In Pakistan, the phenomenon of “long march politics” has been witnessed during the regimes of elected governments since 1990. These have basically been exercised to bring about regime change, with the help of the army. The present halla-bulla by Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri is one such exercise to achieve political ends. They have declared that Nawaz Sharif’s government will be ousted by end August and the revolution will set-in for the “ultimate change.” Let us examine the previous long marches and the prospects of the current movement.

In 1992, Benazir Bhutto formed the National Democratic Alliance and marched towards Islamabad from Lahore. Her mother, Begum Nusrat Bhutto led the march from Larkana, but both failed. Begum Nusrat Bhutto was treated shabbily. Bleeding and bruised, she was evacuated to the hospital and Benazir Bhutto was arrested and packed-off to Larkana, under house arrest. The long march failed because then Army Chief, General Asif Nawaz, “looked the other way”, while Nawaz Sharif had a free hand to wield his stick. And of course, Benazir Bhutto had not done enough home work, to ensure success.

The following year in 1993, Benazir Bhutto planned another long march. By July, the march began, and before she had reached Islamabad, then COAS, General Abdul Waheed Kakar had already softened up the ground for her. He had intervened and was able to convince the President and Prime minister to abdicate, with the promise of holding fresh elections within 90 days. Benazir Bhutto called off the long march and prepared to win the elections by end 1993. Undoubtedly, she had done her home work, and it ensured her success.

In 1996, Nawaz Sharif became Prime Minister the second time after Benazir Bhutto’s government was dismissed by President Sardar Farooq Ahmad Leghari, (who was Benazir’s appointee and her senior most party leader). Nawaz Sharif had hardly completed two years in office, when Benazir Bhutto formed the Grand Democratic Alliance in 1998, comprising Nawabzada’s eleven parties’ alliances; the Awami National Party; the MQM and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf. She started the movement with blessings from Washington and the promise by then COAS, General Pervez Musharraf, that he would “take over from Nawaz Sharif, hold elections in ninety days, and hand over power.” This is where Benazir was cheated by the wily General, who didn’t hand power over and ruled himself, for the next ten years.

By 2009, the lawyers’ movement for the restoration of the judiciary had reached its climax but was making no headway. Nawaz Sharif, very cleverly, took over the leadership of the lawyers’ movement, and started the long march from Lahore, threatening Islamabad. He had hardly crossed the Ravi Bridge when he got the message from the then COAS, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani, that all his demands were met and that he must call off his march. Nawaz Sharif obliged. Thus, by helping in the restoration of the judiciary, through this political maneuver, Nawaz Sharif gained a resounding political advantage; winning the 2013 elections for the third time.

And now, comes August 2014. The Pakistani nation is feeling the threat of a revolution by the maverick Tahir-ul-Qadri, and the long march called by Imran Khan. Both are threatening to remove Nawaz Sharif from his seat and take over the reins of the government. Imran Khan promises to take Pakistan to utopian heights if he forms the government. In fact, this is mere rhetoric of the naive and the ambitious. Both haven’t done enough “home-work” to ensure success. Their fate may be the same, as of Benazir Bhutto’s long march of 1992, when she herself was packed off to Larkana and Begum Nusrat Bhutto, to the hospital, bruised and bleeding. Tahir-ul-Qadri already got a rap on the knuckles in the hit and run battle with the government. Now let us see what there is in store for Imran Khan in the 13-14 August encounters.

The developments of the last few days suggest that perhaps they are working on a ‘strategy of indirect approach to battle’ which means creating such chaotic conditions on the streets that the government will be forced to call up the army in aid of civil power. Imran Khan is already talking suggestively of the “army being called in to control the situation.”

With regards to the revolution of Tahirul Qadri, perhaps he himself does not realize the damaging effect of a revolution. In the recent past, countries like Iran and Afghanistan could bear the shock of the revolution, but others, such as Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Iraq and Ukraine have split up, because much like Pakistan, they are too fragile in their national design to sustain the shock of a revolution. A revolution is not an option for Pakistan. We have to adopt ways and means to bring about change, remaining within the norms of democracy, the Constitution and the rule of law.

I have a feeling that there may be a hidden politico-ideological agenda behind the movement. What happened in Algeria and Egypt in the recent past to replace political Islam with Secular Islam may well be the objective of the movement in Pakistan. To recall, Qadri last came to Pakistan in 2013 to forestall elections, which Nawaz Sharif was sure to win, but he withdrew after negotiations with the PPP government. Even Imran Khan did not raise a finger against a PPP government known for its bad governance. Surprisingly, both are now trying to dislodge Nawaz Sharif’s right of center government, which is rather intriguing.

Pakistan’s ideology is sacrosanct as enshrined in the Constitution. It says, “Pakistan is to be governed by a democratic system, based on the principles of the Quran and Sunnah.” That constitutes our national purpose; one which every Pakistani must defend for what he owes to the country.

 The writer is a former chief of army staff.