Was this really about any demands (at least those made before the marches and the sit-ins), except, maybe, the very confusingly phrased singular demand, “Go Nawaz Go”? Mr Imran Khan just has the same anecdotal ‘evidence’ about rigging, which is also featuring less and less as days go on; the rest is ad hominem attacks and false bravado. Vanity is a dangerous sin. To hear Mr Khan talk about his prison days (yes, all eight of them, maybe he should just do a Gramsci and write his Prison Notebooks already) without any visible embarrassment is not that amusing anymore. The primary reason (apart from the obvious, blatant power lust) given by Mr Khan that he has tried legal avenues for fourteen months and now his ‘patience’ has run out. Really? One can only speculate on whatever subjective conception of the legal system he has in his head. What sell-out courts are these who have failed to factor in that he is a “fast bowler” and thus has a little patience, right? Never mind the institutional problems with the legal system that millions face every day. This exceptionalism is not surprising from a man, whose speeches constitute exclusively of “I, me and myself”.
Yet, there were finally some signs of humility, of ordinary human emotions from the Mighty Khan. It was moving to see him suppress giggles as he rushed to meet the ‘Chief’, almost like a child meeting his idol; an emotion countless have felt about seeing and meeting Imran Khan. Mr Khan wants to be something like General Raheel Sharif when he grows up. The Umpire has not lifted his finger yet, however, you have got his attention.
His holiness has one absolutely legitimate and non-negotiable point, the registration of the Model Town FIR. There is no grounds explaining the delay from the government; none. However, rest is hubris, at least in form, if not completely in substance. Yet, it was interesting to see his grace making the exception, letting “martyrdom”, “revolution” and other such elevated things wait, as he made his way to the “Sipahsalar”, and Dr Qadri’s speech post-meeting suggested that he had just met the perfect living specimen of humanity. It is time to dust off the old slogan from the days of infamy of the lawyers’ movement, “Chief teray jannisar, beshumaar, beshumaar” or of course the new “Raheel, teray phone say inqalaab aaye ga”.
One cannot be certain if the ‘Chief’ wanted it to be this way; however, one can be fairly certain, that the Chief is not complaining. What about the man that this country elected to govern this country? Mian Nawaz Sharif has not surrendered completely, yet he surrendered significantly on Thursday evening, when he asked the Army chief to ‘facilitate’. That was the prime minister, throwing his hands up, shrugging his shoulders, and in essence saying “I am just not up to it”. One can debate the semantics till Kingdom comes (might be sooner than Mian Sahib thinks), yet the point remains, that the prime minister buckled under pressure in the Parliament on Friday, and did not state the whole truth. Of course, Mr Imran Khan and Allama Qadri wanted the Army chief to ‘mediate’/ ‘facilitate’/ ‘arbitrate’ (no meaningful difference in this context, let go off the Oxford Dictionary) right from the get go. It was you Mian Sahib, who was supposed to resist and repose the trust in the Parliament which the Parliament reposed in you.
The Leader of the Opposition, Mr Khursheed Shah, made the best speech of the last 14 months on the floor of the House. Excellent and with moral clarity; no coups will go unresisted. Yet, that speech had to be made by Mian Sahib. Nawaz Sharif has never been a man of crisis, starting as a prodigy of General Jillani and General Ziaul Haq. The patriotic business tycoon from Punjab against the treasonous folks from the deep dark feudal fiefdoms of Sindh, he is used to having at least two out of the three power centres — the Army, Media or the Judiciary — with him. For the past five years, he had the media and judiciary who were vehemently anti-government. Now, Mian Nawaz Sharif has a government and a state with fragmented power centres, whereas one deal is good enough. It is a test of his nerves, the past is not confidence-inspiring on that account. Mian Nawaz Sharif lost his nerve and asked the Army Chief to intervene (even if demanded by Mr Imran Khan and Allama Qadri). The only honourable course of action was him apologising to the Parliament and assuring it that he is a man worthy of their trust and support. Instead he simply told a half-truth. Mian Nawaz Sharif cannot take stand like Syed Khursheed Shah, simply because he has never had the need. It has always been detached arrogance until tragedy strikes. Well, he has to learn now.
It took the government a good 14 hours to react to the news of the prime minister asking the army chief to intervene, like it took Mian Sahib the younger half a day to finally wake up to the Model Town massacre. The prime minister might survive still. Yet, Mian Nawaz Sharif has to publicly on the floor of the House apologise; he should not have asked the army chief to play a role, any role, in a political dispute, and of course if he survives start leading the house from INSIDE the house. He should now stake his job on ensuring that this is dealt with only by the Parliament and the political class.
The illusion of civilian, democratic supremacy has been the primary casualty of the fiasco thus far; the velvet coup is upon us already. The real possibility is that it will reduce the business of all governance to politics of survival; one long day at a time. The non-existent debate on social and economic rights will remain non-existent. There will be no time or energy for institutional reforms. In due course, the saturation point with the political drama, with the shenanigans of Imran and Qadri, on the one hand, and the indifference of Nawaz Sharif, will be reached on the other. The recently politicised urban middle class will go back to normal life, shrugging their shoulders and with the customary, “they are all the same”. The democratic project undermined now, will diminish further, perhaps worse, it will create a vacuum yet again for a demagogue egoist, another Imran Khan with hollow rhetoric to come in another few years. We do not need that.
Postscript: Mr Khan and Allama Qadri have brought the culture of viciousness and personal attacks in vogue. It is disturbing to hear of threats to excellent and courageous friends Mr Omar Quraishi and Mr Kamran Shafi. This government, it seems, can do little else at the moment, but it can at least track down and prosecute those who threaten dissenting voices.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2014.