Politics in Flux
There may be some veracity in the people’s support for Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri. It was their modus operandi which was questionable.
Only fourteen months after the first smooth transition of government through democratic means, which took place with great fanfare, politics has taken a nasty turn. Islamabad was in a state of lockdown for weeks with Allama Tahirul Qadri leading his disciples, including women and children, to his Inquilab (revolution), while Imran Khan led his band of merry men to Azadi. Their demand of seeking a change in regime tested the patience of the government as well as the nation. Until the red lines were crossed, force was not used. For the current dispensation ruling Islamabad, it was only a headache as long as Qadri, the televangelist from Canada, breathed fire and brimstone from his makeshift pulpit atop his luxury container as his relatively disciplined followers listened wide-eyed or shed a tear or two when emotions welled over. Similarly, Imran Khan’s youthful followers who would swell in numbers come dusk - swaying to music, dancing to pop songs, and melting away when the day broke - also did not present a major threat initially. The inclement weather, too, did little to dampen the rhetoric. While the two main protagonists, Qadri and
Khan would seek shelter in the safe refuge of their respective temporary abodes, the followers and disciples complained little despite the rain, mud, filth, garbage and stench. It was only when the protestors started inching closer to the Parliament House and the prime minister’s residence, defying the ubiquitous walls of containers erected by the governmental security forces, the sitting government started taking them as more than an inconvenience. After all the promised “million march” was way short in numbers even in sum total of the two groups of marchers. Qadri’s previous sit-in during Zardari’s rule had fizzled out after a few days only two years earlier. Imran Khan’s earlier adventure in leading a march towards the capital had lasted just a few hours. The differences between the agendas and approaches of Khan and Qadri would perhaps continue to deter a united stand. The opposition parties, who would love to see the back of Mian Nawaz Sharif, indicated that they would rather “support democracy” than go for any extraparliamentary means of change because for them Imran Khan, with his rhetoric of “weeding out corruption” and “bringing back the stolen millions,” was the greater threat. The army, which had appeared neutral initially and despite the conspiracy theories that it was colluding with the protesters not to “derail democracy” but to weaken the government so that the GHQ and the ISI could dictate the country’s Afghan and Indian policies, was finally called in for support by the government. It had, in fact, been summoned in “aid of civil power” by invoking Article 245 of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan to protect Islamabad and “to pre-empt any possible blowback of Operation Zarb-e-Azb”. It was to be used for “rapid response, patrolling and checking for a period of 90 days.” The signals, however, got mixed somewhere in the middle – whether the role of the army was to “facilitate” only as claimed by the government or serve as a “mediator” as announced by both Qadri and Imran Khan with much glee? It is said that truth is the first casualty in the fog of war. In the current milieu, which ultimately became a theatre of war, perceptions were being clouded and judgment was passed blindly, depending on which camp one was supporting.The beleaguered prime minister made a statement on the floor of the house that his government had not asked the army to “mediate.” But later a Tweet from the army spokesperson belied the claim. A plaintiff filed a lawsuit claiming that the government had lost its capacity to rule because it was no longer sadiq (truthful), an essential requirement under the constitution to become a member of the parliament. The constitution, a fig leaf to hide under, was already being flouted by both sides. The government filed counter lawsuits against the duo leading the protest rallies for “terrorism” when they vandalized the boundaries of the Parliament, the PM House and made a forceful entry into the premises of PTV, only to be evicted by force by the state’s law-enforcement agencies. The government’s resort to the constitution appeared to be a mere smokescreen since the objective was to thwart the protesters from storming the citadel of Islamabad; after all the military operation had commenced on June 15, 2014 and invoking Article 245