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Siege of Islamabad: what next?

Published Sep 06, 2014 03:36am


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The author teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad.
The author teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad.

THOUSANDS of fanatical followers, led by the cleric-cricketer combination of Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan, hold Islamabad hostage. A year ago such a possibility seemed remote. What of the future? In the years ahead, this pair may become irrelevant.

But with the dangerous precedent they have established, hard-line clerics disaffected with the army’s betrayal, and operations such as Zarb-i-Azb, may give the call to occupy. The marching orders could also come from Caliph Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi of ISIS or some other radical leader; their literature is already being circulated around. Thereafter, from the hundreds of madressahs in and around the city, charged mobs armed to the teeth will pour out to fulfil their holy duty. Nuclear Pakistan would have the world sitting on edge.

Speculation? Perhaps, but not without cause. Islamabad’s vulnerability now stands twice exposed. The first time was in 2007 when the Lal Masjid clerics went on a rampage, declared rebellion against the state, and imposed their brand of Sharia on Islamabad. It took the lives of a dozen Pakistan Army commandos to defeat them. Hundreds, including children, died. More significantly, it began a new era of suicide attacks on marketplaces, public squares, police stations, and army installations. Since the time, around 30,000 lives have been lost.

People have wisely refused to support the violent destruction of the government.

Back to the present: the Khan-Qadri duo has brought a new level of instability to Pakistan. Hapless citizens, glued to their television sets, watched Pakistan’s heavily fortified capital fall to protesters. Privately hired cranes tossed aside concrete barriers and shipping containers, while razor wire was cut through by professionals. A demoralised police was initially too afraid to follow attack orders.

From the shadows, the Pakistan Army — an institution known all too well to the Baloch and Bengalis — has, with uncharacteristic calm, watched Pakistan’s state institutions taken over by violent thugs. But rather than restore law and order, it chose to confer legitimacy on the insurgents by advocating negotiations. The brief takeover of Pakistan Television by PAT/PTI agitators did not result in any subsequent punitive action; the occupiers left shouting “Pak fauj zindabad”.

What’s the game plan here? Cricketer Khan’s is clear enough: create enough chaos so that the elected government can be forcibly overthrown. Subsequently, it will not be difficult to find a pliant Supreme Court judge who would favour mid-term elections. Then, perhaps with a little reverse rigging, he would be hurled towards what he sees as his rightful destiny — becoming the prime minister of Pakistan. The goals of the mercurial Holy Man from Canada are less clear; keeping the pot vigorously stirred is all that we’ve seen so far.

Now for the good news: the people of Pakistan wisely refuse to support this violent destruction of government. Popular opinion today roots for stability and calm. In an unprecedented display of unity, the PML-N and PPP, Pakistan’s two largest political parties, announced they are on the same page. You know a national consensus has emerged when the right-wing JUI party of Maulana Fazlur Rahman and the Jamaat-i-Islami share the same bottom line as the left-wing Awami Workers Party and Women’s Action Forum.

Of course, the consensus goes no further. Justifiably, there is criticism of Nawaz Sharif’s naked nepotism and the appointment of his family members to important posts. Justifiably, people dislike the Sharif brothers’ style of personalised governance. And, justifiably, there is a call for electoral reform, as well as to protest last year’s partially rigged elections.

On rigging: haven’t these allegations been vastly amplified by the losers? When did Pakistan last see fully free and fair elections? International, and most domestic, observers saw nothing extraordinary. Nor did I, while standing in line to vote. Moreover, the outcome was consistent with pre-election polls. But this clearly did not flatter the cricketer’s super-sized ego. He had hoped for more than just a KP government. Now, through means fair or foul, he wishes to capitalise upon the army’s distaste for Nawaz Sharif and refuses to take his chances at the ballot box four years away.

