IT has been more than a month since Imran Khan led his ‘independence’ march to Islamabad. The evening crowd at D-Chowk is getting thinner. The speeches have become increasingly mundane and their harsh tenor betrays growing frustration. The hopes and promises have turned into desperation.
Had it not been for Tahirul Qadri devotees camping on Constitution Avenue the show would be much poorer. Still, there is no sign of the kaptaan giving up; he would rather take the fight to the bitter end. The risk is high and the options limited. What next for Imran Khan?
Indeed, unlike in cricket, there is no ultimate winner or loser in politics. There is no such thing as victory and defeat in this power game. One lives to fight another day. But mixing cricket with politics has surely not been a good idea. Imran Khan’s imperious self and gross miscalculations have proved to be his biggest undoing.
He keeps raising the stakes while he could have easily won the day with the government conceding to the demand for electoral reforms and the re-auditing of votes. With his irrational actions and arrogance, Imran Khan now risks irreversibly damaging the political future of his party that has impacted the country’s politics so deeply, mobilising the educated urban middle class into a formidable political force.
Mixing cricket with politics has surely not been a good idea.
To be fair, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s campaign against corruption, dynastic politics and absence of rule of law has struck the right chord with the vast majority of the populace. It was the main reason for such a large number of the electorate reposing their trust in what they considered an alternative to the established parties that had failed the people. But what has always been lacking in Imran Khan is a clear vision of the change he promises.
His rants have increasingly turned into empty rhetoric. Imran Khan’s views on critical political, social and economic issues are inconsistent with his slogan for change. His political outlook is much more conservative, seeking to take the country backward. His stance on militancy and the Taliban reflect a twisted worldview. He may have the charisma but he is certainly not the material that leaders of change are made of. His recent actions bear testimony to this fact.
For sure, the PTI’s latest campaign has shaken both the government and the opposition parties out of their deep slumber in a situation where there’s growing public disenchantment with the present political order. The sit-in in front of Parliament House for more than a month is itself a unique feat in Pakistan’s political history. Consequently, parliament has been reactivated to bring political forces together to save the system.
But the ongoing protests have also exposed the political immaturity and opportunism of the PTI leadership. The party seems to have based its entire strategy on the hope or maybe some kind of assurance of intervention by a third force to oust the Sharif government. Unsurprisingly, a feeling of triumph was palpable when the army chief entered the scene to play the role of arbiter. But the moment was short-lived.
Perhaps, the PTI’s biggest miscalculation was the illusion that it could mobilise a tsunami with hundreds and thousands of people storming Islamabad. But it turned out to be a disappointing show with only a few thousand supporters joining the march that started from Lahore on Independence Day.
In fact, the month-long sit-in in Islamabad has not had any impact on other parts of the country. Imran Khan’s appeal for countrywide protests received little response. There were only a few small gatherings of party loyalists in upscale districts of Karachi and Lahore. The appeal for civil disobedience and the call for non-payment of taxes and utility bills became a joke. Only a few party stalwarts refused to pay toll on the Peshawar-Islamabad road and some upper-class supporters were seen arguing with restaurant managements for charging GST on the bill.
The decision to resign from the national and provincial assemblies barring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has proved to be the biggest blunder that has not only divided the party but also increased its political isolation. The party has been left with virtually no ally. It would have served the party’s cause much better had the PTI fought its battle for reforms inside parliament too. Instead, Imran Khan declared the entire parliament to be a “den of thieves”.
Yet parliament demonstrated more maturity while standing behind the elected government; it also extended a lifeline to the PTI by supporting the demand for electoral reforms. It is also because of the urging of the opposition parties that the resignations of the PTI legislators have not yet been accepted. But that cannot be delayed for long. Sitting out of the assemblies would make it more difficult for the party to get the required legislation for electoral reforms passed.
A consensus seems to have emerged on all issues raised by the PTI except for the demand for the prime minister’s resignation. The party could have claimed credit for that and worked to consolidate its position. But it was not to be. Imran Khan seems to be in a hurry to wrap up the present dispensation and force early elections. What he is trying to do is to create a state of anarchy. And it is certainly not so difficult given the collapse of the government’s authority anyway.
A dysfunctional administration in the capital has already provided a free hand to the protesters. The latest incident when Imran Khan got his detained supporters released from police custody is a testimony to that. A growing power vacuum will surely invite extra-constitutional intervention and maybe that is what the PTI is pursuing. It is a dangerous game that may end in complete disaster. The solution of the crisis lies in democracy, however flawed it may be, and not outside the system.
The writer is an author and journalist.
Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2014