• February 23, 2024

Histrionics as policy

In the age of gadgets and hyper-connectivity, where people spend more time with screens than themselves, mindfulness exercises and meditations make sense. You must have seen many examples of people walking around totally engrossed in something that is going on on their smartphones without any awareness of their surroundings. Don’t judge them too harshly. In our time, a TV set had a similar allure. Luckily, our lot could not walk around or cross streets with the monstrosities we called television or VDUs. The generations before that could allow radio or printed words to paralyse them. There is something about the human mind and immersive experiences that transports us out of our immediate surroundings and takes us to another reality. In short, mindfulness exercises are necessary for this day and age.

You would think only Gen-Z, Millennials, and to an extent, Gen-X need mindfulness meditation and not Boomers. But pray, think again, for I am about to give you an example to shake you out of complacency.

How aware should leaders be of the historical context of every word they utter? Especially if they have spent a lifetime in a career or sport where they must be alert to their surroundings. I think a lot. Because words have consequences. If divorced from reality, such statements can, at worst, lead an entire generation astray and, at best, leave you looking like a moron.

An immediate example that comes to mind is that of Donald Trump. The man got the most massive megaphone a politician could ask for. And his narcissism ensured that he would make a pig’s breakfast of messaging, opening a new door backward and ending up with the shameful legacy of causing an insurrection. But he is not the subject of our discussion.

Many of us getting a daily reality check will attest to it in a heartbeat. If Imran Khan’s choices and statements made in the past eight months shook you, you could not deny that even before 2018, when he finally made it to the throne, there were plenty of instances that this might happen. His belief that his suffering, no matter how limited, is the worst form of it in existence. For example, his weeklong incarceration during Musharraf’s time beats everyone else’s trials. In a country where leaders ranging from Maududi to Bhutto spent considerable time behind bars, the latter was hung at the end of it. In a country where journalists and opinion makers were lashed in public for speaking their minds and now become instant targets of terrorists and extremists, no one has faced more tyranny than Shahbaz Gill and Azam Swati.

Similarly where Liaquat Ali Khan, Benazir Bhutto, Salman Taseer, and many generals died by the assassin’s bullet, and in dubious circumstances, a failed attempt on Mr Khan’s life somehow takes precedence. I would never make light of the recent incidents but context, proportion, and scale matter. Especially, because ignorance and the lack of self-awareness can have a severe impact on your judgment.

As a direct consequence, he has all but destroyed whatever passed for his brand in the past eight months. His past mistakes and accusations against him, which we had collectively chosen to forget on Election Day in 2018, are resurfacing like rabbits in a hutch. His temperament, inflexibility, soft corner for certain extremists, and contempt for mainstream politics are all talk of the town now. A former bureaucrat and his once ardent supporter recently reminded me that a decade ago, the TTP had nominated him for negotiations. This, when read with the facts that he is constantly bad-mouthing the very institutions that are fighting against terrorists, and in his final year in office, he made mind-boggling concessions to terrorists in the name of peace-building, you get a very dangerous narrative. When you lose collective amnesia as your ally, you should know you have erred big time.

And then there is the issue of paranoia. Even in his final days in office, he was alienating allies by the light of speed. All because of paranoia and unfortunate choice in people. Your allies may tell you who convinced them to do that, but the fact is they couldn’t wait to jump ship. All because of your attitude towards them. Reason paranoia and lousy advice.

Paranoia also affects the ability to process facts. For instance, in Mr Khan’s narrative about the attempt on his life, he is clearly omitting or dismissing some key questions. For instance, who among his planners came up with the idea of not installing bulletproof glass or other such fortifications for his safety. Similarly, his supporter might have stopped one shooter, but if there were trained snipers firing from an altitude, how did they miss? How many other instances cited above saw a similar failure? Also, is it prudent to rule out the possibility that a guard’s stray bullet might have killed the man who died? He says there are people in high places who reveal all these plans to him. Suppose he knew beforehand, why didn’t he take the necessary precautions? Given the nature of workplace rivalries, is there no possibility that people use him to settle old scores? But an angry and paranoid man opens his mouth and shuts his eyes and ears.

Do you think, after this trainwreck, anyone would want to associate with such politics for long? There is a reason why we have been witnessing power changing hands between the same people for a long time. Not everyone is deemed temperamentally fit to rule a nation of more than two hundred million people. After 22 years, he managed to wear the system down and finally got a shot. And he blew it. It saddens me that the trauma caused by this episode may restrict the system’s ability to trust new faces. He could start afresh, but now in his seventies, he may not have another 22 years to reinvent the wheel.

After his departure from office, many had written him off. But not this scribe. After a quick succession of unfortunate choices made by the gentleman, even I cannot fool myself. If you are not paying attention, the number of viewers watching his talks daily is falling. If you still think he is not losing support, prepare to be shocked in the next election.

Histrionics and temper tantrums cannot substitute for sound policy and judgment. Charisma also has its shelf life. Good luck does not last forever. If a leader or his supporters cannot grasp these simple facts, they should definitely opt for mindfulness exercises.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2023.

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