Pakistan Between Naya and Purana by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)

Opening Lines : Everyone knows that Pakistan is in turmoil. The Pakistanis also know that they are in turmoil. However this time around it is something else and at a level where Pakistan has not gone before. For the first time there are two army faces on the Pakistani chess board. The other factor is that the Khan is on the fast track to re-elect himself while the others are struggling with everything that Pakistan struggles with. Part of this inswinger is that the system is under the pump. Let us look at it from another viewpoint…irrespective of everything else, we are still talking of Pakistan – Naya or Purana – where chaos is a normal state of mind. After all….  Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…but then who knows? 


As usual I felt the situation in Pakistan is best understood by us when Pakistanis express their own hopes and fears …the thing which caught my attention is that most op-eds  have turned philosophical about the state of affairs in Pakistan… it is like a jilted lovers song…need to take it seriously…    

Headline Imran Khan’s rallies

Excerpt : After three massive rallies in PeshawarKarachi and Lahore, Imran Khan has proven that he still commands significant respect. The sudden revival of his political fortunes was quite unexpected, and it goes to show how shrewdly he has played the political hand he was dealt…. The reaffirmation of his supporters’ faith in him should give him enough confidence to proceed headlong into his campaign for early elections. As a leader, he ought to take this opportunity to turn a fresh page and rewrite his political destiny based on lessons learnt from his first stint in power. It is unfortunate that he, instead, continues to amplify a toxic narrative that risks turning the people of Pakistan against the state, its institutions and even themselves…. There has always been something distinctly Orwellian about Mr Khan’s vision for a ‘Naya Pakistan’, but the heady mix of religion and hyper-nationalism he has introduced in recent speeches takes it to another level. 

Headline Shape of the real crisis

Excerpt : There is something simmering underneath the political crisis unfolding in front of our eyes. Let’s do a deep dive….Imran Khan’s supporters can see no wrong in what he says or does. We have witnessed this phenomenon unfurl itself like a lazy python these last few years, but more so with greater intensity during Khan’s pre- and post-ouster days. On display is a textbook case of blind devotion. Such devotion entails a deliberate — or perhaps subconscious — suspension of critical thinking. Only mass hysteria can explain absolute rejection of facts and a willing embrace of free-flying rhetoric untethered by verifiable information…. What we are witnessing is a seminal moment in our political evolution — progressive or regressive is a matter of personal perspective — and this moment is situated bang in the centre of a social and political transformation so impactful that it could define the shape of our society for the years ahead… Imran Khan has modelled himself well as the anti-system crusader. He insists very persuasively that he has neither been co-opted nor corrupted by the system; that when he says he wants to change this system, it implies that there is nothing sacrosanct about the system, or for that matter, about the exalted institutions that make up the system. He has been able to establish this narrative successfully because the central theme of his narrative is, in fact, true: the system has not delivered.

Headline : Beyond the law

Excerpt : If  necessity is indeed the mother of invention, our political discourse indicates that we suffer from some very urgent, even desperate need to conjure up all sorts of euphemisms to allude to the armed forces of our country, or, to be more precise, certain members thereof, who, at any given point in time, may be or may have been or may even not be, a part of whatever it truly is that we so casually keep on referring to as ‘the establishment’ — or ‘the deep state’ or ‘the powers that be’ or ‘Gate No. 4’ or ‘the boys’ or ‘khalai maqhlook’ or ‘agricultural department’ or ‘undemocratic forces’ or, as has become the raging fashion for some time, ‘the umpire’, that final arbiter of affairs…This is a creature of the shadows, its methods seen yet unseeable, its form known yet unknowable, its characters apparent yet inapparent….A speaker of a provincial assembly claims that for three and a half years, the premier of his own coalition government had been having his “nappies changed”. He feels no need to clarify exactly who had been performing this inglorious deed. That very prime minister, in turn, reveals on national television that top military officials, much like homing pigeons, were relaying messages between him and his opponents. That no one from the armed forces is supposed to assume (or be invited to assume) such a mediatory role is simply glossed over… The outsized role of the military is a constitutional aberration, one that requires immediate rectification. Perhaps if our politicians were less busy playing musical chairs, they may actually be able to come together and reclaim the space they have so willingly ceded over. Till then, we must be prepared to keep on going in circles — over and over and over again.


