An (Im)Perfect Storm

Marches of Azadi and Revolution

14 Aug, 2014    ·   4617

D Suba Chandran writes that democratic process will be the biggest victim of the marches in Pakistan and radical elements, the net gainer

As expected, two marches – the “Azadi” march of Imran Khan and the “Revolution” march of Tahirul Qadri have merged to create a perfect storm for Pakistan on 14 August, its independence day. The situation in Islamabad, as on 13 August is tensed, with Islamabad and Rawalpindi, the twin cities of Pakistan waiting for the inevitable.
How would 14 August turn out? Will it be chaotic, but will remain relatively peaceful, as Tahirul Qadri’s march two years ago? Or will it turn violent, leaving larger scars, all in the name of azadi and revolution?

With Section 144 being imposed already in Islamabad, the people of the twin cities are extremely unhappy and annoyed with the two self-proclaimed revolutionaries and reformers. They are also equally unhappy with the Prime Minister for his ineffective handling of the situation, leading to this situation.

To be fair to Nawaz Sharif, even if he had wanted to take serious steps to diffuse the situation, neither Tahirul Qadri nor Imran Khan would have listened to it. Both the leaders seem to be determined to achieve their objectives. Imran Khan wants to topple this government and be made as the next Prime Minister. He simply could not accept that he does not have the mandate to rule, as the majority have voted for the PML-N. In terms of number of votes and seats – though Imran Khan and his PTI have fared much better than the previous elections, still the 2013 election was not in favour of Imran.

Only Imran Khan should understand the reason behind his undemocratic way to establish democracy and azadi. Had there been any election irregularities, he should have filed the complaints immediately after the elections to the Election Commission. Or atleast, should have refused to form the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa immediately after the election results and should have followed up in the Parliament, Election Commission and the Supreme Court. Instead, he kept silent almost for a year and then suddenly decided to pull down the system, in which he is a part.

Given the lack of reasoning for Imran Khan’s sudden change, there could be only few explanations. Perhaps, after a year, Imran Khan today realizes that the PML-N has lost its popular appeal in the last year, and the time is ripe to force the government to dissolve the Parliament and organise a general election. The PML-N may not have performed well during the last year, but certainly it has not become unpopular to that level, that the people will be voting Imran Khan to become the next Prime Minister, if there is an election shortly. If the Sharif brothers have come down in the popularity chart due to their failure to provide better governance, Imran Khan and his party have not performed better to reap any major benefit.

Another reason could be a larger conspiracy, led by the military and its intelligence agencies to effectively intervene and change Nawaz Sharif, without going through another election. Why should the military and the ISI be unhappy with the new Prime Minister? Three reasons in particular; first the handling of Musharraf trial, which a section within the military consider it unacceptable to try a former Chief of Army Staff. Second, the decision of the government to establish a political dialogue with the TTP. And third, the Hamid Mir and Geo episode, in which Sharif was seen as joining hands with the former.

Sharif could have avoided the Musharraf trial and found an excuse to allow him to leave the country under one pretext or another. Unfortunately, neither the exile, nor the political experience during the last decade seems to have made more mature. True, the entire legal community also wanted to go after Musharraf, but Sharif could have avoided a show down. He deliberately let it happen. In terms of talking to the TTP, he could have consulted more with the military and should have had them on board completely. On Hamid Mir, there were too many actors and factors, Sharif could not have done any better than what he did.

Perhaps, the military and its ISI is pushing Imran Khan and silently backing his un-democratic intervention to establish democracy. In the long run, it would only strengthen their case in terms of creating an impression that the political elites and the parties in Pakistan are unfit to rule.

As far as Tahirul Qadri is concerned, as explained in earlier commentaries in this paper, he perhaps believe in himself as a messiah and saviour. He neither has the numbers nor the support to get elected. Neither him nor his party would be able to secure considerable votes in any free and fair elections. He can get few people from the rural areas to Islamabad for few days to block the roads. There have been complaints that the last time he camped, many of those marchers ransacked local shops and looted goods. Perhaps, more than democracy, it is the loot and “see Islamabad” attracts the crowd to move in along with Qadri.

Otherwise neither Qadri nor his party has support at the grass root level to sustain an organised protest. He is blackmailing the system.

But the primary blame should go to the Sharif brothers. In retrospect, it appears, despite all his drawbacks, Zardari dealt with Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri in a much better way, that too politically. Zardari allowed to Qadri and his supporters to camp in Islamabad, had a dialogue and let him go back without changing the electoral system, the primary objective of latter at that time. People in Pakistan made fun of his effort and he became a political joke. Today, Sharif has elevated Qadri’s political standing, due to his immature political handling and the use of force.

But the larger question is, what would happen on 14 August, and what would be the fallouts of it? If the State decides to use violence against the marchers of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, it would turn them into martyrs. If the State decides to do nothing and hope that better sense would prevail, it would be seen as politically weak and ineffective.

If there is violence and a standoff in Islamabad, leading to a closure of the capital, the biggest victim would be the democratic process and the net gainer would be the radical elements. For the military and its ISI, such a process would even give them a leverage to intervene further. It would only increase their legitimacy to intervene, and expand the popular dissatisfaction against their elected leadership and democratic process.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir