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.
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.