Headline The unravelling

Excerpt : While others had run afoul of the establishment a few years in, the hybrid regime was special because the military and the civilians were on ‘the same page’ and running the country in concert. And yet, the three-year itch struck. What happened exactly to unravel the hybrid set-up headed by the man, Imran Khan, who had been built up to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, and his opponents debased as scum of the earth?

The short answer is — he failed spectacularly. There is no other logical explanation for the establishment’s change of heart, and sudden desire to go neutral. The trouble is, while those in high offices realised that the hybrid experiment hadn’t worked and course had to be corrected, those lower down the rungs were slow to get the memo. Tried having a conversation with a PTI supporter lately?

Headline : Dangerous IS-K

Excerpts  : IS-K’s growing activities in the region — including Pakistan where the group struck a Shia mosque in Peshawar last month, killing over 60 worshippers — presents a clear and present danger. For too long, the Afghan Taliban had the sole monopoly on violence in Afghanistan. Not anymore. They have a rival, a shadowy challenger that is not only capable of perpetrating violence but also of demolishing the myth that all is well under the Taliban. Indeed, all is not well. Not only is the IS-K using Afghanistan to launch attacks inside and outside Afghanistan, the TTP too, have ratcheted up violence inside Pakistan, launching their attacks from neighbouring countries.

Headline : The new old order

Excerpts: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” (the more things change, the more they remainthe same) — Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr…The above saying could well apply to the latest political changes in Pakistan. A coalition of more than half a dozen disparate political parties that have formed the new government illustrates the return of the old order…With a few exceptions, they are all old faces in the cabinet — tried and tested. The status quo remains, and dynastic politics has strengthened its hold. It’s never easy for a coalition to rule, but it is even harder for a new dispensation with such varied interests to deliver, although it has a short lifespan before the next general election…It is evident that the latest political development has led to the return of the Sharif political dynasty, though with a difference — it is now the younger brother who is controlling the government. Yet, the real political power still lies with Nawaz Sharif, despite his conviction that has barred him from holding elected public office…In his very first speech, the prime minister raised the pensions of retired civil and military officials without waiting for the budget. He also rejected the proposal to increase petroleum prices that have been heavily subsidised for political reasons. According to estimates, the government would be bearing a loss of over Rs40 billion each month for keeping prices low, despite rising international oil prices


Headline : A house divided?

Excerpts : The narrative that PTI chief Imran Khan is selling with success, that his ouster as PM was because of a conspiracy by the USA, is doubly dangerous for the establishment because it challenges its role as the knight in shining armor, which has allowed to portray itself, indeed think of itself, as the country’s defence against not just external enemies, like India, but internal, like politicians, who are by definition dirty and corrupt…The problem for the military leadership is that this narrative seems to have made its way into the military. Some of the pro-Imran posts have tended to mutiny. The clash between a serving officer and a PML (N) MPA’s staff has brought in the COAS. Earlier, the formation commanders conference had to be held to condemn the attempts to divide the military. Though it was an institutional decision that had the military turn neutral, the habit of supporting the PTI could not be reversed, and the sentiment that the PTI should be supported (‘have its nappies changed’, in Ch Pervez Elahi’s pungent phrase) remained…There is an ethos among armed forces around the world that politicians are scoundrels. However, most armed forces do not take over, even if they can. They go on obeying the orders passed down by those scoundrels, provided that they have been duly elected, and are passing legal orders. However, the Pakistan Army has learnt that something can be done about the scoundrels. In the last decade or so, and culminating in the 2018 election, military men learned that Imran was not a scoundrel. That has led to the present situation, where senior retired officers whose purported messages of condemnation of the military leadership have gone viral, have had to scramble to deny they had said anything of the sort.

My Final Comment : When everyone is talking of Ukraine and the change in global affairs, Pakistan is only talking of Pakistan! That is a wonder by thunder moment for most of us…but…the first thing which the new PM spoke of was of KASHMIR! Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Headline Changing minds

Excerpts : Given the antics of the rulers who control our destiny, one wonders if change will ever come to this country. At one time, it was believed that change would come with democracy. Now conventional wisdom has it that people get the rulers they deserve. 

Pakistanis are getting what they deserve!


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