Neros and the fiddles (on Pakistani Politics) -DAWN

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AUDIO leaks, allegations and conspiracies dominated conversation, news and debates last week. Between Rana Shamim, his affidavit — and the son — and then the FactFocus story on Saqib Nisar’s alleged conversation, feverish exchanges about the state of our judiciary, the treatment meted out to Nawaz Sharif and PML-N and the 2018 election victory of the PTI were unending.

But as PML-N expressed its self-righteous horror at what the affidavit and the audio leak revealed, while the equally sanctimonious PTI accused the former of attacking the idaaras (institutions), it seemed as if our discussions are oh so naïve.

After all, the affidavit and the recording say nothing new in a world where everyone and their khala know or have a strong opinion on what happened in the run-up to the previous election. Yet we all play a game of pretend in which the authenticity of the affidavit and the audio leak is discussed seriously, as if it will reveal truths that no one has an inkling of and once they do, the world will turn topsy-turvy and then turn right finally, or at least the PML-N hopes it will turn right.

Hence there are interminable talks on the authenticity of the tape and its timing, asking questions with eyes wide open about what the tape implies. And then follow more innocent questions about why the PML-N doesn’t take the evidence to court instead of blowing hot and hotter in front of mikes, be they of the television studio or press conference sort. And the PML-N, whose victimhood can rival the meekest anywhere in the world (who are one day hoping to inherit the earth), argues as convincingly as Peter Pettigrew professes his innocence in Harry Potter. It is hard to know if they have themselves bought into their rhetoric of equating their swing back to power with the restoration of democracy — yet again — or this is simply wiffle-waffle to befuddle the rest.

Our conversations barely scratch the surface and ignore the reality of Pakistani politics.

On the other hand, the PTI, the great defender of all that is Pakistani and institutional, holds forth as if 2014 never happened when parliament was pooh-poohed and bills were lit up with abandon. Their amnesia for the times when everything but the office in Pindi was compromised — it’s hard to forget the only meeting Imran Khan rushed off to from his container with much excitement — be it parliament, the ECP, bijli or paani.

Indeed, our conversations barely scratch the surface, ignoring the reality of Pakistani politics where legalese has usually followed the dictates of politics from the endorsement of martial laws, from courts as well as parliaments, to corruption cases and more. Or that the politicians have played along mostly happily. The PML-N will rarely remember the Asghar Khan case while the PTI would prefer its accounts investigation to die a similar death.

The PML-N wants the judges and officers who did wrong against them to be held accountable and punished but they bring up the past and ask for a truth commission, instead of retribution. Like Imran Khan, they also just want those who have sinned against them to suffer. The rest should simply make a trip to the confession box before living happily ever after.

But it is not just the politicians that play this game. So does everyone else.

The legal community is up in arms over the transgressions of the establishment. And in their partial amnesia or naivety — in Pakistan we can use the words interchangeably — none of them bemoan the overreach in 2009 when their own long march ended with a phone call from the then chief of army staff. Perhaps the end justified the overreach and hence the meddling wasn’t really meddling because the cause was good. That a democratic government took a blow while they celebrated a victory wasn’t worthy of any worry, which now keeps them up night and day issuing press release after release on the state of affairs.

And then let’s not forget the ECP. ‘Oh it’s finally awake’, celebrate those watching it thunder in Daska or its flash-like reactions in the case of the vote-buying videos in the Lahore by-election (forensic examinations of audio-visual leaks has overtaken our love for joint investigation teams). Elections reports are hard-hitting as are decisions to call for a fresh count, but its agility doesn’t lead it to examine or explain what in the world happened in the 2018 election or even in Karachi time and again. However, perhaps some feel, the past is the past but the present is a new country — or the ECP is a new ECP — and that the Karachi by-election was as fair as it could be.

But then its behaviour is at par for all that passes for politics and institutional behaviour in our homeland. Everyone is concerned about the problems elsewhere — the legal community is worried about the judicial system rather than its own members’ rowdyism; the court seems more interested in the urban mess that is Karachi or the immorality in TikTok. The journalists can hold forth on the ills of the government and the state but not the lines crossed by us all and those who pay us.

The parties cannot stop worrying about what the rival is doing to state and society (despite its travails, the PML-N has time to worry about PTI’s mishandling of the economy and how well equipped it is to replace it while the PTI may not be able to fix any problem but knows that the PPP and PML-N are at the root of them all). Even if parliament cannot perform its role — to legislate or to hold the executive accountable — the fault lies with the rival but never with the entire political class. Push them on the topic and eventually the finger will be pointed at Pindi once the allegations against the rival party are exhausted.

No wonder then we find shallow conversations so fulfilling. It’s a truth that is easy to live with.