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Theatre of the absurd

Updated August 27, 2014


The writer is an author and journalist.
The writer is an author and journalist.

The daily spectacle of a frothing at the mouth Imran Khan and a hysterical Tahirul Qadri performing live shows has worn down the nerves of this hapless nation. The midnight sessions invariably end with yet another deadline for an instant ‘revolution’ and ‘azadi’ and another set of demands.

An elusive ‘third umpire’ was supposed to appear last weekend and raise his finger signalling the beginning of the ‘revolution’. But he is yet to arrive. Maybe the game plan has changed, making the wait more agonising for the container revolutionaries. The indomitable ‘Kaptan’ is now willing to spend months in the container and the ‘Shaikhul Islam’ is preparing to embrace ‘martyrdom’. It has turned into a theatre of the absurd.

It is now a game of nerves and a battle of marches as the prime minister’s supporters too are taking to the streets in a show of political power. Neither side is stepping back in this stand-off. The unanimous resolutions passed by both houses of parliament last week rejecting the demand for the resignation of the prime minister, however, may yet prove to be a game-changer.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf now finds itself pitted against parliament though Imran Khan appears adamant to take the battle to the bitter end. He is not willing to settle for less than Nawaz Sharif’s scalp even if he gets to keep the trophy for only a month. He will not compromise on the issue that is central to his campaign. His inflexibility may also prove to be his undoing. There is no way he can have his wish list come true without derailing the current dispensation.

It is now a game of nerves and a battle of marches as the prime minister’s supporters too are taking to the streets.

Though most political parties support the PTI’s stand on the election fraud inquiry and its demand for poll reforms, there are no takers for the disruption of the democratic political process or involvement by an outside force. This may well be the reason for the ‘umpire’ not coming to the Kaptan’s help. He has to do more to bring the umpire into the field. But it is not going to be that easy against such heavy odds.

Imran Khan’s desperation was evident by his ridiculous call for civil disobedience. More recently, he advised people to close down their accounts with state-owned banks and for Pakistani expats to transfer their money through the hundi system.

He seemed to have lost his senses when he warned the World Bank and IMF not to deal with the government. With these kinds of irresponsible statements, can anyone take him seriously as a leader? His entire politics now revolves against Sharif and is completely devoid of any constructive thinking.

Had Imran Khan showed some prudence and political acumen, he could have easily salvaged the situation by accepting the deal offered by the government conceding five out of the six points presented by the PTI in the talks. No doubt, he won a moral victory by forcing the government to agree to form a high-powered inquiry commission to probe the rigging allegation and initiate electoral reforms. Now, due to his stubbornness and irrationality he has taken a confrontationist path.

Predictably, Imran Khan’s decision to submit resignations of his party members from the assemblies and the call for civil disobedience has brought the split in party ranks to the surface. Many senior members have long grumbled about his dictatorial ways, but now the differences seem to have sharpened with some members reportedly refusing to resign from their seats.

It may have been the reason for his suspending the decision to pull out from the KP Assembly. KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak reportedly approached the opposition not to table a vote of no-confidence against his government, as he has no intention of dissolving the assembly.

It is a sad state of affairs for a party that promised to bring about change in the political culture and strengthen democracy within its ranks. The slogan for change had won the PTI the support of the young generation and gave the latter hope. But instead of consolidating the gains the party made in the last elections, emerging as the second powerful political force in terms of the number of votes polled, Imran Khan seems to have lost the opportunity because of his impatience.

Disillusionment seemed to have crept into party ranks much before the march on Islamabad began. Many hardcore young stalwarts were upset with his apologetic stance on the Taliban and militancy. The ongoing political stand-off certainly does not help restore faith among the disgruntled cadres.

It took Imran Khan more than 18 years to bring the party to its pinnacle, but it could take only a few wrong decisions to throw it back into political oblivion. It would certainly not be good for the nascent democratic process in the country.

It is still hard to predict the outcome of the stand-off. The prime minister may scrape through, but certainly not unscathed. The conflict has already shaken him out of his imperial hubris. His stranglehold on Punjab is now under serious threat.

It appears increasingly difficult for Shahbaz Sharif to stay at the helm in Punjab after his reported involvement in the Model Town killing case. There seems to be no way out for the prime minister but to sacrifice his brother to bring down the political temperature.

It may be a case of too little, too late when it comes to defusing the situation. The challenge faced by the government is enormous. It is time to end family-dominated politics. One can only hope that Sharif has learnt some lessons from the crisis and shows some statesmanship.

There is no time for the part-time leadership that he has so far provided. It is also a moment for truth for all other political parties. Time is running out for status quo politics. Notwithstanding their methods, the Imran/Qadri combine has brought public discontent to the fore. The message is loud and clear if they bother to listen.

The writer is an author and journalist.

Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, August 27th, 2014