The Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri show, or as my friend Ejaz Haider puts it, the “Lucky Irani Circus”, finally made it to where it wanted to be in the first place and where the Nawaz regime did not want it at any time — at the D-Square in front of the Parliament. While it was a massive crowd, the numbers do not matter. The emotions of the men, women and children who braved both the artificial and natural odds to follow their leaders to their date with destiny, did. Contrary to the government-fed propaganda, most of our renowned TV anchors were parroting ad nauseam, the PTI followers remained true and faithful. Not politically extensive or nationwide as Imran Khan’s and Tahirul Qadri’s flock in Islamabad numbered far more. His supporters’ remarkable capacity to remain resolute with resilience and remarkable discipline, belies political reckoning. Make no mistake, the Sharifs underestimated Tahirul Qadri’s political nuisance value. Alongside Imran, he may well bring down their government.
Any strategy is nonsense until it is successful. By converging in front of the Parliament by midnight, give and take a little, the two columns have become a constitutional headache of some proportion for the government. It will take a Houdini Act for the Sharif brothers to get out of this one, including shutting up the likes of Pervez Rasheed, Saad Rafique and Marvi Memon for some time (fortunately for the Sharifs, Khawaja Asif has become a born-again khaki fan recently). One feels sorry for Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, as the government’s point man for the bluff and double bluff the regime was attempting, he must be embarrassed but thankful that the police did not do another Model Town. Despite the Sharif regime’s insinuations about the Army backing them to the hilt and Nawaz Sharif using every photo-op moment with General Raheel Sharif, the army failed to come to the party.
That the regime has turned repeatedly to the army chief recently by itself conveys the seismic shift in the political power game. What was said in the private conversation when Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan flew into Rawalpindi on June 12 to see the army chief, can only be repeated by those who participated in it. One can safely surmise a polite but firm advice to avoid confrontation (and bloodshed) by allowing the two columns starting from Lahore on their “Long March” to exercise their democratic right of protest.
From the professional vibes one gets from the present lot in the senior military hierarchy, the army has no intention of taking over. However given the broken promises of the Nawaz regime and the penchant of some of their functionaries to shamelessly badmouth the uniform day in and day out, the khakis are probably letting the Sharifs stew in their own self-created problems when the chips are down, unfortunately so for the Sharifs (and their kith and kin in govt). With the police refusing to brutalise the assembled protestors, many of them women and children on live TV, the writ of the government, if not the state, collapsed. Once such authority is shown to be a bluff and such a bluff is called, it is almost impossible to restore the credibility of such authority.
The Pakistan Ex-Servicemen’s Association (PESA) called for “an immediate dissolution of assemblies, formation of a constitutional caretaker government, electoral reforms and appointment of an independent Election Commission before fresh elections are held. The current crisis in the country has exposed cracks, failings and vulnerabilities in Pakistan’s constitutional democracy. It is time for the government to take initiative and resolve the crisis through political and constitutional means avoiding the use of force”. Expressing grave concern that the political leaders had failed to rise above party affiliations at the cost of the country’s interests, the ex-servicemen noted that enough doubts had been raised regarding the fairness of elections, calling for “dissolution of assemblies, formation of a constitutional government, electoral reforms and appointment of an independent election commission before fresh elections are held.” Past midnight of the same day, the ISPR chief, Major General Asim Bajwa, tweeted a statement broadly agreeing with the feelings of his retired khaki colleagues, “The situation requires patience, wisdom and sagacity from all stakeholders to resolve prevailing impasse through meaningful dialogue in larger national and public interest.”
Nobody wants democracy to be derailed but neither can democracy persist in this present form. The protestors in front of the Parliament are going nowhere unless most of their demands are met, the Sharifs must face ground reality. These last seven days have exposed our present facade of democracy for what it really is, a purchasable commodity available to the highest bidder. In absence of the grassroots governance essential at the community level for democracy to function effectively, the individual stakeholder has no place. Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri are simply articulating the desire of the people of Pakistan, the Constitution of Pakistan must be an effective document protecting the fundamental rights of the people, not a meaningless paper that is held aloft by the greedy and selfish to perpetuate their own rule while riding roughshod over the basic rights and aspirations of the citizens. Such a document is not worth the paper it is written on.
The Nawaz regime is now only a few miles from midnight.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2014.
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