A few reminders are in order. D-Chowk and Constitution Avenue are not Tahrir Square. Neither Dr. Qadri nor Mr. Khan have marched for any panacea for a country ripping at its seams.
Both are pursuing deeply personal grievances — packaged as a national cause. Their ideas and battles, relevant for and having originated largely in the Punjab, have ignored other important truly national issues. Yet they continue to shape the polity.
PTI and PAT are not ideological friends but they see each other as common enemies of PML-N. Since neither had the numbers, they have had to rely, informally, on each other.
Do they want the same results? This is where the debate gets murky. Both want to see some change currently with the promises of putting in place mechanisms to assure large scale change in the near future. Together therefore their immediate demands reveal an agenda: one wants the younger and the other the older Sharif to resign. As much as you may be tempted to criticise the government for its handling of the marches, you should be able to sympathise with those in PML-N who see this as a conspiracy.
Let’s examine the claims of PTI and PAT in turn. PTI’s rhetoric of opposing status quo does not deserve greater importance than at any other time of the year. Its basic grievance is about rigging in a handful of constituencies. Yet, Khan would have us believe that all of Pakistan’s other regular deep-rooted problems somehow legitimise his demands. Corruption, lack of sound policy making for education, healthcare etc are all important problems — but this doesn’t mean that an elected government loses its term. PTI’s narrative is also problematic because it does not factor in Pakistan’s biggest political issue: the civil military imbalance.
For a party that claims to challenge the status quo, it is remarkable how PTI is overflowing with politicians who are on the wrong side of the civil-military imbalance, that is, have mostly, if not always, sided with the military establishment. The party may have its heart in the right place but it definitely needs its head examined. The fact that pop stars and glossy celebrities support Mr. Khan or the march doesn’t make the narrative any more valid; in fact should force all intelligent people to be even more suspicious of it. All of this is without prejudice to the fact that the march has been a nuisance for the government. That is a reality we all acknowledge. But the success of a tactic in the face of a panicky opposition doesn’t mean the tactic was rational in the first place. PTI banked on pressure building up from unknown quarters as it gambled on the Prime Minister’s resignation.
Out of nowhere came Afzal Khan. The force of his self righteousness was matched by the bemusing willingness of Mubasher Luqman and his fans, including Khan, to believe Afzal Khan. What was astounding was the lack of questions thrown at Afzal Khan. You could have been forgiven for thinking that a promised messiah had descended to lend credence to a story everyone was so desperate to believe.
Afzal Khan’s story doesn’t deserve to be believed; as he so memorably put it, “I don’t have any proof.” Blame it on my legal education but I was taught that truth is what you can prove with evidence before a judicial forum.
Even otherwise, Afzal Khan is suspicious. He has assailed the integrity of highly respected judges, former and serving, without any compelling basis. Furthermore, whoever urged him to come clean must be ripping his hair out; destabilising a government in the age of social media is really tough since others can search your Twitter profiles and timelines. Afzal Khan’s tweets reveal a schoolboy like excitement at supporting PTI. His claims sound similarly juvenile. Hopefully his will be a voice buried in history without consequences for our polity.
Read also: Deconstructing the marches
Then we have Dr. Qadri. The man who speaks of non-violence in English but of bullets in Urdu. The man who prefers live qawwalis to PTI’s pop and rock music. His grievance, when it comes to resignation of CM Punjab, has had more moral and legal weight than any demand by PTI. Shahbaz Sharif was in-charge when the Model Town tragedy happened. If he takes pride in all that Punjab promises and achieves, he must take responsibility too. His rhetoric about abolishing the ‘thana culture’ shows that he has always sought to control how the police acts. Even if he didn’t know, it was his negligence. Therefore, it would be proper for him to step down. It will be a graceful act, not to mention a necessary one, and one that will behoove a man in the CM’s position.
The incumbent Prime Minister wasn’t in-charge of elections and neither is he accused of any identifiable particular personal act or omission. Demanding his resignation makes little sense. Implicating him in the Model Town tragedy is also unwise and unnecessary. If the government agrees to some demands, the protesters must relent too.
What lies in the future? Hopefully all predictions and rumours regarding a military coup will come to naught. But establishment loyalists, including MQM, will do everything to make life more difficult for the Sharif government.
There is no logical reason for the PM to resign. Nothing changes. Imran Khan’s rhetoric that till Nawaz is in power there can be no fairness in inquiry procedure is actually an attack on integrity of judiciary and not the PM’s office only. PML-N should have hit back stronger. Even if Imran is to be believed, his argument is flawed. Consider this: if the PM resigns, then won’t people who are loyal to him still rule the same way? Why would they change? Hence, Imran needs a better argument. Right now he has an argument for reform but none for a resignation.
He should bring his gamble to an end.