After the march

Published May 27, 2022

FORMER prime minister Imran Khan either ‘ran away’ from Islamabad or made a temporary, strategic retreat. It depends on the political lens one wears when viewing the events of yesterday. Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that there is little that was natural about the sudden and quite belated realisation that struck Mr Khan on Thursday morning. Given the thrust of his recent speeches, full of sound and fury as they were, it was strange to hear him concede that going ahead with the sit-in may “take the nation towards anarchy”. After all, his caravan had proceeded from Swabi to Islamabad, with little regard for the many hurdles erected by the government to stop it along the way. His diehard supporters had braved roadblocks as well as the Islamabad and Punjab police’s liberal use of force that included tear gassing to make the ‘Azadi march’ a reality. Why did the kaptaan suddenly feel compelled to declare early? Was it the realisation that the crowd he had expected never really showed up? Or was it something else? A missive, perhaps, from brokers he has been keen to hear from? It is difficult to say.

There were a couple of interesting developments immediately after Mr Khan abruptly departed from Islamabad. The Supreme Court, asked to hold Mr Khan in contempt, instead took quite a magnanimous view of his failure to stick to the terms of an agreement the august court itself had brokered a day earlier. The government, which had complained sharply of being ‘tied up’ after the court had first intervened in the matter a day earlier, was understandably miffed. Many have complained in the past that Mr Khan has been shown too much favour by state institutions. That same complaint predictably followed the court’s decision yesterday.

Later, the government pushed through important amendments to election and NAB laws through the Lower House. The PPP and JUI-F had previously suggested that an election could be held once these laws were passed. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif subsequently referred to the possibility of an election, inviting Mr Khan to engage in talks but also making it clear that only parliament would decide when the election would be held. This seems like a chance for all to save face. If Mr Khan takes up the offer, both the PTI and the government may just be able to get what they want. It will, however, be up to Mr Khan to take the more difficult step. He has persistently displayed a stubborn unwillingness to resolve any dispute through dialogue and diplomacy. He must realise that this is not how politics works, and certainly not the way to succeed in a modern democracy. He cannot continue to desire the privileges of power but decline their attendant responsibilities. This crisis needs to be resolved soon.

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2022

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