Pak­istan Dharna and After

Ir­re­spec­tive of what they have achieved, Im­ran Khan and Tahirul Qadri have def­i­nitely in­tro­duced a new method of po­lit­i­cal ag­i­ta­tion in Pak­istan.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

Are the Pak­istani politi­cians on a mis­sion

to de­stroy the coun­try’s econ­omy?

When rad­i­cal groups take a respite from de­nounc­ing democ­racy in Pak­istan for be­ing anti-Is­lamic, the cham­pi­ons of democ­racy them­selves start strik­ing fever­ishly at its roots. The joint sit-ins by the Pak­istan Tehreek-e-In­saf and the Pak­istan Awami Tehreek are a case in point.

It is a mir­a­cle that there is an elected gov­ern­ment in place for six years at a stretch be­cause no elected gov­ern­ment

since Z.A. Bhutto ever lasted for more than a few years. Be­nazir Bhutto had two stints of ap­prox­i­mately two and three years re­spec­tively. Nawaz Sharif also be­came prime min­is­ter twice in the past – once from 1990 to 1993 and then in 1997 to 1999. This is his third term as prime min­is­ter.

But Nawaz Sharif is an elected prime min­is­ter with an au­to­cratic streak. He is the Bholu pa­hal­wan of Pak­istan's pol­i­tics, al­ways spoil­ing for a bout. He can­not coun­te­nance any soul that dares to look him in the eyes. His past en­coun­ters have been with pres­i­dents, judges as well as gen­er­als.

Soon after he was sworn in for the first time, he fell out with Pres­i­dent Ghu­lam Ishaq Khan. He took the fight even to the TV screen un­til Gen­eral Kakar sent both pack­ing. Dur­ing the sec­ond term, he quar­reled with Pres­i­dent Fa­rooq Leghari and suc­cess­fully pushed the lat­ter out. This was the pe­riod that also wit­nessed the quiet ouster of the army chief, Gen. Ja­hangir Kara­mat and Chief Jus­tice Sajjad Ali Shah. But he missed his step in deal­ing with Pervez Mushar­raf and was top­pled.

Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shah­baz Sharif run the af­fairs of gov­ern­ment like a fam­ily en­ter­prise. Sons, daugh­ters, in-laws and even dis­tant rel­a­tives are given cushy jobs. Shah­baz is his elder brother's al­ter ego. Nawaz sits like a sphinx, tightlipped, ex­pres­sion­less and in­scrutable. Shah­baz reads his mind and acts. For ex­am­ple, when Chief Jus­tice Sajjad Ali Shah took up a case against Nawaz Sharif, all he needed to do was ex­press his deep frus­tra­tion like King Henry II of Eng­land against the Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury, Thomas Becket. And pronto Shah­baz sent goons to raid the court and chase the chief jus­tice out of the build­ing to rid Nawaz of the "tur­bu­lent judge," as Henry II was rid of his "tur­bu­lent priest."

This time, with a sim­ple majority in the House, Nawaz Sharif be­gan fly­ing high from day one. Shah­baz, as chief min­is­ter of Pun­jab, also be­came an ab­so­lute monarch but with demo­cratic trap­pings. Grand de­vel­op­ment pro­grams, in­clud­ing over­passes, un­der­passes and metro bus schemes, were launched in Pun­jab, be­cause that is the prov­ince that sus­tains the gov­ern­ment. With Pun­jab's solid support he would not need votes from any other prov­ince.

Nawaz also went after his neme­sis, Pervez Mushar­raf, prose­cut­ing him for high trea­son, but not for over­throw­ing his le­git­i­mate gov­ern­ment. In­stead, Mushar­raf was charged with the crime of declar­ing emer­gency in 2003.

In their hubris, how­ever, both brothers missed cer­tain ba­sic prin­ci­ples of democ­racy and the rule of law. Thus, in June 2014, Shah­baz's po­lice mowed down 14 and wounded another 30 work­ers of Dr. Tahirul Qadri's Pak­istan Awami Tehreek in La­hore. Their of­fence: re­sist­ing a sud­den po­lice raid to re­move the bar­ri­cades erected for se­cu­rity in front of the Min­hajul Qu­ran of­fice. Yet, the po­lice re­fused to reg­is­ter the FIR be­cause the com­plainant had sought to in­crim­i­nate the Sharif brothers among oth­ers. This stark im­punity drove the Pak­istani-Cana­dian cleric to or­ga­nize an in­qi­lab march to Is­lam­abad.

