Pakistan: The politics behind Imran’s bouncers

By Ameen Izzadeen
(September 5, 2014) – Imran Khan appears to be in a mighty hurry to form a government in Pakistan, though undemocratically. The speed with which he tries to topple the elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif invokes memories of his heydays as a much feared and highly respected pace bowler. But as a politician Khan, who heads the Pakistan Teherik e-Insaf (Justice Movement or PTI), is bowling one too many illegal deliveries.
True, as an opposition leader, he has a role to play. But he should not do it at the cost of causing chaos, which may deal a severe blow to a process that seeks to strengthen democracy in Pakistan.
One of the fundamental features of a functioning democracy is a vibrant opposition. It is to the opposition that the people turn to when a democratically elected government shows authoritarian tendencies, misuses political power and betrays the trust that the people have placed on it. A vibrant opposition, which is seen as the alternative government, reminds the people that there is a viable alternative to the ruling party which is corrupt or indulging in nepotism and abuse of power.
But democracy demands that an opposition party should play its role within the bounds defined by democracy. It should try to come to power by means of elections – and not through the back-door by engineering a coup or organising people’s power uprisings in collusion with armed forces, as the case may be in Pakistan.
The ongoing protests aimed at toppling the Sharif government are seen by most independent analysts as being uncalled for and untimely. The government is still new. Sharif was elected to office in May 2013 following what is hailed as the first ever democratic transition in Pakistan’s history — with the outgoing government completing its full term without being ousted by the military. At a time when democratic institutions are beginning to blossom in Pakistan, an attempt to topple the democratically elected government appears undemocratic, however strong the allegations against the prime minister are.
Protest leaders — Khan and firebrand cleric and former law professor Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, who has launched a campaign to cleanse politics of corruption — allege that Sharif’s election was rigged and demand he should resign forthwith and the electoral process be reformed. They also call for a probe on the killing of 14 supporters of Qadri in police shooting in Lahore in June.
A democratically elected government should not be subjected to overthrow by an unruly mob if there is provision in the constitution to challenge the legality of the government in courts. It is only when the constitutional avenues are denied that there is justification for the overthrow of the government through a people’s power revolution.
Instead of seeking redress in courts, Khan and Qadri have resorted to protests which appear to be an attempt to come to power via a short cut, probably with the support of the military, and therefore lack legitimacy. Besides, they do not enjoy countrywide support. There is hardly any anti-government uprising in provincial capitals, including Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, ruled by Khan’s party. Even a generous estimate would not put the crowd strength at the Islamabad protest yesterday at more than 2,000. Their protests lose steam as Sharif stands put and wins the support of both the houses of parliament — with former president and leader of Pakistan’s People’s Party Asif Ali Zardari also backing him.
Both Khan and Qadri are said to be enjoying the blessings of Pakistan’s politically powerful military. Elements in the military probably fear that with democratic institutions gaining strength, they would gradually lose their power – the power to define Pakistan’s foreign and defence policies and run multi-billion rupee business ventures.
This was not the first time that Khan and Qadri have made headlines with their protest rallies.
It happened in October 2011 when the PPP government was midway through its term. The military, which did not like both the PPP and the Muslim League which Sharif leads, was looking for a third force — and Khan fitted in well. With a PPP defeat certain, the military, according to analysts, believed that only Khan’s PTI could prevent a Sharif landslide. So Khan had a massive rally in the Sharif stronghold of Lahore – with more than 100,000 people taking part. “Imran Khan’s ‘tsunami’ sweeps Lahore,” screamed the headline in the Express Tribune.
A year later in December 2012, Qadri, returning from a seven-year sojourn in Canada, organised what he called a million-man march to Islamabad, but only 50,000 turned up for this anti-corruption rally targeting the PPP government. Yet they failed to stop a Sharif victory, though Khan’s party emerged a third force in Pakistan’s politics.
It was expected that Sharif, once in office, would be more cautious than any other previous prime minister had been, when it comes to dealing with the military. In 1999 his move to dismiss the then military chief General Pervez Musharraf led to a military coup. Undeterred, Prime Minister Sharif took some calculated risks in confronting the military this time also. One such risk was the appointment in November 2013 of Raheel Sharif – no relative of the premier – as the military chief of staff, bypassing two other generals who were senior to him. Then he called for peace talks with the Taliban and better ties with archrival India and pursued the treason trial against military strongman Musharraf, much to the annoyance of the military.
But this act of a civilian prime minister exercising authority over the military raised alarms in the army. In moves seen as challenging the authority of the Prime Minister, the military shot down his peace bid and launched an all-out war against the Taliban. Sharif’s bid to revive the stalled talks with India also suffered a setback when Pakistani soldiers fired at Indian soldiers across the Line of Control in Kashmir.
It took a Khan-Qadri protest for Sharif to realise how weak he is as Pakistan’s prime minister. Humbled, he turned to the Army Chief for advice, as the protesters, vowing not to budge, laid siege to parliament and the prime minister’s residence.
Premier Sharif could have ordered the police to take necessary measures to disperse the protesters, but he feared that his action may give the military the pretext it was looking for to launch a coup.
The army, probably disappointed by the poor crowd at the protest rallies, has denied it is meddling in civilian affairs, and is now calling for a political resolution.
Yesterday, after three weeks of intransigence, the protest leaders, having failed to prompt a military coup, agreed to discuss their demands with the government. This may be a victory for Sharif, but it is also a wake-up call to reset his relations with the military.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
This entry was posted in Political analysis and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Pakistan: The politics behind Imran’s bouncers

  1. Joe Van Langenberg says:

    Well-balanced piece, with a wealth of information; puts you on par with the rest of your peers. Congrats on a job well done!

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