If Harold Wilson was living in Pakistan today, he would have learnt even a week that he presumed was a long time in politics, would be passé. The 20th century British prime minister would have likely struggled to keep up pace in the rough and tumble of politics this side of the Indus.
In a growing theatre of the absurd even the enterprising Pakistani electronic media is having a hard time keeping a tab.
The other day, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the 28-year-old scion of the Bhutto dynasty and chairman of his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP); and Imran Khan, the firebrand leader of the opposition Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI), turned on each other after a rather short-lived political romance that critics – yours truly included – had predicted wouldn’t last the distance.
But before this soap opera flashed on TV screens, a spectacle had already taken place in the national parliament where a joint session choreographed for unity was reduced to a slanging match between the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the opposition PPP after parliamentarians from each party accused and castigated the other on live TV for failing the country.
Imran Khan’s PTI had already boycotted the session, terming it a bid by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to divert attention from the charges his children named in the so-called Panama Papers are facing over their unexplained offshore wealth.
Frustrated over the lack of any progress with regard to constituting a full inquiry to probe the charges – the PTI has already petitioned the Supreme Court – Khan trooped out of an opposition alliance last month over what he now conjectures was a drama enacted by the PPP in collusion with the ruling PML-N to actually ward off any inquiry under the pretext of forging a consensus on terms of reference.
Subsequently, Khan also held a mammoth rally in Raiwind, the prime minister’s political bastion.
The show of strength appears to have revived the PTI’s flagging fortunes after a clutch of staid public meetings were seen as an indicator of public’s waning interest in the PTI’s one dimensional approach to national politics.
The opposition alliance led by the PPP appeared to use the opportunity presented by circumstance to get its own pound of flesh by forcing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s hand for desperate sops in exchange for containing Khan from taking to the road in the larger interest of “opposition unity” by dragging its feet on the Panama probe.
It is a measure of Khan’s naïveté that he fell into the trap and missed what critics suggest was a golden opportunity to nail the issue in parliament back in April when the PM was forced to offer an explanation in relation to the freshly ignited Panama issue.
In a scene right out of Machiavelli’s book, PPP veteran Khurshid Shah, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly – lower house of Pakistan’s bicameral legislature – staged a walkout just when Khan was about to begin his speech.
The PTI chairman willy-nilly followed Shah’s trail, assuming perhaps, it would send a strong message of opposition unity.
In an embarrassing spectacle, Khan was seen standing behind Shah – someone, who, he had in the 2014 street agitation, derisively dubbed Sharif’s “servant” – as the PPP stalwart seemed to enjoy every minute of his media talk outside the parliament!
However, it is all back to Square One now.
And it has all happened too quickly for most people to absorb.
Just last week, Bilawal had generously praised Imran Khan for “mobilising the country’s youth” and his efforts in taking the fight to the Sharifs with a “big show”, but as soon as Khan boycotted the joint session and lamented the PPP’s ‘villainous’ role in bailing out the PM in the alleged garb of seeking national consensus on Kashmir, all hell broke loose.
Perhaps on impulse, Khan even urged the PPP to rid itself of Asif Zardari, the shrewd former president, co-chairman of the PPP and Bilawal’s father, “if it is to survive”. He also cited how Bilawal only days ago had called the PM “a traitor” but was now shaking hands with him “with a large grin.”
Soon after, Bilawal launched into Khan, declaring in a U-turn, that he could never even conceive calling an elected prime minister a traitor.
Mocking the 64-year-old PTI chairman, his 28-year-old PPP counterpart counterpunched in a pointed reference to the former World Cup-winning captain: “Khan thinks he could hit a six and become prime minister, but this is not cricket.”
Bilawal then, swiftly moved to meet Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Khan’s sworn political rival and chief of Jamiat Ulema Islam-F, reverently calling him “uncle” and professing to benefit from the portly cleric’s experience.
Only three months ago, during a poll campaign in Kashmir, Bilawal while taking a pot shot at Sharif had also taken a dig at Rehman for supporting him, using the unflattering sobriquet “Diesel”– a description the cleric’s opponents employ for his alleged procurement of permits that fetch rich fuel-driven dividends.
Ironically, the permits were reportedly secured during the government of the-then prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Bilawal’s mother, in return for extending political support!
In a repeat of the 2014 street agitation to demand probe of the general elections the previous year that Khan alleged were massively rigged to return the PML-N to power, the PTI is again returning to the federal capital on October 30 to demand an investigation into the Panama Papers that implicates the PM’s children.
Once again, almost all the political parties are either openly or discreetly backing the government, fearing an upheaval may lead them to losing power.
Only this time, Khan is threatening to lock down the capital, suggesting he would not let the government function unless the PM resigned or offered himself for accountability.
The impression PTI is generating is that this is possibly the last roll of the dice before the 2018 general elections – a spectre that is likely to herald sleepless nights for powers-that-be.

*The writer is Community Editor