It seems that all the voltage missing in the national power generation grid has gone into the political field. Opposition politicians are upping the ante and the government is responding with a time-tested response: by burying its head in the sand.
Imran Khan went a step further in his fulminations against the government Tuesday and not only demanded the audit of the entire 2013 general elections but also urged Nawaz Sharif to resign. Khan denies that his upcoming August. 14 protest rally is in anyway similar to a putsch but public protests at such a mass scale, especially during these times of highly charged political atmosphere, can lead to unintended consequences.
Also on Tuesday, former President Asif Ali Zardari finally moved away from the comfortable spot on the political edges and - in a surprise announcement -put his weight behind Khan’s demand to probe irregularities in four constituencies. Pakistan Peoples Party seems chagrined at the ruling party over its efforts to dictate terms in Sindh. So, it was telling that Zardari criticised Prime Minister Sharif’s style of governance and warned that Sharif cannot act like an ‘absolute monarch.’ It might be a tad bit difficult for ‘the Man of Steel’ to give up on such royal proclivities. After all, ruling like a Mogul king has been a fantasy that Sharif has long cherished and finds difficult to relinquish.
But Zardari’s timing of Sharif’s criticism is interesting and comes at a time when public disgruntlement with the ruling party has suddenly found an impetus. Power outages throughout the country have reached unprecedented levels. Public patience is running thin and can quickly turn into rage on the streets. The government’s strategy to deal with the energy crisis is mind boggling. Instead of finding a meaningful and effective solution, the minister for Water and Power, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, is relying on divine intervention. Reports about mismanagement and government’s inability to tackle the needs of IDPs of North Waziristan are rampant. There is no clarity about the success of the military offensive against militants in North Waziristan.
It is no surprise then that Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz is struggling to salvage its image as a political party of doers and enablers. Prior to the general elections, it successfully sold its message of being miracle workers, who could build motorways, transportation systems, fast moving railways and, above all, sort out of the power crisis etc etc. Now, it seems badly hamstrung and choked for action.
At a time when divisive politics is at a sharp display, anodyne statements by the cabinet minister are unlikely to assuage the resentment brewing across the political spectrum. Khan is spearheading the politics of agitation and even though Tahir-ul Qadri wants to keep ways separate, his inevitable jumping into the fray would further compound the challenges for the political government.
Prime Minister Sharif will have to step forward and be more accommodating to the dissenting voices, both in the political and public realms. Zardari has offered an apt advice: Sharif has to act like the constitutional head of a parliamentary democracy.
But the current signs are ominous. The roulette wheel of Pakistani politics always comes up with unpredictable situations and outcomes. Sharif, unaware and sclerotic, is sleepwalking into a time of greater political turmoil.
The writer is Resident Editor, The Nation, in Islamabad.