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The Games That The Opposition Plays

People lie, people deceive, people play games to satisfy their egos. Sometimes, these games serve an important purpose. Sometimes, they only serve to dig a hole for oneself. If body language, tone and tenor of voice is something to go by, then Bilawal Bhutto seems a little different after his conversation with the de facto chief executive of the country. He is more pliant and less aggressive.

One wonders, if the establishment really wanted the Sindh police to arrest Captain Safdar, wouldn’t a phone call to the IG or, more practically, one of his minions have sufficed? It would have been a catastrophic and unrewarding decision to kidnap a sitting Inspector General, even if that were possible. Mind you, in Pakistan IGs enjoy the command of such a vast force that even the national armies of some countries pale in comparison. To orchestrate his kidnapping would have required a whole battalion, not two or four non-uniformed people barging into his official residence.

Yet, both PPP and PML-N claim that that is exactly what happened. Perhaps the scion of the Bhutto dynasty can conjecture such a break-in of the police chief’s residence and even sell it to the public. It is, in some ways, similar to what his grandfather’s grandfather successfully did almost 120 years ago. In order to win back his clan’s property from a vindictive British collector’s control, Mir Murtaza Bhutto disguised himself as a Sikh laborer so he could enter the Commissioner’s residence in Karachi and plead his case directly with Sir Avan James. The same Bhutto after wresting control over all his estates was poisoned by one of his rivals a mere month later. Such is the nature of siasat in this region.

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The bowels of Pakistani politics, especially the kind People’s Party practices, are filled with stories of intrigue and backstabbing, with a brother slain once for the “greater cause”, and later a wife, as certain rumors go. Whether it be a union council or the presidential race between Democrats and Republicans, the essence of politics really does boil down to one thing: the grab for power, power, and more power. One can’t help but imagine that the young Bhutto’s ambition and desire for glory can make him do anything. Orchestrating a kidnapping and a political arrest for a stronger narrative in the public’s eyes, in consort with the other dynastic daughter, is a small affair, as too are the simultaneous and similar-looking leave applications from the top brass of the Sindh Police.

The opposition can smell blood and, as a collective political class, they are baying for a greater share in running the country. The army picked a bad horse to bet on but is now compelled to go all the way through because there is no other option. Since it is an open secret that Khan’s government is a soft martial law, a continuation of Ayub, Zia and Musharraf’s eras through a different civilian face, whatever mistakes this inexperienced government makes, the onus lies on the state behind the state and it becomes weaker. Since it’s a game of musical chairs, every step the government misses gives the two vanguards of democracy, PPP and PML-N, a chance to one-up the establishment and wrest more political autonomy from it.

In this game, the war of narratives is particularly important. Nawaz Sharif, after losing his battle to get clemency from the all-powerful establishment, sees no harm in going all out against them because he has nothing to lose. Because of his age, and the fact that he has been on the proverbial throne at least three times, it makes sense that he does not mind going into the political wilderness with a bang. But Bilawal is young, and since nothing much is bound to change in Pakistan in the next couple of decades, there is no reason why he would not vie for the top post; and if he plays his cards right, there should be no reason for the strategic community to oppose him. The question is “if” because if he continues to try out these dubious and half-transparent schemes on the bidding of Maryam Nawaz or others, then he might lose the chance of furthering his political ambitions.

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Naya Daur