Neither Azadi nor Inquilab

Pakistan: The Coup that didn’t take

15 Sep, 2014    ·   4663

D. Suba Chandran writes on the failure of protesters and the Establishment to change the regime

Almost after a month of intense politicking in Islamabad and the multiple calls to Azadi and Inquilab with few thousand men and women, why have Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri failed to achieve their primary objectives? And why did the Khakis back off?

It appears very clear, that there is no revolution impending in the immediate or distant future in the political landscape of Pakistan. Nor is Nawaz Sharif is likely to resign, based on whatever has happened so far. It would be a different story that Sharif may be forced to resign at a future date for a different reason; but certainly, he is not resigning and yielding to the “Container” democrats and revolutionaries.

First and foremost, the primary objectives of Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan failed under its own weight. Have they been pitched for something that is within the realms of possibility, they would have achieved their objectives, or at least a reached compromise closer to their position. Tahirul Qadri promised a revolution and Imran Khan asked for Nawaz Sharif’s resignation. 

Second reason for their failure has been their ability to engage their own party members and keep the protest movement coherent. Neither Qadri nor Imran Khan could galvanize their protests and sit-ins into a larger national movement. The numbers are sufficient enough to create disruption, but not large enough to usher into a revolution.

Worse, as it happened to the PTI, there have been internal dissensions within the party in terms of what needs to be achieved. Javed Hashmi episode clearly highlights that not everyone within his party agreed with Imran Khan. He has taken few decisions, contrary to what has been advised by his own party seniors. 

The Establishment did not move in. According to some, including Najam Sethi, a section within the military including senior serving officials conspired to over throw Nawaz Sharif using Imran Khan. However, the military high command did not agree to such a strategy engaging an open support to the revolutionaries against Nawaz Sharif. It is so obvious from the fact that the protesters were raising slogans in favour of the military when they were thrown out the building they had occupied earlier – Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri were waiting for the final decision by the “third” umpire. 

Perhaps, the military used Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri to achieve what they wanted. They used the crisis to ensure that the political leadership approaches them in the first place to arbiter, and later draw redlines in terms of what the Parliament could undertake and what should be left to the domain of the Khakhis. Once they got embedded into the political and foreign policy decision making, the military is not too keen in overtly overthrowing Nawaz Sharif.

Lack of popular support to the protestors and their backers in the Esrtbalishment could be another reason. Projecting a rare stand of unity, political parties (except the PTI) sided with the government. The PPP, MQM, ANP, JUI and JI did come together and realised that it is not in their interest to weaken the Parliament or supporting movement leading to a coup. None of the political parties are willing to face another elections in the near future, are be willing to accept Imran Khan as their next Prime Minister. With less that 40 seats at the National Assembly, the PTI simply does not have the numbers to make any real difference to the composition of Parliament. 

Fifth, there was fatigue, especially in the media and amongst the people. While a Jalsa may keep the attention of people for a short period, people did not have the patience to see such a tamasha being carried out on a daily basis.  There was so much buzz in the media in the initial days;  later it became a drag. Worse, the rains and floods have diverted the attention of people. 

Finally, there has been no international support forthcoming to Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri. The biggest blow came, when Pakistan’s all weather friend, decided to have a different look at the situation. China cancelled the visit of its President XI Jinping to Pakistan. Neither the US nor EU have been sympathetic to the cause of the revolutionaries. Perhaps, the military also took the cue.

Does the above mean, Sharif’s position is strengthened today? Hardly. In fact, his position is weaker than it was in July this year. He should be well aware he has got another lease and can continue in the Parliament. Only he would know what he has promised the military to ensure that the latter does not intervene. The biggest question that he should ask himself is – how did the situation come to this level in August 2014, just one year after that mammoth electoral victory in May 2013?

The earlier Sharif find answers to those factors that have caused the turnaround in the last fifteen months, the better for democracy in Pakistan. Should he pursue a vendetta politics and ensure Musharraf gets a stronger sentence? Should he engage in crony politics and ensure that the institutions are not strengthened? Should he follow a populist course and not engage in providing better governance? 

Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri may be the problems. But the solutions are with Nawaz Sharif.