Third Um­pire

Given the army high com­mand’s con­tin­u­ous pleas to re­solve the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis through talks and non-vi­o­lent means with­out los­ing time, no­body can com­plain they were not warned.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By M. Saeed Khalid The writer is a for­mer am­bas­sador.

In Pak­istan, the supremacy of civil­ian rule can­not be achieved overnight con­sid­er­ing that the mil­i­tary has ruled the coun­try for a long time.

The twin marches and the sit-ins of the Pak­istan Tehreek-e-In­saf and the Pak­istan Awami Tehreek to top­ple Nawaz Sharif’s gov­ern­ment took a dra­matic turn when Im­ran Khan and Tahirul Qadri re­ceived mes­sages from Rawalpindi to con­fer with the army chief. Khan’s ju­bi­la­tion and Qadri’s over-en­thu­si­asm on this de­vel­op­ment con­veyed their belief that the gov­ern­ment’s fall was im­mi­nent and they were pro­ceed­ing to the ci­tadel of ul­ti­mate power to work out its fi­nal rites. But life is never that sim­ple. In sep­a­rate meet­ings, the duo re­ceived a damp squib from Gen­eral Ra­heel Sharif. They were cau­tioned that the prime min­is­ter’s res­ig­na­tion was un­likely and that all par­ties should try to re­solve their con­tentions through ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Ini­tially, Khan and Qadri re­acted to this dif­fer­ently. The next day, PTI looked more se­ri­ous about talks with the gov­ern­ment. But Qadri was un­wa­ver­ing. His flock, at the edge of phys­i­cal and ner­vous ex­haus­tion after two weeks of sub­hu­man ex­is­tence, was itch­ing for one fi­nal push to usher their in­qi­lab.

Khan was left with no other choice but to sus­pend his daily ha­rangue, com­bined with song and dance, and follow the PAT car­a­van in the push to­wards the ul­ti­mate sym­bols of the state. The en­tirely peace­ful protest thus en­tered its vi­o­lent phase.

A cu­ri­ous as­pect of the saga is that the prin­ci­pal char­ac­ters in­volved in the bit­ter strug­gle - Khan, Qadri and Sharif - are all from Pun­jab. The lead­ers of the Azadi and In­qi­lab marches had to trans­port their man­power from Pun­jab. This was matched by the prime min­is­ter who brought a large con­tin­gent of the Pun­jab Po­lice to re­sist the demon­stra­tors.

The Pun­jabis were fight­ing it out in the fed­eral cap­i­tal while Balochis­tan and Sindh re­mained aloof from the com­mo­tion, and the PTI’s chief min­is­ter in Pe­shawar, abandoning his post to join the ag­i­ta­tion - th­ese were some bizarre el­e­ments of a phe­nom­e­non aimed at re­mov­ing the gov­ern­ment only in the sec­ond year of its term. Which­ever way the dice falls, the whole episode is a bad re­flec­tion on some Pun­jabi lust for power, caus­ing grave dan­gers for the coun­try.

Be­fore the im­passe in Is­lam­abad turned into a vi­o­lent con­fronta­tion, ques­tions were be­ing raised about the real in­sti­ga­tors be­hind the team­ing up of Khan and Qadri that first pro­duced the two marches which later meta­mor­phosed into sit-ins.

A par­tic­u­larly in­trigu­ing as­pect was the in­sis­tence by Khan and Qadri on Sharif’s res­ig­na­tion. It was in­con­gru­ent with the ground re­al­i­ties. The PTI and PAT’s pol­i­tics of at­tri­tion had failed to arouse the peo­ple, with Sharif re­ceiv­ing en­dorse­ment from po­lit­i­cal par­ties, lawyers and civil so­ci­ety to hang tough.

Many PTI sup­port­ers were turn­ing to the view that some­where along the line, Khan had lost the plot in team­ing up with a cleric adept at games of mind con­trol. In­spired by some el­e­ments, Qadri - the cult leader and Im­ran - the ‘play­boy crick­eter turned dem­a­gogue politi­cian’ - are out to pull the House of It­te­faq down.

In most coun­tries, some­one like Qadri may not be taken se­ri­ously be­cause of his claims of divine guid­ance to bring about a revo­lu­tion. But Pak­istan be­ing a deeply re­li­gious so­ci­ety with a land­scape punc­tu­ated by shrines of real or imag­i­nary saints, he has man­aged to build a strong group of hard­core sup­port­ers around him, ready to sacrifice ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing their lives.

Back in May 2013, for­eign as well as Pak­istani ob­servers were im­pressed by the peace­ful and cred­i­ble, if not to­tally fair, elec­tions.

The elec­tion re­sult had some­thing for most par­ties with the no­table ex­cep­tion of the Awami Na­tional Party in Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa and the Pak­istan Mus­lim League-Q in Pun­jab. Else­where, the PML-N, the PPP and the MQM re­tained their strength.

