Much of what Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri stand for is sensible and desirable. A corruption-free state and society; a system of law and justice which treats the weak and strong without fear or favour, equally and without distinction. And a transparent electoral system which guarantees free and fair elections.
The methodology adopted to achieve these laudable objectives however, by both PTI and PAT has received considerable criticism not only by incumbent governments but also by most political parties and civil society. Lawyers led by bar associations, human rights activists and many civil society organizations have expressed their deep concerns about the future of parliamentary democracy in the country.
Members of a Joint Action Committee for People’s Rights in a meeting held in Lahore on Wednesday, saw in the attempts by Qadri and Imran to overthrow the elected government, a derailing of democracy and the possibility of a military takeover.
In a statement issued to the Press, JAC members warned that “a very dangerous precedent had been set by acknowledging the demands of a mob as against the constitutionally established order and will of the people.” The committee advised that political forces should proactively diffuse the situation “without giving in to the demands that undermine the democratic transition.” I.A Rehman, a veteran human rights activist, said that a democratic process had begun afresh in 2008 only to be thwarted by calls from PTI and PAT to subvert civilian rule in the country. He observed that the people of KPK, Balochistan and Sindh were silent spectators to a phenomenon that was restricted to the Punjab and this divide will work against the unity of the country. He pleaded for resolving the crisis within the parameters of the Constitution and the democratic process—constitutional amendments and laws could be changed to redress grievances.
One may pause here to recollect that much of the blame for the current situation rests with the PML-N governments at the Centre and in the Punjab. Imran Khan’s calls for a redressal of PTI’s electoral complaints were not taken seriously. He, initially, only wanted a recount of 4 seats. Although the remedy lay with the electoral tribunals and the Election Commission, the PML-N leadership’s general attitude of the pooh-poohing of PTI’s complaints and the blatant use of executive authority in dismissing the Nadra Chairman, exposed the government’s objectionable conduct in the matter. The incumbent administrations not only failed to foresee the growing intensity of the PTI’s anguish, but also missed the opportunity of forging good relations with a rising new political entity which had bagged more votes than the PML-N traditional rival party, the PPP.
As time went on, finding that his knocks at various doors had not yielded any satisfactory results, Imran Khan persuaded himself to believe that the elections had been massively rigged by the PML-N in collusion with a number of highly placed functionaries including the Election commission and the judiciary. He started nursing the idea that he and his popular party had in fact been victim of a wide-ranging conspiracy to steal the elections and deprive his party of victory in the electoral contest. He linked this notion to his conviction that the Sharif brothers had been feathering their nests all along, and using authority to buy influential functionaries to acquire power and amass wealth. He came down to the conclusion that he must dislodge them and topple their government. So long as they remained at the helm, he surmises, there was no possibility of cleansing the corrupt system in Pakistan. This explains his violent and personal attacks against Nawaz Sharif in his speeches to the Azadi March crowds. As for criticism directed at him regarding the setting of a dangerous precedent, his explanation is that no alternative is left for the citizens except for taking the law into their own hands. To his reckoning, national institutions including the executive and the parliament have been corrupted. He calls them Jaali (counterfeit or fake).
Mr. Qadri goes beyond PTI’s stand and wants the whole system to be reconstructed in accordance with his pet perceptions. He is a formidable organizer indeed, and a real demagogue. Being an astute religious authority, he commands a firm hold on his followers.
The brutal killing of a dozen and a half of his followers in Model Town, Lahore has added to his armour and weakened the PML-N leadership. The combined Azadi and Inqilab marches and sit-ins at Islamabad have shaken and unnerved the Nawaz government.
Instead of proactively handling the challenge in Parliament and outside, the government’s sluggish and unimaginative approach has landed it into dire straits. Luckily, most of the political parties have rallied to support him. The National Assembly resolution which was practically a show of confidence in the Prime Minister and the sanctity of the Parliament, should have come much earlier. Again, the Prime Minister himself should have been seen countering the exaggerated and unrealistic articulations of Imran and Qadri. The PML-N party too could have held a number of meetings and rallies to assert their legitimate authority and bonafides. This passivity on the part of the ruling party has helped PAT and PTI mobilize their strength, letting them raise their sights with each passing day.
Another source of strength and even glory for the protesters has been the electronic media which has been fiercely projecting the excitement and rising waves of roaring crowds around the clock.
Today, the PML-N government is seen leaning on the GHQ. The PM house and other state buildings are safe so far, only because of the army contingent providing protection. While the army high command’s restraint is commendable, the incumbent government has lost much of its authority.
It is time Imran Khan comes down from his high horse and agrees to a settlement which includes a new, transparent and competent electoral system and most of his other demands except for dismissal of the government of the day. He must curb the urge to personalize a political vendetta and make an effort to come out of the bubble of obsession to overthrow the elected PML-N government through mobilized street power. He must wait for the commission’s findings about rigging in the 2013 elections, and demand dismissal if the report supports his repeatedly voiced accusations. He must also heed the words of wisdom emanating from the Supreme Court. There should be no reference to an umpire’s intervention.
The democratic system must be saved. If overthrown once again, democracy will certainly remain derailed for years.
The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political and international relations analyst.