Dismissing notifications, taking talks, dictating deadlines, Imran Khan asserted civil supremacy for the second holiest post in our land of the pure. And that’s not even the most amazing thing that happened last week. No, I’m not talking about Pakistan beating India or New Zealand, although that was pretty remarkable too.
You see, before Imran Khan said absolutely not to America, he said absolutely not to Saudi Arabia. First on the sending of Pakistani troops to Yemen, then on the drop in pressure on the OIC for Kashmir, then again on the recognition of Israel. The boys didn’t like this principle chicken game with the Saudis at all; they are our chief bosses and one of our chiefs is literally on loan to the country. But at the end of the day, Imran Khan has held his ground and the Saudis are ready to play with Pakistan again with billions of dollars to come. It is not a complete surprise that the much awaited notification from DG ISI fell on the same day as the announcement of the arrival of Saudi money. For several weeks, the opposition and the media cabal have been trying to tie the date of this notification. to the lunar eclipse and all kinds of other voodoo prophecies.
First of all, they said he had been selected and when he so strongly defended in principle the appointment to DG ISI, they said he was under the influence of a witch, who happens to be to be his wife. I guess they really can’t accept that Imran Khan is an independent thinker who makes the best possible wrong decisions. Some of them are good, some not so good. On the front of civil supremacy, however, we are witnessing a master class from Imran Khan. The man may not be under the influence of a witch, but he is engaged in serious political magic.
He essentially turned the most popular narrative – the idea that he was selected – against him and knocked it over with one delayed stroke of the pen. So much so that chief civilian supremacist Maryam Nawaz stood alongside the coach instead of a civilian prime minister on the much-vaunted notification from DG ISI. This reveals that PML-N’s fight was never principled against the boys (read the vote to extend the selector or Shehbaz Sharif). The point is that the PML-N and the PPP were happy to share the election spoils in slightly uncomfortable arrangements with the boys and the PTI is no more selected than any other civilian government in Pakistan’s history. The real enemy of the PML-N and the PPP is Imran Khan challenging their status quo.
That civil supremacy is a good thing is now a public position held by all major political parties in Pakistan. How civil supremacy is established is still a question for debate. PML-N’s model for establishing civil supremacy plays the good cop (Shehbaz Sharif) and the bad cop (Maryam and Nawaz). The PPP model for establishing civil supremacy is principled in public and pragmatic in private. Imran Khan opens a third way; he shows that it is possible to assert civil supremacy in private without becoming a political martyr in public. You can stick to your guns – let’s say on Usman Buzdar – and deal with the electoral consequences on your own rather than blaming the boys.
If a puppet can do it – for Usman Buzdar of all peoples – why can’t the champions of our democracy? Civil supremacy is a contribution to the results of governance, not an excuse to underperform or an inherited personality trait like political parties or democracy itself in Pakistan.
Barring a bloody revolution, this is the only possible path to achieving civil supremacy over time. Instead of using civil supremacy as a trump card in your electoral toolkit, use civil supremacy as another card in your governance toolkit. And then act like it doesn’t matter. If we do this often enough, we will realize that the Emperor may be wearing a uniform, but he cannot deliver a notification until the real leader has signed. And 2021 is not 1999. It’s time to reset the software.
Posted in The Express Tribune, October 31st, 2021.
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