It was during the last few merry days of graduate school when I penned an article trying to explain Pakistani politics to an American class fellow. The article was called “Pakistan’s Game of Thrones,” a title which was indicative of the power politics that is characteristic of the political landscape in our country. Additionally, the title granted me the liberty to draw parallels between Pakistani politics and the famous HBO series bearing the same name.
The gist of my allegorical argument was that in Pakistan, politics is more about individualistic power grabbing rather than ideologies or worldviews. Political leaders in Pakistan, in an uncannily similar manner to the characters in Game of Thrones, have honed and somewhat perfected the art of political instrumentalism. Despite their outward theatrics, most political leaders in Pakistan see the demos and the voting public as a means to get into power, and nothing more. None of them have any ideological hills that they will not cross if it meant disaffecting their voters. In an ideological sense, they are absolutely elastic.
I am not naïve enough to not realize that such instrumentalist behavior is to be expected from this sorry lot that calls themselves “leaders” in Pakistan. Yet, every now and then, it is important to spell out things the way they are – this helps to maintain intellectual clarity, for at least that section that has intellect – which sadly is a fast dwindling section in our country. For instance, much like Daenerys in the Game of Thrones, Imran Khan might have started his politics with altruistic and justice-laden intentions, but now, rather metaphorically speaking, he would happily burn the place to the ground if it means him regaining power. Similarly, the Sharif house and their PDM sidekicks, much like the house of Lannister remain committed to their devious old ways, and will stoop to any level to get one over their adversaries.
Hence, in the sense of power politics, instrumentalism, and disregard for ideological positioning, not much has changed since I authored the first article in 2018. A good five years has flown by, and other than getting body aches and gray hair that are characteristic of middle age, I see the same political games unfolding in the country.
Things got particularly heated last week when the Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaaf (PTI) chief was arrested by men clad in riot gear from the Rangers, at the behest of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). In the days following the arrest, the Supreme Court took somewhat of a principled stance and declared the arrest illegal, but that too only on technical grounds. As we speak, Imran Khan is free right now, but the country remains on a knife-edge.
One significant difference from the last time I wrote on the political drama in 2018, is that the “deep state” in Pakistan – one that played a pivotal role in bringing Imran Khan to power in the 2018 elections, is directly locking horns with Imran Khan and his populistic politics. Having said that, the all-powerful deep state of a few years ago seems to have lost its unassailable base that it once held as a given.
This change in the relationship between the Pakistani deep state and society, and the ever-increasing mistrust between the two brings, what I feel is another kind of peculiar danger. The only appropriate manner in which I can typically describe this is through an analogy stemming from what my astrophysicist housemate in graduate school informed me about the cosmic lifecycle of a massive star. You see – as he explained to me, our sun is an average-sized star, but there are much larger stars in the universe. These massive stars live on by burning reserves of hydrogen fuel in their cores – but when this fuel runs out, they expand and get big in a manner that seems contrary to common logic. This is a star’s last apparent show of physical dominance. However, in a cosmic sense, it doesn’t last long. The large ballooned star finally explodes and causes a supernova – perhaps the most violent known physical phenomenon in the known universe.
My fear is what would happen if the Pakistani deep state were to be cornered and with their nuclear core support being spent. There is a fear that it might react similarly to how a massive star does at the later stages of its once-domineering lifecycle, flex its muscle in a big fashion – its apparent last dance – before blowing up in a manner that destroys the very fabric of our institutions and society – things that we, despite our very obvious shortcomings, have built very meticulously over time.
Before such a tragedy were to befall us, we should hope that more balanced minds prevail and the constitutional boundaries, both institutional and individualistic are not impacted in a manner that makes things rather irreversible. For the time being, the Game of Thrones is in full swing – the country is on a tense bend, and hope is the only thing we can cling to.
It’s not an entirely true picture though some similarities exist. It’s apparent that now some 2018 intelligentsia are beginning to see the twin star that was hidden behind the apparent star of the show after it was kicked out. But ejection was done none other than the deep state itself to open the eyes of the younger generation who were happy with the same page view until it was torn.
It’s a wrong assumption and contrary to facts that “None of them (politicians) have any ideological hills that they will not cross if it meant disaffecting their voters. In an ideological sense, they are absolutely elastic.” There are many politicians who have stood firm to their ideology and endured at the hand of deep state and much loved ones to nurture the dream of civilian supremacy. Who sold his soul to the devil? Imagine where we would be if Project Imran was never started. Or Imran refused to be part of it.
We would have had an upright. Idealistic and self made leader becoming popular instead of the treacherous, narcissistic bot built in defence factory.