It shall be a grim day for Pakistan should Cricketer Khan become Prime Minister Khan. Khan had openly supported the Taliban even under the brutal occupation of Swat in 2009, and refused to condemn them when they shot 14-year old Malala Yousafzai in the head for wanting to go to school. Khan went into a frenzied fit after the killing of TTP supremo Hakeemullah Mehsud by a US drone, making it clear that he would rather shoot at drones than terrorists. Whether out of a serious perceptual disorder or political ambition or to atone for his playboy past, year after year he has sided with those who have been blowing up our children’s schools, killing Pakistan’s citizens, police, and soldiers. This is why the Taliban wanted him as one of their representatives in the failed peace talks, and why he carries the nickname of Taliban Khan.

Pakistan’s two wannabe messiahs promise a new Pakistan, and their gullible followers have swallowed it. Protesters interviewed on TV channels speak of a Naya Pakistan where electricity is free and plentiful, and where all have jobs of choice. They do not ask how. In actual fact, governance in KP is no better after the PTI’s year-long stint in power.

Worse yet, Khan has had nothing to say about the horrific targeting of Pakistan’s religious minorities, or the use of the blasphemy law to terrify them. Pakistan’s Christians cannot forget his callous remarks after the Peshawar church bombing one year ago. While the Model Town tragedy is to be roundly condemned, the Khan-Qadri duo is silent about the hundreds who have either gone missing in Balochistan, or were later found in mass graves.

The duo’s circus has gone too far in disrupting the capital’s life. It appears to be petering out but if not then it is time to end it. If persuasion does not work, the use of an absolute minimum amount of force will be entirely legitimate. Islamabad’s citizens have rights which the agitators are violating, and which the state is obliged to protect.

The author teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, September 6th , 2014

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (57) Closed

Aamir Sep 06, 2014 03:54am

One sided analysis advocating status quo.

Rea Sep 06, 2014 04:02am

Sensible arguments. Time and again questions have been raised about IK's tacit support for talibans but his ardent supporters have never given an answer to that chapter of PTI. No prosperity is going to touch our shores unless this problem of taliban is tackled. How Khan is going to solve this problem? By siding with them? It's not clear.

Chaman wala Sep 06, 2014 04:35am

'...Islamabad citizens have rights.' Duly noted. 'State is obligated to protect them' Now that is rich. Coming from a teacher. The state does not have it's writ anywhere. Some months ago they blew up some courtrooms in Islamabad. And killed layers court workers and a judge. While the police hid. Took commandos 2 hours to get there. From 3 miles away.

Raja Sep 06, 2014 04:51am

Not sure why Imran Khan is allowing himself on the wrong side of history. Pakistan wants leaders who are sincere and devoted to a better society. Discrediting duly elected democratic government would be a huge mistake and the citizens of Pakistan will not tolerate the traitors

Rafeeq Minhas Sep 06, 2014 05:00am

Finally somebody with guts and a clear vision tells the truth as it really is.

Mahalika Sep 06, 2014 05:32am

baseless and biased! totally opposite to the sentiments of a common lower and middle class man

Azhar Shah Sep 06, 2014 06:13am

Mr. Hoodbhoy's opinion clarifies a lot of things. I have been asking the same questions myself: 1. Why does IK not condemn the Taliban, TTP, and all the terrorist groups that are destroying Pakistan? 2. Why does he not protect the religious minorities of Pakistan, they are also Pakistanis? 3. Why does he want to force the PM out of office after 15 months of election? When he himself congratulated the present PM. 4. Why does he not condemn the blasphemy law? 5. Why does he not work for the betterment of KP and make it a model state?

Here is an Abraham Lincoln quote:

Shan Sep 06, 2014 06:14am

Is he really in right frame of mind? He could have done a better job a talent of Pakistan gone wasted. Unfortunately!

Azhar Shah Sep 06, 2014 06:22am

TUQ is another one of those leaders that do not have any solutions. He makes statements but does not tell you how to get there. He is fooling the masses who think he is the Messiah. Please people get real, get your lives in order, hard work pays everything else just stays.

Tariq K Sami Sep 06, 2014 08:14am

Imran is a national hero. He is also the Chairman of PTI which polled the 2nd highest votes. To suggest any Nathu Khairoo can repeat the same feat is preposterous. It took Imran 2 days to reach Islamabad from Lahore such was the support of the citizenry. It was a festive crowd not a hostile crowd. No one can dare bring 20 thousand or more people to Islamabad without a big YES from the Military. Besides the Lal Masjid case is not yet over and one day the Ex CJ will be asked to explain why he gave a clean chit to the Militant Mullah.

Faisal Sep 06, 2014 08:16am

@Mahalika How are these facts biased and baseless? Everyword is true, Taliban Khan needs to end his circus.

Ghulam Nabi Malik Sep 06, 2014 08:23am

A bold, realistic and impartial analysis. Wish Dharna crowd adheres to sanity and have mercy on this nation which already has many woes in its basket.

imran ali Sep 06, 2014 09:02am

Siege of Islamabad: what next? political reform so that common man has a voice in parliament ,L.B run by elected people nob by bureaucracy, judicial reform so that people get quick justice and appointment of non political judges,the present juducial system has failed.LEAs should be made accountable regarding extra-judicial killing,adequate medical facilities,security of life and so on.THE PRESENT POLITICAL SYSTEM HAS FAILED TO DELIVER

Feroz Sep 06, 2014 09:21am

These two leaders IK and TUQ will soon find out they were merely puppets that were used to weaken and destabilize an elected government. If by any means fair or foul either of them were to become PM, they will realize the post does not carry real power, which is unfortunately exercised from elsewhere. No one can help another if they reside in a fools paradise.

Akhmed Sep 06, 2014 09:42am

Pervez Hoodbhoy for Prime Minister on the Pakistani Rationalist Party! Pakistan needs an MIT-trained scientist who can think through the many problems facing Pakistan and come up with workiable solutions. (The so-called politicians are lousy ones and have always pandered to the basest passions and not tried to solve problems.) The kind of tamashas going on in Pakistan from the beginning have prevented true democracy from taking hold. Imran Khan needs to be droned soon (enabler of the Taliban) and Qadri sent back to Canada where the government should throw the book at him for getting involved in anti-Canadian activities.

aslam minhas Sep 06, 2014 09:58am

Sir Hoodbhoy: Well writ. Maulana (BBC report says hired teenagers from across Punjab) is a charlatan brought in by our own institutional people to create a fuss. And he is a 'fasadi' in the true sense of the word. He is capitalizing on an ignorant nation. Imran has resorted to no-balls and still hopes to get the wicket! The pair is exposed by so many different impeccable sources and yet shamelessly they continue! As for Nawaz Shareef, they thought they were there for five years by divine right. Much to their grief they found out delivery is the thing. Still in shock and awe they have not come out of their inactivity and lethargy. Time to move or get removed by the House! I trust and hope they give signs of life!

Zlodhi Sep 06, 2014 10:50am

Too biased, the so called intellectuals are so far away from street reality, in any sane country people would have been on streets and would have forced the Gvt out if anything like 17June had happened. Pakistan has become a country for the elite.

Shahid Sep 06, 2014 10:53am

Mr Pervez opinion is always biased. The people are here to ask for justice. Justice from poll rigging and killing of civilians in Model town. If people living in palaces and villas have rights. The poor who pay taxes and never get anything back also have rights. Where should they go to get justice?

Mian Shahid Mehmood Sep 06, 2014 11:17am

Good analysis and a good exposure of PTI and PAT ambitions. Iron hand policy is the only answer to adventurism demonstrated by PTI and PAT; it will stem the tide and a strong check for the follow suitors. Democratic process, how slow and bad it may be, is the ultimate solution for solving the problems of Nuclear Pakistan. As Rome was not built in a day, similarly strong Pakistan to be a reality need evolution and no revolution is a good medicine.

