Pakistan: Waiting for Godot

F.S. AIJAZUDDIN — ISLAMABAD is gradually degenerating from drollery to slapstick, and now into farce. It is as if some hack playwright scribbles a fresh script every day and hands pages to the performers before they go on stage. Understandably, the actors are confused, their audience bewildered. Only invisible stagehands offstage seem to be in the know about the roles to be assigned to different actors, their distracting disguises, even the robes they are expected to wear.

Just run your finger down the list of dramatis personae. Center stage is a puppet prime minister who periodically has to visit his marionettist — an ousted prime minister — to have his strings tightened. The latter, meanwhile, has obtained from a rumbling Senate and a boisterous but compliant National Assembly, a prescription for formaldehyde that should preserve him as the head of the PML-N.

Off-center is a finance minister, under indictment for financial turpitude. Yet he sits unconcerned in cabinet meetings, leaving his soiled reputation at the cloakroom outside.

Our foreign affairs minister has suddenly discovered a set of dentures with which to bite the hand of the United States, while our representative to the United Nations neglects to do her homework. She cannot distinguish between a Palestinian pocked by Israeli pellets and a Kashmiri blinded by Indian rubber bullets.

And now a fledgling Minister of the Interior Ahsan Iqbal has been defied by an underling in the Pakistan Rangers, the reins of which are supposed to be in his control. What could be more demeaning than the image of an enraged, exasperated federal minister being thwarted entry into the accountability court, where his leader was being arraigned? How, he complains, can he be expected to apply the writ of the state throughout the country when it is not obeyed even in Islamabad?

All this is high drama, and low comedy. Had Samuel Beckett been alive, he would have been gratified to find that his cryptic play “Waiting for Godot” has been adapted so skilfully to an Islamabad setting. In Beckett’s script, one never sees Godot. He never appears, but one is never unaware of him. Is Pakistan also waiting for Godot?

Could Imran Khan be that Godot? Is he the all-purpose panacea the public is waiting for? Or will he too, like Nawaz Sharif, be disabled by the Supreme Court for not disclosing his assets to the Election Commission of Pakistan? Will the bench accept the contention of Imran Khan’s counsel that his client’s carelessness was an omission, not an act of dishonesty? If it does, it will create a questionable precedent — that one man’s omission is another man’s poison.

Some political astronomers look to the skies for omens. They search within the stars (and stripes) for shifts in US foreign policy towards Pakistan. They should be able to discern that the United States is having enough problems of its own. It is reeling from natural disasters, man-made calamities and Trump-fomented misadventures.

Never since the days of Richard Nixon’s presidency has there been such a schism in foreign policy matters between the White House and the State Department. In the early days of Trump’s presidency, moderates banked on Vice President Mike Pence to repair the damage caused by Trump’s immoderate pronouncements. Now, Trump finds it easier to disown statements made by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the most recent being on the US conducting a dialogue with North Korea.

Great Britain is embroiled in the painful operation of amputating its arm that has been caught in the vice of the EU. It is not sure whether this release will cost it an arm, or an arm and a leg. With Brexit and now Catalan’s referendum for independence from Spain, Europe sees populist ice floes breaking away from its mainland. Like global warming, secessionist movements are becoming the new realities.

One would gladly refund all of $50 billion to obtain an insight into the minds of the Chinese leadership at this moment. What must Beijing be thinking about the political situation in Pakistan?

Unlike Pakistan, China does not suffer from institutional amnesia. It has over the past 70 years sustained a radial, layered relationship with Pakistan. That has been rightly described as time-tested. Over time, it has tested the proverbial patience of the Chinese.

How has the Chinese government taken to the ouster of Nawaz Sharif? It seems inconceivable that the Chinese government should not have indicated its position (discreetly, diplomatically) regarding the future of the two Sharif brothers? They did after all bulldoze the CPEC across Pakistan.

In 1972, premier Zhou Enlai requested president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to look after ousted Gen Yahya Khan. Bhutto promised to ‘take care’ of him. Have the Chinese asked an offstage Godot to take care of the Sharifs? Or are they relying on Nawaz Sharif to take care of himself constitutionally?

The writer is an author.

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