With the main parliamentary opposition party, the PPP, continuing to feel comfortable in its almost eight-year long ‘reconciliation’ mode, it was but natural for the second-largest parliamentary opposition party, the PTI, to stake its claim on the mantle of the ‘government in waiting’. And since the PTI had won more popular votes than the PPP in the May 2013 general elections, its claim becomes all the more valid.
And to be fair to the ruling PML-N, the party did treat, though seemingly grudgingly, Imran Khan’s PTI with due democratic deference after the general polls. To begin with, despite being in a position to form his party-led coalition government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif actually facilitated the formation of a PTI-led government in the province. Also, the Punjab government, despite a bitterly harsh campaign of Imran Khan (on a daily basis) against the sitting governments in Lahore and Islamabad, treated with due respect and tolerance — again seemingly grudgingly — the large public meetings that the PTI organised in the province, never trying to disrupt or forcibly prevent them.
However, ‘something’ appeared to have snapped in the seemingly well-oiled PML-N machine when on June 27, Imran warned Nawaz of a ‘tsunami march’ (later changed to Azadi March) to Islamabad on August 14 if his demands regarding the alleged election fraud in last year’s elections were not met. The demand has now been changed to mid-term polls.
Try as one might, one has so far failed to understand what made the PML-N blink and drop its democratic facade at this threat. Blink it did from the very word go. If one went through the many diverse and contradictory versions of PML-N’s official response issued from time to time over the last one month seemingly in an attempt to call what perhaps it thought to be Imran’s bluff, one detects clear signs of panic in the government camp. The latest being the decision to hand over Islamabad to the army for three months under Article 245 of the Constitution.
The problem with all these panicky responses is, most have tended to see them in the context of the Model Town tragedy of June 17, when in a clash between the supporters of Minhajul Quran of Maulana Inqilab Qadri and the Lahore police, about 14 people, including two women, were killed and 80 injured. Though Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has pleaded ignorance, but perhaps even the most gullible Pakistani would find it hard to believe him, thanks to his government’s well-paid spin doctors who over the last six years have successfully established Shahbaz as a ‘hands-on’ administrator without whose orders or knowledge nothing gets done in the province; what to talk of ordering the police to open fire on unarmed people without his prior permission.
So, now we have a panicky government in Islamabad having no clue how to deal with the Azadi March if at all it entered Islamabad on the D-day and occupied D-Chowk, threatening not to vacate until its demand for mid-term polls is accepted. Confronting this official but highly lethal panic is Imran who, seemingly in a rush of blood, appears to have staked all his political fortunes on what appears to be a ‘do-or-die’ campaign with an objective, which on the face of it, appears to be unachievable without the intervention of the army. At the same time, he has also opened two more fronts — one with former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and his fans in the legal fraternity and the other, a largely degraded media group, still toxic to an extent.
Not that there is any possibility of the army interfering with Imran’s political protest — even if it is called in aid of civilian authority. More likely, the army would perhaps provide protection to the Azadi March against any possible bloody backlash of militants uprooted from North Waziristan because of the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
But is it wise for the army to be roaming the streets of Islamabad exposed to God knows how many sleeper cells of militants waiting for such an opportunity to hit back at our troops? To be sure, even Imran would not like to see that happen. Neither would Nawaz Sharif. So, would he please countenance a political solution rather than opting for undemocratic ploys to prevent a democratic protest?
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2014.
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