The Outsider Sep 06, 2014 11:47am

After a long time we had such a pathetic analysis. Certainly, its one time blemish, otherwise, Dawn has been outstanding in its editorial/opinion policy.

Abuzar Sep 06, 2014 11:54am

Pakistan would've been indeed a great country only if we had more people like hoodbhoy and the likes of him, Unfortunately we are flooded with religious extremists on every corner of the road and very few noble humans like Pervaiz, Asma and the martyr of humanity Mr. RASHID REHMAN, may the omnipotent rest his soul in peace.

Niddercalling Sep 06, 2014 12:04pm

It is always a pleasure to read Hoodbhoi. I agree the likes of IK are nothing less than one track minds who see only their benefits. You say, he supported Taliban. It appears those who support him ignore this aspect, particularly women who will not have any say in Taliban like rule. But then NS and his brothers are also supporting and paying Taliban. It appears there is no room for liberal and secular leaders left for Pakistan. I hope a demagogue like IK does not win this battle. NS is saved for now, but it cannot be said of democracy. It has been humiliated.

Irfan Chourbati Sep 06, 2014 12:12pm

I must say these protesters have shown the real face of Pakistan to the so called Parliamentarians who used to enjoy the life in lucrative AC rooms of Parliament Lodes. These parliamentarians move in Bullet Proof cars burning the resource of the nation showing no result for the development of Nation. Dear opinion maker my request to you is that if we don not protect the rights of the citizens as per constitution the parliaments will be stormed again and again because we all know that there is no worth of a Mosque where Hypocrites worship to full fill there wrong agendas. Your analysis is biased because you are not mentioning the sufferings of the common citizens andthe reason wich brought these people to Islamabad. Why these parliamentarians do not come to the expectations of people other than the Mega demands of IK and TuQ.

Khan Sep 06, 2014 12:17pm

In a single word; "wow"

iqbal Sep 06, 2014 12:19pm

"The marching orders could also come from Caliph Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi of ISIS or some other radical leader; their literature is already being circulated around". ISIS will not come here but Pakistanis would be eager to join them in Syria or Baghdad. this is what the international community expects from us.

yasser Sep 06, 2014 12:42pm

IK is not alone in its support for Taliban. Present Govt. and its interior Minister Ch. Nisar have showed their support for Taliban and they were against any military operation against Taliban. That's why Taliban allowed them to run their election campaign uninterruptedly against parties like PPP and ANP.

think_then_speak Sep 06, 2014 12:45pm

Right on target. Thanks

Adnan Afaq Sep 06, 2014 01:10pm

Dispassionate analysis of the situation and on top of that nimble choice and arrangement of vocabulary. ..congrats!!

Parvez Sep 06, 2014 01:15pm

...and what about the 18 shot dead by the Punjab police including a pregnant lady ? When one reads a sickening one sided article by some one as prominent as not only feel sad but it raises many questions that most status quo promoting publications would hesitate to print.

Wajih Sep 06, 2014 01:22pm

While Mr Hoodbhoy's analysis is right in that we do not want anarchy in the country (i.e Syria or Iraq) after a govt is toppled, he is incorrect to assume that the govt is "elected". Not a single person within and outside the parliament has declared the elections free and fair.but unfortunately, the courts have failed to properly investigate the issue. What alternative was left to IK? Couldn't the gov have formed a judicial commision right after the elections? Why now? And Hoodbhoy's claim about KP's performance is also incorrect. The police system has been revolutionized, mobile courts have been introduced, healthcare is now free, teachers are recruited on merit and their attendance is monitored, and above all, they have uprooted corruption from the most corrupt province. So all in all, an unfair analysis.

