Go Nawaz Go! Azadi! Inquilab! The march is now a sit in. The cries have been heard with an up and down fervor for the last 9 days in the capital. And very slowly it has somewhat crept towards the other cities of Pakistan as well. D-Chowk at Islamabad, Teen Talwar in Karachi.
The numbers have been fluctuating somewhat from lowish to highish. Day times are sparse. The night time is jubilant with dancing, music, rousing speeches and an overall festive atmosphere. Well at least in the ‘Azadi’ half of the protests. The slightly more consistent and higher numbers of the ‘Inquilab’ half of the protests are more of a somber affair.
In either case the issue has been going on for 9 days. For 9 days the marchers have been sitting in protest in the ‘Red Zone’. For 9 days the state institutions have not been functioning. And the days aren’t over yet as the on again, off again negotiations are yielding nothing more than an acknowledgement of hollow pleasantries so far.
While the Inquilabi march of TuQ and company started with the model town incident in which PAT workers were killed – it is hard not to attribute the current state of the protests and sit ins to Imran Khan’s rousing and fired up rounds against the current system and government. The social media wing, the youth and the more socially marketable PTI has perhaps created much more noise than Nawaz Shariff and his government would probably have anticipated. And given the informal alliance with PAT the sit ins really are becoming more than just a nuisance for Mian sb. We can see that on his face that he is very much concerned. Maybe a little relieved after reassurances of support from the US and maybe a veiled message from the army in saying we are not coming … yet. 111 for all its historical connections is for now just looking after the security of the capital and the state institutions. Or so they say.
Now the social media and various platforms and threads have been going crazy with the whole ‘changers vs haters vs burgers vs niharis’ taking jibes at each other and I have so far avoided commenting or participating in full flow. But I guess I will now jump in as well.
The people passionate about Imran Khan say he is the only leader who is thinking from his heart for the betterment and the future of Pakistan. That he is the only one who isn’t corrupt and that he doesn’t need the wealth or the fame as he already has both in plenty. That he is the only leader who is thinking not about his seat and instead about the generations of Pakistanis to come. I am still inclined to believe as I did a year and a half back while casting my vote for him and PTI that yes he is. He is perhaps genuinely emotionally invested in this with good intentions. He perhaps genuinely feels that whatever he is doing is in the better interests of the nation. And also let me just state for the record – the things that Imran Khan is demanding and the ones that Tahir ul Qadri is demanding are not wrong. There should be electoral reforms. There should be much more transparency in the whole process. There should be an independent and unbiased election commission running the whole process. And there should be a non politicized law enforcement force throughout the country. An FIR should be registered against the people responsible for the model town deaths of the PAT workers in Lahore.
I however disagree with his actions and his strategy. There are a couple of narratives going on here. In the forefront and in the background. The media is quite apt at covering the forefront narrative. At the action on ground. The background is as always subject to many speculative theories.
First of all let me address the forefront and what is happening on ground. And my disagreement with Khan sb and his methods. I believe, truly believe that the system needs to be given time to autocorrect itself. (Yes I am being that naïve right now in saying that). I think that despite all of the other things one thing that Zardari and his PPP did deliver was a smooth transition of power from one civilian / democratic setup to another. Through elections. Elections which saw the highest voter turnout. Elections which were far from perfect but which have been observed by most as more or less fair. Yes they have not been free of rigging. Yes they have not been free from vote tampering. But they did give the result that most people, most experts, most analysts were expecting in the first place , give or take a few seats. Imran Khan and his PTI didn’t get the federal government but they certainly did get KP. And they have their chance there. To build a case study. To deliver 5 years of progress, administrative capability, improvement of system, improvement of law, schooling and all the other things that he is quite capable of. Despite his pro dialogue with Taliban stance I was confident that he would be able to deliver administratively. And as per the locals from the province and whose families are there PTI has been making headway on those fronts in KP. That’s what he should have done. Stuck with it, deliver KP in these 4-5 years. And come next election time make a more solid, stronger case. A stronger campaign. A year and a half down the road – coming down to long marches and demanding the ouster of the current premier wasn’t the way to go about it. Bringing the capital to a stand still and also imploring his supporters to not pay taxes and bills as part of his Civil Disobedience call was not the way. Now we have the government playing negotiations with both him and Tahir ul Qadri. Those have been nothing less then a game of musical chairs as well. There are talks. There aren’t talks. They are representatives from the government and then they aren’t the ones who are ok with protesting camps. There is a resignation of the Punjab CM. There isn’t one. And today something that will further fuel IK – former additional secretary of the Election Commission has alleged that the ‘People’s mandate was stolen in the 2013 election’. I am sorry but the election was last year .. where were you all this time? I am not saying I am not inclined to believe or not believe. Just that the timing just seems to be very convenient. Or has Imran Khan really had that extra profound effect on everyone?
Which leads us to the non-naïve position of things- its not always how it seems. The dialogues, the statements, the speeches, the actions are merely a show. The strings being pulled in the background by someone else. The military ‘facilitating’ both the marches to be where they are because they needed to remind civilian setup of who is the real boss when it comes to the big stuff. The boys. The boys were, are and will remain in charge is what is perhaps being said. That Nawaz had forgotten that in his different policies which are not in line perhaps with the military. That the civ-mil balance was coming to a more balanced position given that democracy was having a good run of things is merely perhaps meant for the public eye so that it is more easy to absorb on a day to day basis. And perhaps Nawaz needed reminding of all that. So a part of me is inclined to believe that as well.
Which makes me come to the following:
First of all a dangerous precedent is being set here – you don’t like who is in charge then just gather your people and march and camp yourselves out in the capital. Bring everything to a stand still. Someone has to listen. Much easier when people with influence, power and money do it and simply buy the crowd. And not always people with perhaps a good heart and a disoriented political brain.
Secondly – if Imran Khan who is supposed to be the last great hope of democracy and everything that one looks for in a national leader in terms of sincerity is also at the end of the day taking some sort of directives even if not 100% from the military then really we need to be asking what kind of changes are the military in favor of. Because here it would seem that at the end of the day the boys are the ones really whose opinion matters.
Thirdly – if that’s what we are saying – then why continue with the farce of democracy? Effectively what we are saying is that at the end of the day it’s the boys who are calling the shots. They are running the show in terms of the big boy stuff – foreign policy and all that. The administrative and as one of the papers put it ‘deputy commissioner’ sort of work is being done by the government. The civ mil balance is merely a myth. The military is the military and any tom, dick or harry could be sitting in the prime minister’s chair.
Fourth – why do we even have a president? He is a unrequired ceremonial figurehead who actually has no power whatsoever. The constitutional amendments have made sure of that. It actually didn’t matter that he has been forgotten and not heard from throughout this political crises. In fact I don’t remember when I last heard anything from him to begin with. So why is he even there? Why is the tax payers money being wasted on a salary for someone who has no role whatsoever. Not even the smallest and tiniest of ones.
Look at the end of the day all I do want is what almost any other citizen of Pakistan wants – peace and progress of the country. I don’t give a hoot whether it is Nawaz Shariff sitting in the PM’s chair or Imran Khan or Zardari or xyz. Also I myself don’t know which version to believe anymore of the narratives – the naïve one or the not so naïve and the conspiracy theory one. Whatever is happening in the forefront or in the background – if it is for Pakistan then great. If it isn’t then nothing is really changing here is there. And we can all say so much for the Naya Pakistan.