By Dr. Haider Mehdi

Image-makers are at work these days in Pakistan with absolute tenacity.  In the long run, they might have no substantive impact on Pakistan’s future political landscape, but right now, their efforts are noticeable.

A politically reborn Nawaz Sharif, Chief of the PML-N, appeared on a TV talk show on Nov. 26th in an exclusive interview with Muhammed Malick.  It was an image-makers treat to watch, with the anchor looking at his interviewee with dazed eyes.  The former Prime Minister, fully prepared for the occasion, was meticulously articulate in what he said on the present and future politics of Pakistan.  Nawaz Sharif was profoundly humble in his manners, perfectly modest in his demeanor, perceptually pragmatic in his approach to national problematics, mindful of his projected authority and nobility, faithfully devoted to the people’s cause and, above all, a picture-perfect model of public diplomacy and constitutionalism.  Here was a person fully loaded with new perspectives and a voice of reason and moderation, Mian Sharif tactfully acknowledged the democratic legitimacy of Asif Ali Zardari’s presidency, in a message of friendship and mutual PML-N/ PPP future interests.  Nawaz Sharif highlighted his personal as well as PML-N’s role in saving and promoting democracy as the major opposition party in the last 4 years of the PPP regime.  Well done, Mian Nawaz Sharif –but above and beyond the powerful rhetoric and image-building persona, there are serious strategic, ideological, and political management issues that need to be addressed urgently in the immediate future.  We will come back to these matters later.

On Nov. 30th, Ijaz-ul-Haq, head of PML-Z, and son of the late Gen.Zia-ul-Haq, appeared on the TV talk show Ikhtilaf. With a refreshing frankness, he admitted that indeed his father was a military dictator, and yet insisted that he, himself, has a large country-wide political following.  Ijaz ul-Haq’s argument is that he is the heir apparent of Gen. Zia’s legacy of serving Pakistan’s ideological interests, and as such, a great number of Pakistanis accord to him (and his late father) respect in this noble cause. It was a strongly impressionable interview with the beaming, handsome Ijaz ul-Haq admitting historical errors committed during his father’s era and projecting the image of a political man who is both honest and frank, and yet pragmatic enough to seek unity of traditional political forces (Muslim Leaguers) in the interest of the country.  But the question is: Can the traditional political actors associated with an ailing and corrupt political culture resolve Pakistan’s pressing problems?  And is Ijaz ul-Haq’s perceptual version of present-day democracy and its future continuation a viable system to politically and economically stabilize the country?  That happens to be the fundamental question in today’s Pakistan.

On Dec. 2nd, Chaudhry Shujat Hussain, President PML-Q, was on air in an exclusive interview on the TV talk show Awaam Ki Adalat . In his usual down-to-earth public manner and with delightful Punjabi humor loaded with punch-lines, Chaudhry Shujat received warm applause from his audience a number of times. It should be noted that PML-Q is a political ally of PPP in their bid for another victory in the next general elections. Chaudhry Shujat claims that his party has electables and he is confident of winning in the forthcoming elections. He credits himself opposing his former ally, the military dictator Gen. Musharraf, on a number of vital national issues: the Lal Masjid operations, the Bughti assassination, the Chief Justice episode, and Balochistan’s quagmire.   Chaudhry Shujat claims that he not only opposed the General’s political actions and decisions, but also offered viable solutions to these problems that were ignored by Musharraf.  Well done, Chaudhry Shujat Hussain – but the question is: Were you not the major partner of Gen. Musharraf’s regime? Then how come things turned out to be so dismal for this country at that particular time and consequently for its future existence? Were you not the one who constructed the fundamentals of the NRO’s parameters?

Shahbaz Sharif and Mushahid Hussain Syed, among other notables, have also appeared in exclusive interviews on different TV talk shows to add to the ongoing image-building public diplomacy which is in full swing in recent days.

As a social scientist and political analyst, I can determine with absolute confidence that the recent surge of image-building public diplomacy by the prominent Muslim Leaguers (in all different factions) is a political reaction to Imran Khan’s rising popularity and the fear of the tsunami that is knocking at the doorsteps of Pakistan’s traditional political class, its leadership, and a clear and present danger to their future existence.  I contend that it is about the only logical explanation that can be rationally attributed to the transformation of the traditional ruling elite’s political behavior recently. 

The vital point is that mere window-dressing, image-building exercises, and massive public diplomacy through media and television campaigns cannot be a substitute for the real-time change of political direction and ideological discourse needed in present-day Pakistan. The fact of the matter is that all contemporary Muslim Leaguers (no matter what faction they belong to) are fundamentally Right-Wing in their political as well as socio-economic orientations.  They are inherently status-quo politicians.  Their political, economic and social ideology is stalemated.  

They are intellectually dormant.  Philosophically, in political and ethical terms, they are timeless prisoners of their own mindsets. They all consider democracy as an organized ritual of voting that can be manipulated by symbols, slogans, political skills, mutual alliances, and sharing mutual vested interests.  Their goal (and past history) is to grab political power, use it for economic gains, and sustain this power endlessly.  Has not the Pakistani nation experienced this political charade for far too long? Have not the ordinary common citizens observed this dismal political phenomenon endlessly?

Some day, future political historians are going to have a field day when they evaluate the celebrated glory of saving a sham democracy under the stewardship of the PPP along with its glorious opposition partners – the prevailing so-called democratic dispensation that has resulted in decimating the entire structure of Pakistan’s society.  This solemnized era of ceremonial democracy is going to fall flat on its face.

The fact of the matter is that Pakistan’s traditional political class is still, even today, unaware of the masses’ raised political consciousness and awareness.   They are underestimating the general public’s complete understanding of national issues and the people’s rising and almost exploding fury and utter disappointment with the existing political system. People are fed up of daily deprivations, lawlessness, corruption, political-economic mismanagement, social chaos, poverty, and endless theatrics of the traditional political class in the name of democracy.  Enough is enough.

And so consequently a political tsunami will come in the shape of Imran Khan’s ideology of change (no matter what Mian Nawaz Sharif defines or understands by this term).  A change that is indispensable now for Pakistan’s existence and future survival.

Here is a political prediction: If elections are held (and I repeat, IF elections are held), a political tsunami will be the only guarantee of Pakistan’s survival – nothing else will save this country from ultimate disaster!!