Lead­ing Nowhere

Has Nawaz Sharif brought all this upon him­self through his short-sight­ed­ness and lack of po­lit­i­cal vi­sion?

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

Nawaz Sharif ap­peared to be do­ing quite well after his hat-trick as prime min­is­ter, fol­low­ing the PML-N’s re­sound­ing vic­tory in the 2013 elec­tions. With his party en­joy­ing a sim­ple majority in the par­lia­ment, his po­si­tion seemed unas­sail­able. On the eco­nomic front, things had started to look up be­cause of Fi­nance Min­is­ter Ishaq Dar’s eco­nomic wiz­ardry. Sharif had also de­vel­oped a rap­port with In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi – a prospec­tive that held the prom­ise for bet­ter re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries.

It all looked hunky dory with the Sharif brothers ini­ti­at­ing spec­tac­u­lar de­vel­op­ment projects such as the metro bus scheme, the tun­nels and the over­passes to showcase Pun­jab as a model of de­vel­op­ment a la Modi's Gu­jarat. Then some­thing snapped. Im­ran Khan, who had been ag­i­tat­ing against poll rig­ging and de­mand­ing a re­count of bal­lots in dis­puted con­stituen­cies de­cided to take his protest to the streets when he failed to get jus­tice from any other quar­ter. He pro­claimed an Azadi march on the cap­i­tal on the coun­try's In­de­pen­dence Day – Au­gust 14.

A hor­ri­fy­ing in­ci­dent took place in Model Town, La­hore a few weeks later. The sec­re­tariat of Dr. Tahirul Qadri's Min­hajul Qu­ran was bar­ri­caded by his work­ers from se­cu­rity’s point of view. The bar­ri­cades had been in place for quite a long time. But sud­denly, on June 17, the Pun­jab gov­ern­ment de­cided that the bar­ri­cades must be re­moved. The Pak­istan Awami Tehreek’s work­ers

re­sisted the move, pelt­ing the po­lice with stones when they tried to re­move the bar­ri­cade. The lat­ter re­sponded with a shower of bul­lets. Four­teen PAT work­ers were killed on the spot and many more were wounded.

Un­like the case of Prime Min­is­ter Z.A. Bhutto, when the po­lice had regis­tered the FIR against him for the mur­der of Nawab Mo­ham­mad Ahmad Ka­suri, this time the po­lice re­fused to reg­is­ter an FIR be­cause it cited the prime min­is­ter and the Pun­jab chief min­is­ter among the 21 de­fen­dants. PAT then pe­ti­tioned the court upon which an ad­di­tional ses­sions judge or­dered the po­lice to reg­is­ter the FIR. Four fed­eral min­is­ters – Saad Rafiq, Kh­waja Asif, Abid Sher Ali and Pervez Rasheed – ap­pealed to the high court against the or­der but their ap­peal was dis­missed. Yet, when the FIR was re­luc­tantly regis­tered, the po­lice doc­tored it so as to al­low the prime min­is­ter and his brother to wrig­gle out of it. Tahirul Qadri dis­missed the FIR de­mand­ing that it should be regis­tered ac­cord­ing to the com­plainant's ver­sion. Thus, even after two months, the is­sue was still in the dol­drums.

In protest against the Model Town "mas­sacre", Dr. Qadri also an­nounced a Revo­lu­tion March to Is­lam­abad start­ing on Au­gust 14. At first the ad­min­is­tra­tion tried to block the marchers. But as tem­pers rose, the gover­nors of Sindh and Pun­jab in­ter­vened. An ugly sit­u­a­tion was averted as the marchers were al­lowed to pro­ceed.

The two groups con­verged on Is­lam­abad simultaneously, but re­mained sep­a­rate. The gov­ern­ment again as­sumed a threat­en­ing pos­ture with thou­sands of po­lice­men, Rangers and reg­u­lar troops, be­sides plac­ing hun­dreds of con­tain­ers on the roads to pre­vent the marchers. But ul­ti­mately it gave way. The pro­test­ers re­moved the con­tain­ers, moved from D Chowk to the Red Zone and held sit-ins on the Con­sti­tu­tion Av­enue.

