Who wants to derail the government? Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in his speech a few weeks ago, suggested a standard answer to this query. According to him, those who want to remove the government want to hinder the progress and development of Pakistan.
People in the government usually have a misconception where they think of themselves as synonymous with ‘the country’. I may differ with the prime minster. In my view, three kinds of people wants to derail the government: firstly, those who have no stake in the government and want to break the status quo so they get a chance to be in power; secondly, those who believe that Pakistan needs reforms and that the PML-N government is just a status quo force that has failed in the past and will once again fail Pakistan. So, they argue that it needs to be removed to bring in a reformatory government. The third and largest group of people are those who, by electing the PML-N, thought they are now entitled for relief in electricity shortages and inflation but the government failed to come up to their expectations.
In the absence of any interest by the PPP to behave as an active opposition force, Imran Khan has emerged as the sole leader of the Opposition. Imran Khan has successfully managed to gather the three abovementioned groups around him and is now effectively challenging Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. His movement against the government, on the pretext of election rigging, flatters all three groups interested in the derailment of the government. His support base and urban foothold of North Punjab makes him an effective political force while the Punjab government’s mishandling of Tahirul Qadri’s party has given Imran Khan another important ally. A Barelvi leader, Qadri enjoys the very same advantage that every other significant religious leader enjoys, i.e., a school/madrassa network. Moreover, it brings the Chaudrys of Gujrat and Sheikh Rasheed together in support of an anti-government campaign.
The success of a ruling party lies in engaging the opposition in a way that it doesn’t get a chance to bring a large number of people on the road. The PML-N and the prime minister have failed to engage a party of 32 directly elected MNAs and is now facing a threat to be out of power; indeed, sheer bad politics has brought the PML-N on the brink of disaster.
To rule, the king has to show magnanimity. The day the prime minister took oath, those who knew him well predicted that he would be venomous and unforgiving to his political opponents. The prime minister proved them right. Cases against former president General (retd.) Pervez Musharraf are the outcomes of the prime minister’s personal vendetta. The prime minister and his key team members never bothered to limit their attacks on Musharraf and instead, targeted the institution of the military. This is another evidence of bad politics. Since 1958, the army has been an important power player in Pakistani politics and verbally attacking them without a political plan was a mistake. This added to the political weakness of the PML-N government as on one hand it failed to engage its opposition and on other it slithered into an unwanted trajectory with the most powerful organisation.
The days are passing. The movement is gaining momentum in the absence of any significant political move by the prime minister and his team. Pressure is mounting and government, till today, has made no effort to regain its political authority. Its dependence on the use of administrative measures is increasing day by day. This itself is a failure; political governments must counter politics by greater politics. The use of power brings its political and moral authority on brinks.
In Lahore, unnecessary use of police force against political rivals has immensely damaged the standing of the ruling party and has also brought the morale of the police force to its lowest ebb. Now, when the government needs the police, this key force is not even in a position to counter the opposition’s long march. The latest move by the government to deter the proposed long march is another classic example of failed politics. Calling in the army to dissuade the long march may bring a new challenge of authority for the government. Past experience of placing the army to impede demonstrations has miserably failed and 1969 and 1977 can be quoted as examples when the army refused to fire upon the demonstrators and resultantly governments had to pack up. This is a dangerous move and decision-makers must rethink the disadvantages of such a move.
In my view, the best strategy for the government still remains to engage with the opposition. It may be late but it’s never too late. The prime minister and his team should think to satisfy at least two sections of the opposition. Reforms in the election process and government functioning, including reducing the tenure of parliament from five to four years and the restoration of the National Security Council, are decisions the government may offer to the opposition. The government may also have to offer re-elections in the notorious four constituencies where the opposition claims extraordinary rigging took place to defeat their candidates. A comprehensive reform package may be offered to engage the opposition and persuade it to postpone the proposed long march. However, if the government fails to engage the opposition, the solution will certainly fall in the purview of army and it’s for the army chief to act in the best interest of the state.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2014.
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