At the same time, Pak­istan's cricket legend-turned-politi­cian, Im­ran Khan had been fum­ing at the al­leged rig­ging in a num­ber of con­stituen­cies dur­ing the May 2013 elec­tions that cat­a­pulted Nawaz Sharif to power. He had knocked at ev­ery rel­e­vant door to have the bal­lots re­counted in the dis­puted con­stituen­cies. After fail­ing to get jus­tice, he too de­cided to lead a march to Is­lam­abad, call­ing it the azadi march.

More by co­in­ci­dence than de­sign, both marches with thou­sands of peo­ple – men and women, old and young, even ba­bies in arms – started on Au­gust 14 and con­verged in the cap­i­tal.

Many days passed and sev­eral ses­sions of ne­go­ti­a­tions were held be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the pro­test­ers, ei­ther di­rectly be­tween the two sides or with the help of me­di­a­tors from other po­lit­i­cal par­ties. But the re­sult was zilch. Khan stuck to his de­mand for Nawaz Sharif's res­ig­na­tion or at least his step­ping aside for one month to al­low a neu­tral probe into the com­plaint about rig­ging.

But Nawaz re­fused to oblige. His po­si­tion was bol­stered by full support from the leg­is­la­ture, be­sides the Supreme Court and es­pe­cially the heavy dose of adren­a­line in­jected by Wash­ing­ton, which threat­ened with sanc­tions in case Nawaz was top­pled. Even the army, to­wards which the dharna lead­ers looked as the "third um­pire" to raise his fin­ger against the prime min­is­ter, was forced to come out with a clear dis­claimer, as­sert­ing that what­ever was go­ing on was a po­lit­i­cal dis­pute and should be sorted out by the po­lit­i­cal lead­ers.

Mean­while, un­der­stand­ably, the dharna lost its mo­men­tum. Firstly, a "peace­ful ag­i­ta­tion" is an oxy­moron, be­cause, ag­i­ta­tion, by virtue of its very na­ture is op­posed to calm. So long it was sus­tained by slo­gan-rais­ing, hot speeches and mu­sic. But peo­ple can­not par­tic­i­pate in a dharna for an in­def­i­nite pe­riod leav­ing their homes and vo­ca­tions. The prob­lem was fur­ther com­pli­cated by the pres­ence of women and chil­dren. Signs of the on­set of fa­tigue were there­fore ev­i­dent.

Once, when the Pak­istan Tele­vi­sion build­ing was raided and there was po­lice ac­tion, things had be­gun to look like mov­ing. But peace set­tled again. Un­less there was "ac­tion" the dhar­nas would peter out. Only or­a­tory, how­ever fiery and angry ges­tic­u­la­tions day after day, can­not sus­tain the mood.

It was felt that the dead­lock must be bro­ken. There were whis­pers of the protest­ing duo stir­ring some "fire­work" to pro­voke the gov­ern­ment to re­act with a heavy hand. The re­sul­tant ca­su­al­ties would re­vive the sag­ging tempo of the protest and in­fuse them with new ardor. Some in­di­ca­tions of such a sce­nario were of­fered by the ar­rest of a few PTI work­ers and oc­ca­sional scuf­fles with the po­lice, for which a crim­i­nal case has been filed against Khan.

The other al­ter­na­tive was for Qadri and Khan to drop the de­mand for Nawaz's res­ig­na­tion if the gov­ern­ment ac­cepts the other de­mands like re­count of bal­lots in the con­stituen­cies chal­lenged by Khan and reg­is­ter­ing the com­plainant's ver­sion of the FIR about the killing of PAT work­ers.

What the dharna def­i­nitely achieved was jolt­ing Nawaz Sharif out of his slum­ber. It is ex­pected that he will be a changed man and the change should be no­tice­able. The can­cel­la­tion of the vis­its of the Chi­nese and Sri Lankan pres­i­dents should teach the na­tion a les­son that Pak­istan needs good gov­er­nance. It is more im­por­tant for the rulers to take heed.

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