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After a three weeks sojourn in the UK, returning to Pakistan was a case of an overdose of déjà vu. But I must not run ahead and first deal with my impressions of London, which I visited after four years. London has changed.

I encountered phenomena hitherto unthinkable in the past in the metropolis. First and foremost, the city no longer seemed as familiar as before.

Central London was overcrowded with even more than the normal summertime tourists, English was heard as the exception on the streets, beggars were encountered on the street and on the tube and the homeless could be found sleeping on the street sidewalks.

The cultural scene was uninteresting (at least to me), comprising tourist-oriented, commerce-driven films and theatre. The cost of living in the UK is touching new heights, with no end in sight to the trend.

Strikes by various groups or communities of workers, doctors, nurses and what have you are daily fare. Central London has become so expensive that hardly anyone I knew or got to know this time lived there. Instead, they were comfortably ensconced in the suburbs and happy to commute into the centre when needed. One friend found the cost of living in London so painful she spent the summer in Italy instead!

I had the privilege of speaking at two events in London. The first was the Faiz Foundation London’s homage to Iqbal, Faiz and Sajjad Zaheer. The daughter of the last named, Noor Zaheer, was one of the speakers but dropped out at the last minute because of an illness in the family. That withdrawal afforded me more time as a speaker than was planned or perhaps I deserved.

The second event was the Pakistan Literary Festival, held for the first time (but not, according to the organisers, the last) in London. This public exposure persuaded various groups of expatriate Pakistanis to invite me to a series of meetings, where some interesting discussions took place.

It must be understood that our expatriate Pakistani brothers and sisters may have left Pakistan and done reasonably well for themselves in the UK, but Pakistan (and its concerns) have not left them. The sum total of these discussions yielded a fair crop of depression, hopelessness and helplessness despite a desire to contribute in whatever way possible to improve things at home.

There were no magical solutions on offer, so we had to settle for the minimum need to keep a dialogue going between all our expat compatriots to seek answers to our country’s issues and contemplate a possible contribution from them.

Pakistan on return seemed stuck in time, with the same natter filling the airwaves and print media. In Pakistan, as we have learnt over time, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Nevertheless, without disturbing the elemental foundations of our ‘system’ (more on this below), some ‘change’ is visibly undeniable. After the May 9, 2023 ‘insurrection’, Imran Khan and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) appear to have been ‘dealt with’ or at least well on the way to that end.

The ground has been hollowed out from under Imran Khan’s feet through repression, leaving him seemingly dangling in the air.

Add to this the flight from PTI of the fasli bateras (seasonal sparrows) to other parties or out of politics altogether, weakening the electoral prospects of the PTI in any future election, the party and Imran Khan’s strong narrative on the mainstream and social media virtually blanked out, a possible new King’s Party in the shape of Jahangir Tareen’s Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party emerging, and the scenario resembles nothing more than a return to business as usual.

The coalition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government (and the powers-that-be) appear confident now of being able to conduct elections by year-end without too much concern regarding the likely now muted challenge from the PTI.

This is in effect a return to the pre-2018 political landscape, in which the two mainstream (once sworn enemies) parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), are once again operating in tandem according to the Charter of Democracy (CoD) signed in 2006 by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in exile in London.

The most critical portion of the CoD was the vow by both parties to eschew and combat being ‘played’ against each other by the establishment, as had been the norm in the 1990s.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi in December 2007, the two parties can rightly claim credit for the first peaceful transfer of power through the ballot box in 2013 in Pakistan’s entire history.

In fact it can be argued that it was the rapprochement after the shared suffering at the hands of the military establishment that bonded the two parties. This bonding on the basis of adherence to parliamentary democracy’s minimum principles may have been the trigger for the establishment’s throwing its weight behind, and throwing all its eggs into Imran Khan’s basket.

The pivot back to the PML-N and PPP was necessitated in turn by the amount of those eggs left sticking to the establishment’s face after the Imran Khan project imploded.

Pakistan now may be heaving a sigh of relief at the short-term Standby Facility agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which may open the coffers of other multilateral and bilateral lenders. But it still promises to be a difficult, uphill, long haul for economic recovery. Nawaz Sharif’s return to Pakistan looms after the PDM confab in Dubai and the law limiting disqualification to five years. But essentially the ‘system’ remains the same. The by now well entrenched pattern of the politics of collaboration (no marks for guessing with whom) and patronage has the country in its grip and the people by the throat. Interesting times ahead?

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

Rashed Rahman

[email protected] , rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

Comments

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Faiz Jul 04, 2023 12:18pm
Who paid for the trip!
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Tulukan Mairandi Jul 04, 2023 02:40pm
Pakistan elite love London and Dubai. No Indian ex-PM lived in London or Dubai.
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KU Jul 04, 2023 09:00pm
Welcome back, you did not miss much, but the new normal is that our benefactors are committed to growing flowers in a rock. Not wise, but who cares when one is committed.
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KU Jul 04, 2023 09:04pm
@Tulukan Mairandi, A true observation, cactus always have a difficult time among flowers.
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