Graham Sep 06, 2014 01:23pm

Love the authors articles but this one reads like a press release from Nawaz. He conveniently skips all events that lead to the march and uses baseless scare tactics like ISIS and Taliban themselves a CIA tool and hits the profile of IK whilst skipping over the jaded performance of current govt and our ballooning debt which is above sustainable levels. Dawn we expect better.

zeeshan Sep 06, 2014 01:23pm

I am not supporter of IK but there is a little mistake in above analysis. It is not IK or TUQ who started this trend it was Shabhaz Sharif, remember everyday he used to sit outside Minar-e-Pakistan doing daharna complaining about shortage of electricity during PPP govt. You reap what you sow!

Ahmed Sep 06, 2014 01:33pm

The moderate/liberal part of our society who are able to come to khan's dharnas and dance should at least recall khan's views about taliban: TTP doesn't want to destabilize us, they want to liberate us from USA' The problem with most people following khan is the lack of knowledge about politics. They follow khan just because he talks about change and gives looks of a rebel. P.S. I have no issue with people dancing or doing whatever they like. I am just amazed at the irony of what their leader says and does

Canai Sep 06, 2014 01:36pm

So article proves our govt is useless since violent people have taken over in past.

Secondly, the only reason why clerics were tolerated was because of NS. He was against military action.

Umer Sep 06, 2014 01:47pm

This guy reminds me of the time Imran was trying to build his Cancer hospital. 19 out of the 20 advisors who had studied the project and were "experts" said this hospital cant be made, the government cant make it how can an individual? The one that said its possible said its impossible to give free treatment. And for the past 20 years 70% of the people are getting free treatment in arguable Pakistans best hospital because of just one guys dream. Pakistan has enough resources and talent and that only if we stop these corrupt politicians from abusing it a lot of our problems can be solved and many dreams can come true, pessimism didnt help anyone and hoodboy has been one of the biggest pessimists in the country for a while.

Usman Sep 06, 2014 03:00pm

@Aamir That is called lack of delusions. The answer to change the status quo is through effort, day in and day out. Not by creating this farce.

Akhtar Rasool Sep 06, 2014 04:01pm

@Rea In APC all the parties supported Dialogue with the Taliban and also CAOS gave a clear statement that there is only 40% chance of winning war against Tliban. How can you blame IK? Has he not made some reforms in KPK?? Online FIR system, Polio free KPK, Patwari system , 216% tax collection and especially for education his services are undeniable. And it is the first time in the history of Pakistan that every political party including ruling party is saying that it was a rigged election. So why should not be some reforms and punishment for those who are involved in rigging? And above all, it is the democratic right to protest at any place in Pakistan even in front of PM House.

Ramay Sep 06, 2014 04:55pm

Mr. Hoodbhoy, you have advocated use of "limited" force to make the protestors go home from Constitution Avenue as they are violating human rights of citizens of Islamabad. Would you please like to elaborate how many residential buildings are situated there on constitution avenue. would you sir??? IK and TuQ do not condemn the abductions and killings of Baloch youths, but NS has taken up this issue in United Nations. I love the neutrality and impartiality with which you make an analysis, my respectable scientist.

Ali S.Zafar Sep 06, 2014 05:10pm

good work Hoodboy. you have exposed the conspirators who are trying to destabilise the state for their personal gains.

Tariq K Sami Sep 06, 2014 05:52pm

What about that unprovoked attack resulting in the Lahore Model Town Massacre. No FIR could be filed by the victims for over two months. The PML-N drew the first blood. The demonstrators were again attacked by massive tear gas shelling. They still refuse to go. You cannot wish it away.

Jaffer Sheriff Sep 06, 2014 06:30pm

I am a fan of Pervez Hoodbhoy who always speak truth and nothing but truth. But, however the Pakistanis mindset is averse to truth.

NASAH (USA) Sep 06, 2014 07:46pm

To think that in 2014 the Pakistan army will deliver prime ministership trhrough a coup to Imran Khan following Imran's protests, disruption of Islamabad traffic and vandalism of PTV -- is the product of an utterly infantile mind with an elephantine ego -- all because he looks so good in sunglasses on a rainy day?

mark Sep 06, 2014 09:08pm

The name of the town is Islamabad. Boy they got that right!

