It was billed by Imran Khan himself as the speech of a lifetime, but even before he had begun, it had been obvious for days that the PTI chief had miscalculated disastrously and painted himself and his party into a corner.
Neither had the masses lined up in support of Mr Khan’s interminable journey from Lahore to Islamabad nor could the PTI assemble more than a paltry number of protesters in support of his mission to oust the federal government.
So, despite the rhetoric of the PTI and overwrought coverage in the media, the possibility of the so-called independence march ending in anything but a damp squib was rather low.
Even the threat of violence, hyped in certain sections of the media and egged on by the PTI itself, as a way of bringing to bear pressure on the government was overblown: the protesters were too small in number to overwhelm the capital’s security measures and much of the blame would have fallen on the PTI itself for blatantly and unconscionably instigating violence after being allowed to protest freely and fairly for days.
In the end, Mr Khan tried to exit from an embarrassing situation by attempting to obfuscate and confuse further.
While simultaneously announcing a so-called civil disobedience movement centred around the refusal to pay taxes and utility bills, Mr Khan also suggested the government has only a matter of days, if not hours, to secure the prime minister’s resignation or else the PTI chief would not be responsible for party activists attempting to physically remove Mr Sharif from Prime Minister House, a short distance away from the PTI protest site.
At this stage, were Mr Khan’s threat not so risible, it would be worthy of the severest condemnation. Here is the leader of a political party ostensibly invested in the democratic system who is advocating mob rule.
In addition, his recommended brand of civil disobedience involves starving his party’s provincial government of funds, provinces in Pakistan being dependent to a significant extent on federally raised taxes to finance their running.
If it is a sad and ignominious path that a political leader with genuine public support just a year ago is now embarking on, there is still a significant burden of responsibility on the federal government.
The PTI’s latest threats will likely peter out much as the independence rally did, but true political stability will only come if the PML-N too changes tack.
What is crystal clear in hindsight was also fairly evident in foresight: the greater threat to political stability came from the PML-N’s slow response to the PTI’s initially reasonable demands and then the panic mode that the PML-N leadership seemed to go into.
Now, the PML-N will again have some time and space to reshape the political narrative and the national discourse. Will it rise to the task?
Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2014