Every passing day seems to bring out a new, desperate side of Imran Khan and the PTI leadership.
Twenty-four hours after vowing to lead a so-called civil disobedience movement against the federal government, the PTI chief announced yesterday that his party was quitting all assemblies, other than the provincial assembly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while today he is to lead the PTI protesters into the high-security red zone of Islamabad which houses parliament, Prime Minister House and other important buildings, including diplomatic missions.
The latest move seems designed to allow Mr Khan to exit his so-called independence rally, not turn it into an on-off sit-in, while allowing his party to retain its prized asset, the only government it has ie the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government.
To be sure, Mr Khan’s attempt to turn up outside, or perhaps even inside, Prime Minister House or parliament will — and should — be rebuffed.
Perhaps what Mr Khan is seeking is to be temporarily detained in front of cameras by the capital’s law-enforcement agencies and for the PTI activists to engage in some televised skirmishes as a way of ending the PTI rally on Mr Khan’s version of a high note.
Deplorable as Mr Khan’s tactics are, there is an immediate challenge for the law-enforcement apparatus of Islamabad to calmly and firmly but without the excessive use of force prevent the marchers from laying siege to state institutions.
Neither has the Islamabad law enforcement exactly covered itself in glory over the last year — as in the case of lone gunman Mohammad Sikander, who held Islamabad and much of the country hostage for many hours last August — nor have PML-N-led administrations inspired much confidence in their dealings with protesters of late — for example, deaths outside the Model Town headquarters of Tahirul Qadri two months ago.
Agree or disagree with their demands, consider them illegal or not, there is a responsibility on the state to protect the lives of all citizens — even those who are protesting against the government and seeking to do something illegal. Barring some violent escalation by the PTI itself, there ought to be enough well-trained and responsible law-enforcement personnel on the scene today to allow for a peaceful end to the PTI’s latest ploy.
The PML-N government should also be aware of the implications of Mr Khan’s other announcement: mass PTI resignations outside Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s provincial assembly (the PTI has several MNAs from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) mean a raft of by-elections will be held across the country in the next couple of months.
That means the political class will be in a semi-campaign mode and the intensity of focus on the PML-N government’s performance in office so far will only increase. It is uncharted electoral territory that the PTI has plunged the country into, so a steady hand on the wheel will be needed.
Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2014