'Civil disobedience': Another nail in PTI's political coffin

Updated 18 Aug 2014

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What Imran advocates right now is rebellion against the Pakistani state itself. —Photo by Mobeen Ansari
What Imran advocates right now is rebellion against the Pakistani state itself. —Photo by Mobeen Ansari

Civil disobedience: the active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands, or commands of a government, or of an occupying international power.


History is filled with several defining civil disobedience movements, most prominently in Egypt, India, America, Czechoslovakia and South Africa. It would, however, be safe to say that the PTI's is not going to be added to the list.

In Egypt, civil disobedience was part of a country-wide revolutionary nationalist movement against British occupiers in 1919, sparked by the British-imposed exile of Saad Zaghloul and the nationalist Wafd Party. It led to the recognition of Egyptian independence in 1922.

In India, Gandhi’s famous advocacy and practice of non-violent civil disobedience in the name of Satyagraha was against British imperialists.

One of those inspired by Gandhi was Martin Luther King Jr. who led the American Civil Rights Movement to end the state policy of racial segregation and discrimination against black Americans, and grant them full constitutional, civil rights and liberties for them.

Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution of 1989 against the single-party communist rule in the country of 41 years also included non-violent civil resistance; as did Nelson Mandela’s struggle against the apartheid in South Africa.

This is just a tiny list of major civil disobedience movements, but more than enough to highlight how ludicrous it is to compare Imran Khan’s politicking to these genuine revolutions.

Know more: Imran's inglorious ending

In Egypt and India, civil disobedience was traditionally an anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist tool against foreign occupiers and colonialists. It was used in the nationalist pursuit of independence.

In America, it was used to end the unjust and unequal system of discrimination and domination of one people in the country by another, just as it was in South Africa.

In Czechoslovakia and Lithuania, it was to fight the iron Soviet grip they had been under for years.

Those movements make sense. But in Pakistan’s case there is neither a colonial or foreign occupier, nor is there apartheid.

Bear in mind, from Iran and Afghanistan to India and Thailand, countless political parties have decried massive rigging in their respective elections. However, Imran's case is the first time a provincial government has initiated a civil disobedience movement against the federal government on such grounds; and that too, with an ultimatum of two days.

It is preposterous that a provincial government which came to power through what it terms elections of ‘unprecedented rigging’ hasn't bothered to resign from K-P before asking for the federal government's resignation on the pretext of being elected through those very same elections.

The call to disobey the government, then, is mere farce.

Read on: Threat to constitutional order?

And what of not paying taxes as a form of protest?

Going by the words of former chairman FBR Ali Arshad Hakeem, only a negligible 0.9 per cent of the population of 190 million pay taxes.

So if tax evasion is the norm in practically the entire country, how is civil disobedience a deviation from it?

What the PTI advocates right now is rebellion against the Pakistani state itself, in order to dislodge the government it deems illegitimate. By advocating civil disobedience in a democracy, it advocates the abrogation of the Constitution of Pakistan by repudiating the writ and power vested in the state by it [the Constitution].

Ziyad Faysal, writer and student of economics, makes a striking point:

I hope people realise that this way [civil disobedience] nothing can stop anyone from abrogating the Pakistani Constitution because in their opinion the sitting government is illegitimate. Does it not worry people that much of the constitutional argument against a military coup or against elements like the Taliban just got thrown out the window?

It is pertinent to note how Khan’s claims and demands have gradually lost all constitutional legitimacy, leading him to resort to unconstitutional means and extreme measures such as civil disobedience as a channel for their realisation.

And, it is here that he has lost the battle.

Also read: Imran’s surprising call for civil disobedience

Perhaps, the best PTI can do right now, for both its sake and Pakistan’s is to make another u-turn: save face by negotiating with the government.

They can grow into a serious political force only by replacing street politics and childish agitation with parliamentary politics, which it has shunned since the elections.

Their idea is right: the PML-N must be stopped from slipping into its traditional slumber of complacency and undemocratic demeanour. But to do that, their stance must be both strong-footed and sensible — not to mention their own house must be in order.

Make KP a model of the governance you demand. Then demand the same for the rest of the country.

Its either that, or bury the dream of 'change' and march on.