A Royal Pain


The government is internally and externally beset upon. India may be firing intermittent shells into Pakistani territory, but a home-grown politician too has his sights set on “taking down Islamabad”.

PTI Chairman Imran Khan yesterday gave Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif till the end of Muharram to present himself for accountability in Panama Papers allegations, failing which PTI would “not let him stay in power”. This strategy was further elaborated as Khan and his supporters plan to descend on Islamabad, with the object to shut down the city. We have seen what that descent looks like – baton-wielding masses, columns upon columns of police, violence, uncertainty, businesses suffering, the world watching, and a nation at standstill.

That is not something this country can tolerate, least of all at this time. With a hawkish India led by Hindu-nationalists pecking at our border, and escalation of the conflict in Kashmir, it is exigent that Pakistan focuses its effort and presents a united front to this threat.

Yet one aggressive 80-minute long speech by the Captain has managed to undermine that effort. Not only is a significant part of the government now diverted towards thwarting this new march on Islamabad; Imran Khan took special time out to discredit the “cowardly” Nawaz Sharif, and present himself as a more combative challenger to Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

The universal prescription for Pakistan at this time, is to avoid like the plague a bullish leader that can be goaded into escalating a sensitive conflict – yet Imran Khan’s arrogance knows no bounds.

During his symbolic siege on Nawaz Sharif’s estate in Raiwind, the PTI Chief claimed that he “won’t allow the government to govern”. Which begs the question; as an elected politician himself, what right does Imran Khan think he holds to stop an elected government from doing its job? Do occasional displays of street power give him this right, or does the strength of his allegations? The answer is absolutely neither – followers and a cause do not turn him into judge, jury, and executioner. The Prime Minister is no less a Prime Minister, fully empowered and legitimately elected; no matter how much Imran Khan wishes otherwise.

This is not to say Imran Khan’s cause is unjust, in fact many of his causes — Panama, electoral reforms, war against corruption — are just. His exposition of the Prime Minister’s family’s conflicting statements over ownership of offshore companies during the speech is a scathing summary of the government’s confusion over the matter; as are his attacks against biased state institutes that try to look away from uncomfortable scrutiny of those in power. But none of this gives him the right to use physical violence and intimidation to get his way.

During the course of his speech Imran Khan kept referring to other ‘pharaohs’ that have been bought down by glorious revolutions, such as the Shah of Iran and Hosni Mubarak. But he needs to note down this one key difference; Pakistan is not a dictatorship, it’s a democracy. Imran is not leading a bloody revolution, he is on an election campaign and a member of the National Assembly (that he never attends). His threats are unwise, and if they come to fruition, we are looking at the end of yet another democratic regime. And Imran Khan’s downfall with it.

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