ISLAMABAD - Let’s throw away the pretence. The current political turmoil is not for rule of law or electoral reforms or a democratic country. It is the lust for power. Nothing more, nothing less.
Imran Khan is exasperated, as clearly evident from his recent spate of press briefings and TV talk show appearances. 2018 is a lifetime away and Imran’s patience has run out. There is no desire for a political settlement or dialogue within the realms of parliament. Instead, Khan has opted for taking the battle to the streets and, meanwhile, keeps changing the goalpost. The demands keep increasing; the rhetoric gets extreme and inelastic.
Tahirul Qadri, on the other hand, is using all of his demagoguery and rhetoric to force a change, not only of the political government but also of the whole existing system of governance. To achieve this, he is not averse to using religion and incitement to violence and murder. Of course, Qadri wants the people – especially the English, speaking to foreign audience – to believe otherwise. In Urdu, his tone is threatening, bellicose and belligerent. But in English, it is moderate and temperate, with all the sound bites that are pleasing to the ears of the international gallery.
Qadri is surrounded by the politicians who were discredited in the last general elections and would have trouble even in the next one. But they are standing on his shoulders, hopeful that the street power of Qadri’s loyalists, who include a vast mesmerised and almost hypnotised mob, would help create enough anarchy on the streets that would leave the military with no choice but to intervene.
Imran Khan is within his constitutional rights to press ahead with peaceful mass protests and demonstrations but allying with Tahirul Qadri has damaged him politically. There is no guarantee that Qadri’s much-trumpeted “Green Revolution” would remain peaceful and any violence would dent Imran’s democratic credentials.
This is not to suggest that Nawaz government has not bungled up. The governance style of Nawaz government has met with fierce criticism and the prime minister has been slow to react to, and redress, these concerns.
But before midterm, should a political government be sent packing just because one disgruntled politician and an outsider are obsessed with toppling it through street agitation and chaos?
Nawaz has found reprieve in garnering support from other mainstream political parties. Let’s not forget that Nawaz is not Mohamed Morsi, the president of Egypt who was removed by the Egyptian military in 2013, and still enjoys support of a part of electorate.
And, on the face of it, despite all the speculations and constant churning if the rumour mills, the military is not baying for the government’s blood. At least, not yet. Till the time the military doesn’t put its weight behind the opposition, any regime change is hard to come by.
PML-N insiders say that the communication of the prime minister with the army chief has been “regular and positive.” The issue of Pervez Musharraf, former army chief, remains an ‘imbroglio’ but not one that would force a military takeover. Gen Raheel Sharif, in a way, bailed out the political government during the national security conference last week when he said that Article 245 was invoked on the military’s request.
Government officials are quick to point out that Imran Khan has been ill-advised by Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the former intelligence chief, and Ejaz Shah, an intelligence operative and Musharraf loyalist. Pasha, they say, is incensed at the resistance he met from the Nawaz camp during his tenure.
Despite all the fears and trepidation, Aug 14 might not turn out to be a cataclysmic day that would topple the government. The political maelstrom will weaken Nawaz it took many months before Gen Musharraf’s regime crumbled as a result of the 2007 opposition political movement.
Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister, is currently in Lahore, trying to manage the crisis. The government would deal with Qadri strictly and is adamant not to let him leave Lahore on Aug 14. It is also working to discredit and taint the credibility of the preacher, who is also gladly shooting him in the foot. Imran Khan might be allowed to come to Islamabad and hold the protest either at Zero Point or Faisal Mosque, if he works out an agreement with the government to remain peaceful. Nawaz is unfazed by Khan’s warnings of a prolonged sit-in once the tsunami reaches the capital. Officials say Khan’s supporters do not have ‘staying power’ and would not stand up to the coercive state machinery for long.
For Khan, Aug 14 will inevitably turn into a defining moment as he has raised the stakes very high and forced himself in a cul-de-sac. He would have to force an impasse to vanquish Nawaz, who is in no mood to throw in the towel and will use everything at his disposal to stay on. The games of power are bloody and ruthless and politics is quintessentially dirty and messy. After all, that is why Julius Caesar said: “I love treason but hate a traitor.”
The writer is Resident Editor, The Nation in Islamabad