By FS Aijazuddin
Aug 19, 2018
IF it was only for one year I should
delight in it, but five is terribly long,” Lady Canning had written to her
sister in June 1855, upon hearing that her husband Charles had been appointed
Governor-General of India. That long-forgotten regret replayed on the face of
Imran Khan as he and 327 MNAs-elect took their places in the National Assembly
for their collective swearing-in on August 13. Imran Khan sat one seat away
from the PM’s chair. After being sworn in as PM, he will be entitled to occupy
it for the next five years.
He has waited over 20 years for this “tryst
with conspiracy”. Whatever plaudits should have been his were appropriated that
inaugural afternoon by PPP’s Bilawal Bhutto. Bilawal wafted in, innocent,
confident, borne aloft by the memory of his mother Benazir Bhutto and the
cunningness of his father Asif Ali Zardari.
His unlikely neighbour in the same row, reserved for disappointed
Opposition leaders, was Shahbaz Sharif, the PML’s surrogate stand-in for his
brother Nawaz Sharif. (At that very moment, Nawaz Sharif was being driven from
Adiala Jail to appear in a court on corruption charges.) Shahbaz looked a
disconsolate Arjuna, pained that his elder brother had gambled away their
Parties not in government now sit in the
Opposition. They are as comfortable with each other as rival hedgehogs in an
overcrowded pit. Other parties such as the MQM and five smaller regional ones
who decided to swallow the cyanide of their scruples have joined Imran Khan on
the government benches.
This new National Assembly is a motley
crowd. It includes a former President of Pakistan, ex-prime ministers, seasoned
Speakers, Punjabis with ambition, Sindhis with demands, Baluchis with
recriminations, Pakhtuns with hopes, and a recent PTI convert — a controversial
TV presenter infamous for his venality — who grovelled at the feet of his
Benazir Bhutto had adopted a white veil as
her signature. Imran has decided to wear a white Kurta-pyjama. In the National
Assembly that afternoon, surrounded by baying hounds who wished him worse, he
looked like a white stag, singular and vulnerable. One was reminded of Dom
Moraes’ telling description of Indira Gandhi, flanked in the Lok Sabha by YB
Chavan and Jagjivan Ram. He wrote: “She resembled a gazelle seated between two
Had she been alive, her thoughts in Dom
Moraes’ words would have been timely: “Formation of a Cabinet…is like the
selection of a cricket team [.] It has to be a united whole, not a random
selection of talented individuals.”
Cricket continues to be the Kurukshetra of
Indo-Pak relations. Imran has not invited PM Modi to his installation, but
three Indian cricketers — Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Navjot Singh Sidhu. The
first two declined; the third — a TV laughing machine — has accepted.
Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria
called on Imran Khan and presented him with a bat signed by the Indian cricket
team. Only one of them (MS Dhoni) had reached his teens when Imran Khan’s team
won the World Cup in 1992. The bat was a
thoughtful gesture. Should Modi expect a tea set in return?
Imran Khan, in his victory speech, has held
out the assurance that “If India’s leadership is ready; we are ready to improve
ties with India. If you forward one step, we will take two steps forward”. At
the moment, both are wary. Neither is sure who might take the wrong step first.
Elections divide communities; festivals
unite them. This year Eid-ul-Azha (commemorating Abraham’s sacrifice) falls on
August 22. For the next five such Eids, Pakistan’s Opposition parties share one
aim: how to slaughter the white stag.
FS Aijazuddin is Pakistan-based historian