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Beware the Ides of March

Published March 3, 2024
Darshan Punchi (C), member of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party and a newly elected lawmaker, holds a poster of their leaders, Nawaz Sharif (R) and Shehbaz Sharif, before the start of the inaugural session of the National Assembly, upon his arrival at the parliament house building in Islamabad on February 29, 2024. Photo: AFP
Darshan Punchi (C), member of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party and a newly elected lawmaker, holds a poster of their leaders, Nawaz Sharif (R) and Shehbaz Sharif, before the start of the inaugural session of the National Assembly, upon his arrival at the parliament house building in Islamabad on February 29, 2024. Photo: AFP

The expression ‘Beware the Ides of March’ was used in renowned playwright William Shakespeare’s epic Julius Caesar. The line is the soothsayer’s message to the Roman Emperor, warning him of his death. The term didn’t originate with William Shakespeare.

The earliest Roman calendar, which comprised ten months beginning with Martius (March), was believed to have been created by King Romulus around 753 B.C. At that time, dates were expressed in relation to the lunar phase of the month using three markers: Kalends (Kal), Nones (Non) and Ides (Id).

The first phase of the moon, the new moon, was denoted by Kalends and signified the first day of the month; the first quarter moon fell on either the fifth or seventh day of the month and was referred to as Nones; the full moon fell on either the 13th or 15th day of the month and was referred to as Ides. March 15 – The Ides of March – initially marked the first full moon of a new year.

During the late Roman Republic, a new year’s festival was held on the Ides of March in which people would gather a mile outside of Rome on the Via Flaminia by the banks of the Tiber River.

Participants celebrated with food, wine and music and offered sacrifices to the Roman deity Anna Perenna for a happy and prosperous new year. In 46 B.C., after consulting with the Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes, Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar by adding ten days to the 355-day year, named after him as the Julian Calendar, instituting January 1 as the first day of the new year (beginning in 45 B.C.) and introducing a leap year every four years.

Shortly thereafter, he was granted the title Dictator Perpetuus or “dictator for life.” Apprehensive of Caesar’s increasing power and monarchical leanings, a group of Roman senators stabbed the ruler to death on March 15, 44 B.C.—forever linking the Ides of March with the assassination of Julius Caesar.

This year, the severe effects of the Ides of March are visible globally; Ukraine is in flames while the genocide of innocent Palestinians in the killing fields of Gaza at the hands of Israeli Defence Forces continues unchecked. The price of oil is plummeting high while stocks continue to tumble.

Closer to home, the Ides of March spells trouble in numerous avenues. Politically, there has been an election amid alleged rigging in Pakistan, where an incarcerated leader Imran Khan led his backed candidates to a victory.

Every stratagem of guile was applied to keep the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) away from power. Imran Khan has been on the receiving end of the wrath for the past two years. His top party leadership faced arrests, and some switched allegiances. The electoral field seemed designed to diminish any chances of his success. Heavy restrictions curtailed his party’s traditional campaigning, and their electoral symbol was banned. Online campaigns were disrupted by blocking nationwide internet, social media and cell phone services. Yet he and his supporters refused to be cowed. 

The PTI supporters remained undeterred and they turned to social media and online mobilisation, leveraging artificial intelligence and the latest trends to amplify their message. Even skeptics who had hinted at a surge in Khan’s support were taken aback by the sheer determination of his base. 

PTI’s election campaign took an unconventional turn. Instead of grand rallies, it became a grassroots movement. Supporters – men, women, and children – went door-to-door, spreading the party’s vision.

After the masses cast the votes, allegations of rigging were widespread. No single party emerged as a clear victor and a coalition government is being formed. It does not portend well since it is the same group which wreaked havoc on Pakistan’s economy, law and order in its fifteen months of rule.

Some ground realities seemed to be overlooked. One, Imran Khan continues to be the most popular leader in Pakistan. Two, the PDM government’s rating fell as they struggled to control inflation and a faltering economy during its previous tenure. Three, the six-party coalition appears to be an uneasy gathering of former foes. The two leading parties of the alliance, PML-N and PPP, have a history of bitter rivalry. PML-N, PPP, and other parties had previously shared power for 16 months, until August 2023, under the aegis of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), with Shehbaz Sharif leading the government and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as foreign minister.

They staunchly opposed each other up until the recent polling, with a senior PPP leader calling his party’s participation in the 16-month-long power-sharing PDM a mistake.

With no party in majority, Pakistan inevitably moved towards a six-party alliance government led by the PML-N and PPP. Shehbaz Sharif is now prime minister, and important appointments will be split between several parties.

Meanwhile, the PTI is readying itself to create obstacles for the coalition government.

Meanwhile, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islami-F chief and former president Pakistan Democratic Movement Maulana Fazl Ur Rehman predicted a doomsday for the coalition government, saying those within the system would repent as they are incapable of running the country’s affairs.

He claims that the country’s affairs cannot be run by those who were imposed in the system through a rigged election and eventually they will also be ousted.

Terror attacks continue to wreak havoc on precious lives and property but more ominously, our eastern neighbour India has infiltrated Pakistan’s airspace and territorial waters with impunity. The IMF will be rethinking its next tranche of bailout for Pakistan.

While the month of March plods on, serious ramifications could be in store for Pakistan. Beware the Ides of March!

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

S. M. Hali

The writer is a retired Group Captain of PAF, and now a security analyst


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KU Mar 03, 2024 06:12pm
Wise suggestions, very few voices left in Pakistan that point to the consistent rot. ‘’Fortune favours the brave or fools’’ has changed to ‘’fortune favours the corrupt or criminals’’ in our country.
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Rebirth Mar 12, 2024 11:12pm
@KU, yes but at least he’s not taking a salary.
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