Ashok R.Prabhu Sep 06, 2014 10:01pm

It is high time sane elements in the Pakistani Population assert themselves and defeat the fissiparous elements from ruining the State of Pakistan,which was acquired after many sacrifices.

Zainab Sep 06, 2014 10:59pm

@Raja It is obvious that IK is doing all this because he had been portrayed as an honest politician who is the only one who can "save" Pakistan, and this portrayal has gone to his head.

Zainab Sep 06, 2014 11:02pm

@Mahalika Your observation will carry a lot of wait if you had described what part of the analysis you found to be baseless.

Ultimate Truth Seeker Sep 07, 2014 01:05am

Imran Khan strongly condemned the killings of Shia cleric in Karachi today. That for Dr. Hoodbhoy.

Aviator1994 Sep 07, 2014 01:27am

Insanity has overtaken the unfortunate country. It appears there is no sane voice left to resolve the impasse

Syed Ali Sep 07, 2014 05:14am

The author should have also discussed Imran Khan charges of mass rigging. Why PML(N) government could not get audited election to four National Assembly seats. The soul of democracy is fair and free elections.

Mohammad Fareed Sep 07, 2014 09:32am

No solutions offered to help the poor and the middle class.What are these people supposed to do.Supporting the status quo is intellectual corruption and inability to see the ground reality and lack of respect for the human dignity. Totally unexpected from a teacher of such high caliber.

alI Zombies Sep 07, 2014 01:10pm

@Mohammad Fareed Yesterday night at BBQ tonite Karachi there was heavy firing by some of the city elites against another group of elites, bth parties left and then there will never be nay action. Had there been justice in this country there would be no vacuum for the like of those in the sit ins at Islamabad. Thank God non elites who are in majority have not joined the protesting groups this time. But with the big vacuum of injustice prevailing can the likes of Hoodboys give us an impartial analysis?

Shehnila awais Sep 07, 2014 01:24pm

The author should stick to teaching physics, perhaps he's better at that than writing a political review. I fail to understand why people support a corrupt and unfairly elected government just to maintain the status quo. We need to change things now, false election results should not be accepted at any cost! If people still don't wake up, the country will be lost in the hands of selfish politicians.

Freddy Sep 07, 2014 06:43pm

I have great respect for mr parvez hoodbhoy but at the same time disappointed .what is the answer to a corrupt leadership.?ik and Tuq are at least both honest and pro masses for educating everyone and giving jobs.dharnas may be illegal but what is legal.corruption? Is it the right of just the shareefs and bhuttos to loot and destroy Pakistan?very traumatic situation.we are in the midst of deep Dead Sea.

qaisar Sep 08, 2014 05:31am

@Faisal you could ask it other way faisal. Govt should say sorry for mocking him for 14 months when he was asking for 4 constituency recheck in assembly just to make sure next election would be rigging free and then ask khan to come back to assembly. I dont understand why we tend to forget where the things actually started and who actually ignited the situation. #feudal_mindsets #arrogance of PML n.

Asim Sep 08, 2014 10:14am

An excellent article by a scholar, scientist and an intellectual. However Prof. sb missed the point of the financial support these mobs have been receiving. Sources point to Rs. 6000/day per head being paid by Mush so that he can make good his escape. None other than his lawyer Kasuri claimed the real aim of these dharnas is to ensure that Mush is able to escape.

sattar rind Sep 08, 2014 11:36am

very nice article as usual

Ashfaq Nizamani Sep 08, 2014 01:07pm

Rigging did not take place at polling stations with people. Imran is talking about stuffing the ballots with papers at hidden places by the Returning Officers (ROs) directly controlled by the then Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan. Are we living in the 21st century?