What next?

If Im­ran Khan is to be be­lieved, 2015 is an elec­tion year. How this will hap­pen is any­body’s guess since there are no in­di­ca­tors in this di­rec­tion.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

Some de­ri­sively call it “con­tainer pol­i­tics,” But the ploy has paid off. The con­tainer at Is­lam­abad’s D-Chowk may not have helped se­cure prime min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif’s res­ig­na­tion but there is no doubt that it caused tremen­dous po­lit­i­cal up­heaval and gave many sleep­less hours to Nawaz Sharif. Be­sides, ul­ti­mately it won the de­mand for set­ting up a ju­di­cial com­mis­sion to probe into Im­ran Khan’s charges of rig­ging

(dhan­dli) against the rul­ing party in the 2013 gen­eral elec­tion. That was a glo­ri­ous achieve­ment of con­tainer pol­i­tics.

Im­ran Khan’s con­tainer was more like a tur­tle’s home than a fortress. In­side, he held meet­ings and re­treated for rest. The roof worked as the stage. From there he ad­dressed his sup­port­ers, in­ter­spersed by the strains of D.J. Butt’s mu­sic and danc­ing by the en­thralled au­di­ence.

That raises the ques­tion as to why his party was to­tally routed in the by­elec­tion to NA-246 in Karachi be­cause he did not use his con­tainer when he ad­dressed the elec­tion cam­paign. Re­ham Khan tried to weigh in with her charm of­fen­sive. But it could not re­sus­ci­tate what Mr. Khan called zinda lashein (live corpses) of the vot­ers so they could vote for the PTI. Even the per­cep­tion of es­tab­lish­ment’s sup­port for Mr. Khan’s party, re­in­forced by the spec­ta­cle of its can­di­date mov­ing about with a heavy con­tin­gent of rangers in tow, could not bully the vot­ers to sub­mis­sion.

The con­test was tough. The con­stituency was the MQM’s heart - its very head­quar­ters. For the MQM there­fore, it was a life and death strug­gle. But Im­ran Khan did not con­sider the sit­u­a­tion worth more than a fleet­ing visit. He should have brought his con­tainer down to Karimabad and Az­iz­abad in Karachi and from its roof ad­dressed meet­ings for some days. Mu­sic and dance would have then helped lift the spir­its of the vot­ers. This would have been a new ex­pe­ri­ence for them and might have swayed them to­wards the PTI. Who knows?

Or per­haps he did con­sider all this but gave up the idea, be­cause the am­bi­ence of the con­tainer would have been out of place for NA-246, which is in­hab­ited largely by the lower mid­dle class -ar­ti­sans, hawk­ers with push carts, me­chan­ics and small shop­keep­ers. D.J. Butt’s mu­si­cal strains would be alien to them. Even the bet­ter-off peo­ple liv­ing on the other side of the main road in this area are not so so­phis­ti­cated as to ap­pre­ci­ate song and dance. NA-246 was no Clifton. Pe­riod.

Some say, he missed the chance. But, again, who knows? The Kap­taan has his sights set much higher. As he said, win­ning or los­ing one Na­tional Assem­bly seat does not mat­ter in his scheme of things. He is look­ing, long­ingly, at the Prime Min­is­ter’s House and the op­por­tu­nity to shift there from Bani Gala as soon as pos­si­ble. But there ap­pears no sign of his dream be­ing ful­filled any time soon,

The pro­ceed­ings be­fore the ju­di­cial com­mis­sion are go­ing on. Two con­stituen­cies have so far made head­lines: NA-122 of Speaker Ayaz Sadiq and NA-125 of De­fence Min­is­ter, Kh­waja Asif. About six more con­stituen­cies are un­der ques­tion. Im­ran Khan has de­clared that he would ac­cept the find­ings of the ju­di­cial com­mis­sion. But sup­pos­ing he suc­ceeds and all elec­tion to those con­stituen­cies is can­celled. Then what? There will be by-polls and even if PTI wins all those seats (which is un­likely) all that will hap­pen will be an in­crease of PTI’s seats from 33 to 39 while PML(N)’s num­ber will be re­duced from 187 to 181. The over­all pic­ture will re­main un­changed with PML (N) still en­joy­ing a solid ma­jor­ity in the par­lia­ment. Be­sides, Nawaz Sharif will re­main en­sconced in his prime min­is­te­rial chair to Mr. Khan’s cha­grin.

