The rack or the knife?


HE’S gone. No, he’ll survive. He’ll definitely go. Maybe he’ll survive. He can’t survive. Maybe he’ll go. Gone, safe. In, out.

Everyone’s got an opinion on Nawaz.

And why not? It’s the only show in town. Not quite death watch and not yet circus show, it’s depressing-riveting in a very Pakistani way.

But with all the focus on the how, there’s something that’s been missed — why?

There’s really three options for who — Nawaz, Imran or the boys. We all know why Nawaz could end up ousting himself — because, well, he’s Nawaz.

And we all know why Imran wants him gone — there can only be one prime minister and as long as someone else has that job, Imran doesn’t.

But the boys are a bit more puzzling. What the hell could Nawaz have done to make them want to knock him out? Even the Nawaz camp seems unsure.

Unsure, but aggrieved. Convinced that it’s the boys who caused and are stoking the latest instability, the Nawaz coterie is indignant — we even let Musharraf go; what else do they want?

Let’s try and find out.

When the boys move, it’s to protect core interests — themselves, their perks and the chunks of policy they care about. So to those, again, we must turn.

Internally, there’s the gateway to Punjab. Nawaz has blocked that so far, but you know they’ll eventually prevail.

Convinced that it’s the boys who caused and are stoking the latest instability, the Nawaz coterie is indignant.

It happened with Zarb-i-Azb and it’ll happen again with their agenda for Punjab. For a bunch of reasons, but also because Nawaz isn’t interested in alternatives to get the job done.

Externally, Afghanistan is a sometimes-possibility. But right now it’s the other way round — for a while now the Nawaz camp has mocked the boys for promising much and delivering nothing.

And it’s not like Nawaz had staked his third term on fixing Afghanistan. Ultimately, if the boys want it, the boys can have it — there’s no civilian use for Afghanistan.

The US? Things have slipped there and may slip some more, but no one thinks it’s because the civilian side isn’t pulling its weight.

And while Nawaz has tried to avoid the anti-American tag, it’s not like he’s tried to pull a Memogate. There’s no cause for rage against him there.

India? That’s always tricky because civ-mil automatically diverges there — what civ wants, mil doesn’t. So, surprise, surprise, India is where the first cracks have been seen.

After Pathankot, there were grumbles that the N-League moved too quickly with the FIR. The N-League thought it was the reverse — since the basic outlines were known in a matter of days, a month and a half after Pathankot was a reasonable wait.

Nawaz may well be right, but it doesn’t matter — the Pathankot FIR reinforced the perception that Nawaz is always in a hurry on India and that his hurry is both suspect and dangerous.

Still, the unwise and the hasty can be neutralised — as has happened with Pathankot ever since the FIR. The investigation may have some civilian representation, but everyone knows who’s in charge.

Yet, all irritants can’t be neutralised. With stuff going on on the other side of the LoC and India’s military ambitions creating both opportunity and threat, the boys want some noise to be made.

The world needs to know what we’re facing. Our security is at stake. Diplomacy needs to be in overdrive.

Instead, there’s mostly been silence by the civilians. And the longer the silence, the more the frustration.

And then, there’s China. It’s with China that the problem seems real.

It may appear odd. Nawaz loves China. He’s staked his third term and his government’s economic legacy on the China-Pak corridor.

China is what Nawaz never tires of talking about. Ten billion this, forty billion that; a million miles of road and hundred thousand megawatts of electricity — it’s really all China, China, China from the N-League.

And yet — the anger just keeps growing.

There’s the part where the boys think the N-League is more interested in flogging CPEC politically than it is in bringing the projects online quickly. Competence versus politics.

Then there’s the part where the boys think the N-League is getting the politics of CPEC wilfully wrong — the unresolved domestic political opposition to CPEC has got the Chinese skittish and the boys concerned. Party interest versus the national interest.

And then there’s the part the boys won’t tell you about — self-interest. A military-development machine that first rose in Balochistan and has since been honed in Fata is ready to take centre stage.

On the project front, what the civilians are struggling to implement, the business acumen of the boys could solve. On the policy front, where the civilians only see roads and megawatts, the boys want to lash security, regional and local, with the economy and their military-commercial prowess.

And on the reality front — what the boys want, the boys get.

Luckily for Nawaz, if it is really about China, the answer to survival is obvious: just give them CPEC and be over with it.

Unluckily for Nawaz, if it is really about China, he’ll have nothing left to play with: where else is he going to get the roads and megawatts to flog come election time?

So, while submission is possible, defiance has its own logic — better maybe to embrace ouster and get some sympathy than slide limply towards an eventual election with nothing to sell.

Stay on the rack until the end or take the knife and carve out the pound of flesh they want — the choices are rarely pleasant for a civilian in deep, deep trouble.

The writer is a member of staff.

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Twitter: @cyalm