It was the ex­em­plary peace­ful­ness of the ag­i­ta­tion that pre­vented the ad­min­is­tra­tion from dis­play­ing its mus­cle. As one an­a­lyst ob­served, even after a fort­night not a sin­gle flower pot was bro­ken. This was un­prece­dented in Pak­istan's po­lit­i­cal his­tory where even the PNA led by the re­li­gious par­ties re­sorted to wan­ton de­struc­tion in 1977.

More­over, it was also for the first time that in a mass po­lit­i­cal ag­i­ta­tion, the par­tic­i­pants in­cluded not only men – young and old – but also a large num­ber of women and chil­dren and even ba­bies in arms. De­spite heavy show­ers and scorch­ing heat, they re­mained calm.

Both lead­ers ad­dressed sep­a­rate meet­ings of their fol­low­ers and pre­sented their char­ters of de­mands. The point on which the two lead­ers were united was the res­ig­na­tion of Nawaz Sharif and hold­ing of fresh elec­tions un­der a na­tional gov­ern­ment.

The Ja­maat-e-Is­lami chief, Si­ra­jul Haq em­barked on shut­tle diplo­macy be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the PTI. Op­po­si­tion leader Syed Khur­sheed Shah also formed sev­eral com­mit­tees to en­gage with the protest­ing lead­ers. Altaf Hus­sain is­sued ap­peals to both sides to set­tle their is­sues peace­fully. Among other po­lit­i­cal par­ties, the Chaudhrys of Gu­jarat – Shu­jaat and Pervez of the PML-Q – sup­ported Qadri while Sheikh Rashid of the Awami Mus­lim League chose to stick with Im­ran Khan. How­ever, the PML-F was con­spic­u­ously silent, while Maulana Fa­zlur Rah­man of the JUI-F took out ral­lies against Im­ran Khan.

Khan an­nounced a coun­try­wide civil dis­obe­di­ence move­ment, ex­hort­ing busi­ness­men and oth­ers not to pay their taxes and util­ity bills. But the re­quest did not re­ceive any support from the business com­mu­nity. How­ever, PTI law­mak­ers sub­mit­ted their res­ig­na­tions on Khan’s in­struc­tions.

Nawaz Sharif re­mained un­fazed, scorn­ing the size of the protest­ing crowd. Sev­eral rounds of meet­ings were held be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the protest­ing lead­ers sep­a­rately. Im­ran even sug­gested that the prime min­is­ter should step aside for at least one month to en­able a smooth vote re­count in the dis­puted con­stituen­cies. But Nawaz re­fused the of­fer and the dead­lock con­tin­ued.

Mean­while, Shah­baz Sharif met the army chief, and the lat­ter him­self held sev­eral meet­ings with the prime min­is­ter, coun­sel­ing a speedy set­tle­ment of the dis­pute. At last, Nawaz Sharif re­quested the COAS to me­di­ate. The army chief met Im­ran Khan and Tahirul Qadri but the re­sult was zilch be­cause nei­ther would com­pro­mise on their de­mand of Nawaz Sharif's res­ig­na­tion.

Mean­while, the Supreme Court took a plunge into the fray by ad­mit­ting pe­ti­tions against the protests and ruled that the PAT and the PTI should va­cate the Con­sti­tu­tion Av­enue. From the gov­ern­ment it was a clear vin­di­ca­tion of its pol­icy. The Supreme Court per­formed what was the pri­mary duty of the po­lice.

As time wore on and noth­ing tran­spired even after the army chief's meet­ing with the protest­ing lead­ers, both Im­ran Khan and Tahirul Qadri di­rected their work­ers to march to­wards the Prime Min­is­ter's House. A clash with the po­lice en­sued in which tear gas and rub­ber bul­lets were freely used. Many pro­test­ers were killed and more than 400 were in­jured.

Mean­while, the MQM weighed in, declar­ing a day of mourn­ing against the po­lice ac­tion and hint­ing that it would bring its work­ers on the streets should the gov­ern­ment con­tinue us­ing force against the demon­stra­tors.

As th­ese lines are writ­ten, the bat­tle be­tween the demon­stra­tors and the po­lice con­tin­ues. Nei­ther side is will­ing to re­treat from its po­si­tion. Mean­while, after a corps com­man­ders' meet­ing, the army de­plored the use of force and once again asked both sides to set­tle the dis­pute through ne­go­ti­a­tions.

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