Nawaz Sharif’s party was in a com­fort­able majority at the cen­tre, which ob­vi­ated the re­quire­ment of coali­tion part­ners. How­ever, keep­ing the posts of prime min­is­ter and chief min­is­ter of Pun­jab within the fam­ily may have been just the be­gin­ning of an at­ti­tude of hau­teur which many are now openly char­ac­ter­iz­ing as monar­chi­cal.

Freed from the need of coali­tion part­ners, the Shar­ifs ran an ex­clu­sive show, lead­ing to grow­ing signs of un­ease and re­sent­ment over fam­ily rule. This is con­firmed by mem­bers of the party who felt ex­cluded ei­ther be­cause the fam­ily kept decision-mak­ing within a very small cir­cle or be­cause the old guard con­tin­ued to mo­nop­o­lize key posts within the gov­ern­ment.

Khan was per­turbed at the loss of

cer­tain seats in the elec­tions which he claimed was on ac­count of pre-planned rig­ging. No­table among th­ese were the seats won by Ayaz Sadiq, Speaker Na­tional Assem­bly and Kh­waja Saad Rafiq, Min­is­ter for Rail­ways. Con­vinced that mas­sive rig­ging was done by the PML-N, Khan vo­cif­er­ously asked for a re­count in four con­stituen­cies.

The course of events could have been dif­fer­ent had the gov­ern­ment fa­cil­i­tated a re­count as de­manded by the PTI. Khan was also alarmed by the prime min­is­ter con­sol­i­dat­ing his fam­ily rule just as some fam­ily mem­bers kept on en­larg­ing their business hold­ings. Th­ese two fac­tors ap­pear to have led Khan to con­sider that a big chal­lenge had to be mounted with­out fur­ther de­lay to pre­vent the rul­ing fam­ily from strength­en­ing its hold, par­tic­u­larly in Pun­jab to unas­sail­able lev­els.

Qadri’s case was dif­fer­ent be­cause he had been is­su­ing calls for a revo­lu­tion and threat­en­ing to es­tab­lish a new sys­tem to be run un­der his guid­ance based on divine pre­mo­ni­tions. He staged a tac­ti­cal re­treat after the first rev­o­lu­tion­ary march in Jan­uary 2013, ne­go­ti­ated among oth­ers by the Chaudhrys of Gu­jrat. Qadri sounded more omi­nous this time be­cause the lat­est rev­o­lu­tion­ary bid seem re­in­forced by a per­sonal sense of ven­detta against the Shar­ifs, once his main bene­fac­tors.

The Pun­jab gov­ern­ment had made mat­ters worse by en­cir­cling the Min­hajul-Qu­ran head­quar­ters in La­hore by armed po­lice which for rea­sons still un­clear, ended up shoot­ing Qadri’s fol­low­ers, caus­ing 14 fa­tal­i­ties and wound­ing many. The peo­ple still await an ex­pla­na­tion for this un­prece­dented das­tardly act. It be­came a stigma for the PML- N lead­er­ship and would not go away un­less some vis­i­ble cor­rec­tive and puni­tive mea­sures are taken.

The Sharif brothers have al­ways taken pride in launch­ing mega in­fras­truc­tural projects rather than build­ing rap­port with the masses by look­ing after their ba­sic needs. It re­in­forces the sen­ti­ment that the gov­ern­ment is not only business friendly but has taken upon it­self to look after the rich. Be­ing a La­hore-cen­tered party, it is not so popular in the other prov­inces or in the in­te­rior of Pun­jab.

Im­ran Khan could have fo­cused on th­ese weak­nesses to in­crease his pop­u­lar­ity be­fore the lo­cal elec­tions and the 2018 gen­eral elec­tions. In­stead, he chose a neg­a­tive one­point agenda of rig­ging in the 2013 elec­tions and turned it into the main plank of his Azadi march. He also led him­self to the cor­ner by un­rea­son­ably in­sist­ing on the prime min­is­ter’s res­ig­na­tion.

Qadri and Khan made a des­per­ate bid to rat­tle the gov­ern­ment by or­der­ing their marchers to ad­vance to­ward the PM House. This move was put down by the po­lice with tear gas and rub­ber bul­lets. The pro­tes­tors re­acted by throw­ing stones and other pro­jec­tiles. There were three deaths while hun­dreds of demon­stra­tors and law en­forcers suf­fered in­juries. By Au­gust 31, the num­ber of ag­i­ta­tors in the red zone had de­clined but PAT work­ers con­tin­ued their for­ays to­wards im­por­tant build­ings.

The same evening, a hur­riedly con­vened meet­ing of the army’s top com­man­ders ex­pressed se­ri­ous con­cern over the po­lit­i­cal im­passe, warned against the use of force and put the two sides on no­tice to reach a peace­ful so­lu­tion.

While sup­port­ing democ­racy, the army high com­mand un­der­scored the im­por­tance of bring­ing the con­fronta­tion to a close with­out los­ing time. Now no­body can com­plain they were not warned.

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