Nawaz was trumped by our PM, a leader with a much broader national support, who enjoyed a vast moral authority over his voters and the support of the establishment. Any narrative building by Nawaz was nipped in the bud by the event of his jailing, also by bending the media into compliance. But after going to jail, Nawaz isn’t going away. And the PM isn’t letting him get away. The threat of the jailed is looking more and more ominous to the jailer as governance proves harder than speechmaking to the PM.
To the cautious chess players then, it must be time to cut their preferred piece down to size. And therein lies the game’s problem. Twist or reduce the support, and you still have to contend with the inherent power of the PM, his moral authority over his legion of supporters. And that is proving impossible to transfer. It sets us up for a far more interesting few months ahead than the simple prospect of a Punjabi leader versus the establishment. It sets us up for everyone, in their own ways, for their own interests and in different degrees, versus the establishment. Zulfi Bhutto, last act, round II.
So the musicians beating the monotonous drums of approval have suddenly found their conductor add a subtler tune. We might be on the right track, but the PM might not know what he is doing is the new song. It really is the PM’s fault, for not winning in the business of government, the umpires can only do so much after all is the chorus.
Therein lays the problem. He is the champion. He holds all of whatever remains of the moral authority. If not him, then who? The short answer is: no one. No Lord Pir, no sugar baron and no Twitter warrior can transfer upon himself the support of the legion. That has proven to be truly unconditional, save for one requirement: that it belongs to the PM alone.
Samson was a mythical warrior who possessed extraordinary strength, the secret of which lay in his hair. His enemies conspired against him and fooled him through a seemingly similar minded lover. They worked to cut his hair off, and robbed him of his strength, blinded him and imprisoned him under a large temple. Years later, Samson felt his hair having grown back, and discovered his strength had returned. He pulled and pushed at the pillars of the temple, destroying it and himself with it.
It hasn’t been years. But our Samson must feel a sense of imprisonment in a large temple. Is it only a matter of time before he realises the source of his power has never really been cut? That it has returned even if it felt like it had gone away? And that its true use is against the keepers of the temple?
After all, he succeeded against tough odds to give cricket neutral umpires.
The writer is a lawyer