Revolutionary expediency?

Published August 11, 2014
The writer is a lawyer.
The writer is a lawyer.

If the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf has thought through the logic of its ‘azadi’ march, what does such logic say about its evolving politics? Many Pakistanis interested in change want PTI, led by a man of unblemished financial integrity, to flourish. The hope was that PTI (with its mould of idealism) having successfully gatecrashed into mainstream politics would reintroduce principles to politics, which, coupled with a solid programme for institutional and policy reform would force existing political parties to reform themselves.

Has PTI mastered the politics of expediency practised by others instead of being the breath of fresh reforming air it had set itself out to be? Has its goal changed? Does it wish to be like the existing parties, but only better at fostering intrigue? Is the primary aim of Imran Khan’s politics now to hanker after power like his competitors, except with more hunger and impatience? Has PTI finally evolved into a seasoned political actor that won’t let principles get in its way?


Is the primary aim of Imran Khan’s politics now to hanker after power like his competitors?


In the Machiavellian world, PTI’s march is far from mindless. It is opportunistic, disruptive to democratic evolution and meaningful reform, harmful for institutional legitimacy and rule of law, but not mindless. It is only due to Imran’s image as a straight shooter and not a crafty politico that the purpose of the march (removal of Nawaz and mid-term polls) appears mindless. But if the sole purpose of politics is to amass power, isn’t PTI acquiring the knack for crafty politics?

Whether or not Imran genuinely believes that the people of Pakistan voted for him to be prime minister in 2013 is not relevant. That he would like to be prime minister sooner rather than later is. And four years can seem like an eternity. In a country like Pakistan where anything can suddenly happen in politics (like this PTI march) why play straight and give your adversary the opportunity to pull some devious trick out of his hat?

So long as Imran kept asking for a recount in the four infamous constituencies, Nawaz wouldn’t budge. Now that Imran has formally asked for Nawaz’s head, Nawaz might agree to the intermediate step as a compromise to weather the present storm. And if as a result of a recount or re-poll PML-N doesn’t emerge victorious in the four constituencies (the new litmus test for how genuine its mandate is), midterm polls will be the logical next step.

Even if PTI loses the four constituencies in a re-evaluation, does it really lose anything it presently has? And what has it gained? A reason to rally and reorganise the party in Punjab merely a year after performing modestly in the province, staking a claim as key challenger to the ruling party, and bolstered personal standing of Imran as PM-to-be.

Those who argue that all parliamentary parties standing with Nawaz on the issue of his continuing in office weakens or isolates Imran are wrong. Nawaz is already the prime minister and has nothing to gain from this fight. Imran has nothing to lose (other than his party’s claim to being a principled political entity). By challenging Nawaz he has raised himself to the level of the prime minister. Other party heads coming to Nawaz’s aid make Nawaz look needy.

Who is the first person that comes to mind when you think of PML-N and Nawaz’s replacement? It’s not the PPP and Zardari. It is PTI and Imran. It is now established in the public mind that the next political duel in Punjab will be between the PML-N and PTI.

What determines the timing of PTI’s move? One, Tahirul Qadri is back with a vengeance. Can Imran afford TuQ stealing his thunder and emerging as the face of change in Punjab? Two, the PPP is down and out. If Punjab goes into election mode soon, PML-N’s rival ‘dharas’ in rural Punjab could switch from the PPP to PTI. In a couple of years, with its scandals and misdeeds forgotten, the PPP could (though unlikely) stage a comeback making elections in Punjab a three-way contest.

Three, what if under PML-N’s watch terrorism is brought under wraps (largely due to khaki resolve), the economy remains afloat (with privatisation receipts and foreign aid), and energy shortfall is largely plugged? Wouldn’t allowing the PML-N a full term to be able to perform be political folly? Four, if PTI has a two-stage ouster plan, it isn’t really aiming for Nawaz’s immediate removal: stage-one is meant to bleed him enough so he agrees to a recount/re-election in four constituencies, which will lead to stage two aimed at ouster.

Clever politics is one thing and principled politics another. The PTI believes its mandate was stolen in the 2013 elections. Such belief remains an allegation till the alleged facts are verified and upheld by a neutral third party. The transformation of an allegation into a fact or truth thus requires the involvement of an adjudicator such as the judiciary. If you elect to execute a verdict of your choice because you don’t like the one delivered or can’t be bothered to wait for one it is called vigilantism.

If you can’t bear your beliefs to be subjected to scrutiny and perceive criticism to be the manifestation of a grand conspiracy against you, you could be suffering from intolerance, self-righteousness, paranoia or all three. Is the Constitution sacrosanct for the PTI? It provides a mechanism for legal accountability and political change. Can the PTI claim to be working within the fold of the Constitution if its best argument for regime change through mob force is that it first tried the legal way, which didn’t work?

The PTI’s claim that it will overthrow this malfunctioning democracy and replace it with ‘true democracy’ is reminiscent of “meray aziz humwatno” speeches. It is a matter of record that no-holds-barred saviour instinct, whether exhibited by dictators, judges or politicos, has done our country no good. The PTI that can reform Pakistan has to be a party capable of introducing and executing serious reform while working within the system and not one that throws its hands up and argues that noble ends justify rotten means.

The writer is a lawyer.

sattar@post.harvard.edu

Twitter: @babar_sattar

Published in Dawn, Aug 11th, 2014

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