Cricket in the Jungle

By Samia Altaf 

While everyone is focused on what will happen, the much more profound impact will be of what is happening before it happens. Something will happen after all, it always does— when the dust settles there will be a deal: it will be Him, or him, or her in the driver’s seat; or Him and her, or Him and him; rather less likely it would be him and her. It will matter a lot to the bunch of ladies and gentlemen, honorable individuals all, who want an office, a chair, a flag at any price and who need to bet right on who will be left standing when the music stops. But what will it matter to us? We have seen them all, individually and in pairs, we have seen them all. And we know that nothing much will change when the dust settles and the music stops. 

But what is happening matters, and will matter, a lot to us because it will define the kind of society we will have to live in over the decades to come. It will define whether we move forwards or backwards as a society. And that is why we need to be involved, that is why we need to understand that what is happening at this time is more important than what will happen. That is why we need to make sure that we fight the fight that will be the more important one for our future.

Think of this in a stylized perspective. Imagine there are two states of societal development. The first state can be characterized as that of the jungle. In this state the primary struggle is amongst powerful groups over what would be the rules of the game under which other people would have to live and over who would impose the rules. The second state can be characterized as that of the playground. In this state, all the parties have agreed upon the rules of the game, and the contest is decided by who performs better on a given day.

The process of societal development can be characterized as the movement from the state of the jungle to the state of the playground and the rules of the game can be thought of as the constitution. In the normal course of history, societies move from the jungle to the playground, from the sons of a monarch killing each other to inherit the throne to a peaceful transfer of electoral power. That is the normal process of transition from savagery to civilization.

Now think what is happening in Pakistan—we are moving in the opposite direction. We were never really out of the jungle but we are moving deeper and deeper into it. Think about it. Do you want to spend the rest of your life in the jungle that Pakistan is being turned into? 

Think of these two states of the world in terms of cricket and what is happening will become a lot clearer. Can you imagine an ongoing match where a gentleman walks on to the field, gun in hand, and says I am going to be the captain from now on? And all previous captains who have led the team twice can never captain again. Better still, all previous captains are hereby accused of ball tampering and banished from the team. And furthermore, all players in the future would need to have degrees from my school. And, when the umpire declares me out, the umpire too is to be banished and replaced by my favorite batman. Would you accept a jungle cricket of this sort?

Is this too fanciful? This drama of the absurd is not even half done yet. A team of this sort can win on the doctored pitches at home but would you be surprised if it starts getting thrashed in a fair contest? And what happens then? You would expect a move from the jungle to the playground—a reform that would re-establish the norms of the game and put the chaotic house in order. But wait; observe the trajectory. Okay, one of the exiled captains can come back. I will take back the ball-tampering charge, if you accept me as vice-captain for the next five years. I will amend the rules and allow you to be captain a third time if you accept the umpire of my choice. And, if you don’t play ball, I will allow the other captain to come back too and bowl underhand. And, by the way, I have just imposed a rule that no one can challenge all the previous changes of the rules. And, so on.

Think about it. What is happening right before our eyes, eyes that are fixated on what will happen, on who will be captain, is that we are being hijacked deeper and deeper into the jungle. The constitution, the set of rules, has become the personal plaything of the lions of the jungle to be changed arbitrarily and at will to cut any deal that serves the immediate purpose. And the neutral umpires have been sent home. 

Think about it. Would you accept at the national level what you won’t in a game of cricket? Is this the kind of society you want to spend the rest of your lives in? If not, keep in mind that in the short run the captain we get will matter but not all that much. What will matter more will be if there is a level playground, a set of rules of the game, and neutral umpires to enforce them. We accepted that in cricket a long time back, didn’t we?

So let’s not focus on who will be the next lion of the jungle. Focus instead on turning the jungle into the playground. Focus for now on strengthening the national institutions and insisting on getting the best neutral umpires—a strong judiciary. Going back to the status quo ante without restoring a strong judiciary will be desired by all the lions and celebrated as a victory by all the courtiers. But if the neutral umpires are not brought back, and no one wants them back except you and me, it will be one more step into the jungle.

Dr. Samia Altaf is the 2007-2008 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC 

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