But the nui­sance value of Im­ran Khan’s con­tainer pol­i­tics can­not be de­nied. Ear­lier, it blocked the visit of the Chi­nese pres­i­dent and, ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment, caused a heavy loss of rev­enue to the ex­che­quer. It was like a thorn in Nawaz Sharif’s side, who was also de­nied peace of mind to pur­sue his pet projects of mo­tor­ways and metro buses.

The kap­taan talks of 2015 be­ing an elec­tion year. What gim­mick he has up his sleeve he does not let on, be­cause, on the face of it there are no in­di­ca­tors to en­cour­age such as­sump­tion. It could hap­pen only if Nawaz Sharif re­signed or was over­thrown. None of this seems pos­si­ble. He does not seem to be in any mood to re­sign with­out com­plet­ing his third in­nings. As to be­ing ousted, it would be a pipedream. There is no one who can top­ple him.

In the early days of Im­ran Khan’s protest and dharna in Is­lam­abad when the con­fronta­tion be­tween him and the gov­ern­ment was at its peak, the grapevine buzzed with spec­u­la­tion about such a pos­si­bil­ity. Khan’s oblique ref­er­ences to the um­pire rais­ing his fin­ger, fu­elled such ap­pre­hen­sions fur­ther. In fact he was be­lieved in knowl­edge­able cir­cles to have been set up by the es­tab­lish­ment. But the fin­ger was never raised. And the dharna was ul­ti­mately called off in the wake of the Army Public School mas­sacre in Peshawar.

Mean­while, Nawaz has caulked the cracks. He is on the side of the es­tab­lish­ment. Fences have been mended and ev­ery­thing looks hunky dory. Yet Khan must be up to some­thing when he talks about elec­tion in 2015 with such self-con­fi­dence. A few days ago he an­nounced tak­ing his con­tainer once again to Is­lam­abad and the gov­ern­ment went into a tizzy putting se­cu­rity ar­range­ments in place with ex­tra po­lice. Khan has not yet elab­o­rated on the is­sue he plans to ag­i­tate this time. To the naked eye, though, there is no such hot but­ton is­sue at the mo­ment as to war­rant a po­lit­i­cal ag­i­ta­tion and dharna.

The con­tro­versy about the route of the China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC) is one is­sue at the mo­ment that is re­ceiv­ing much pub­lic­ity. KP and Balochis­tan al­lege that ac­cord­ing to the orig­i­nal plan the road to Gwadar was routed through Dera Is­mail Khan in KP and Quetta. But later it was qui­etly al­tered to pass through Punjab and Sindh, leav­ing KP and Balochis­tan high and dry. But in the All-Par­ties Con­fer­ence that Nawaz Sharif called to al­lay the mis­giv­ings of those prov­inces there was not much con­tro­versy, per­haps, be­cause the at­ten­dees were re­as­sured by Ah­san Iqbal’s as­ser­tion that no change has been made in the orig­i­nal plan. Any ag­i­ta­tion on this is­sue would there­fore be pre­ma­ture un­til the ground break­ing starts. And Khan knows it.

But, once again, who knows; he may pull some other rab­bit out of his hat. We may only wait and watch how the sit­u­a­tion un­folds. One thing is how­ever, cer­tain. If Im­ran Khan wants to make this an elec­tion year, he should start work­ing to that end in right earnest, be­cause it is May. Nearly half the year has al­ready gone, so there is not much time left.

Im­ran Khan has de­clared that he would ac­cept the find­ings of the ju­di­cial com­mis­sion.

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