ISLAMABAD - It is astounding how easily a political government gets upended in Pakistan. Politicians, who have ruled for decades, appear as clueless as a layman to deal with the issues of governance and economy. Even a faint whiff of street agitation gets the rulers scrambling for cover. Panic sets in their straw houses with the appearance of the slightest frown from the military. Hamstrung and dysfunctional, political governments here lurch along in a grim mockery of democratic rule. Worse is the failure and lack of will to improve, to get out of the morass, to be able to do something. Hollow sounding slogans are constantly fed to the masses. Cheap gimmickry is employed to throw dirt in the eyes of the people. Platitudes of the worst type are used again and again. In a country yearning for democracy, its form of democracy degenerates into a revolting display of crass nepotism and crude opportunism.

For Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the current failings of his government should be an immense cause of discomfort and embarrassment. The scion of an industrial and business empire, the prime minister seems unable to hold the slide of his government deeper and deeper into failure and incompetence. From the tragic sights of police opening fire on political opponents to the current displays of public desperation at petrol filling stations, the government cuts a sorry figure: disconnected from reality, mired in controversies and hobbled by a continuous series of missteps.

Nothing really explains the perverse performance. What was sold as the winning ticket of PML-N prior to the elections seems to be its biggest predicament. The ministers appear washed-up and bumbling, odd and tragic caricatures of their pre-election pretence and rhetoric. The edifice of PML-N election manifesto seems to be in a shambles.

Almost half of last year was lost in a gruelling battle with Imran Khan and Tahir-ul Qadri. Imran harangued the public for several months, mostly desperate and struggling. Having lost the plot soon after initiating his protest campaign, Imran drained himself and his supporters. Now, he has vowed to transform KP Province into the imaginary wonderland that he was selling to the youth. But he, too, now suffers from a dent in credibility and authenticity. And, the less said about Tahir-ul Qadri the better. His ‘Green Revolution’, propelled by the alleged millions of supporters, also turned into a pipe dream as the protest sit-in was wrapped up suddenly, in utter ignominy.

The Sharif government should have capitalised on the failings of its most bitter and formidable political opponents by seizing the political initiative. But the government seems to have run out of fuel, both literally and metaphorically.

In a rapidly changing world, its ministers appear complacent and quiescent. Shirking responsibility, each minister passes the buck with an inexcusable smile. It also said something of the chutzpah of the second most powerful man in the federal cabinet, finance minister Ishaq Dar, when he came up with the most improbable defence about a conspiracy hatched against the government.

Prime Minister Sharif expressed his “extreme displeasure” but not the ire that was needed. The ire and anger should have been visible if he wants to salvage his image and government. A major principle in US or Western democracy is about not hiring someone who you cannot fire. But the Nawaz League powerhouse is built around “political relatives,” who act as a scaffolding for the big Sharif. Each of them controls a certain faction that is holding together the big Sharif. They cannot get fired or reshuffled because it would even more greatly imbalance the shaky structure and bring everything down altogether. Asif Ali Zardari’s government was no less a disaster but Asif was smarter in letting off the steam. He changed and shuffled his ministers, sacrificed a prime minister, as he risked the appearance of weakness but displayed flexibility and elasticity.

The House of Sharifs wants to appear strong but currently stands on legs made of wax. Political expediency and family loyalty hold supreme over the need for fair process and transparent accountability. It’s a terrible miscalculation, in contravention to the needs of the time. But it also shines a torch on the kind of politics, and politicians, here.