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Now or never

 

 

By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times, August 29, 2014

 

It is now or never, say the proponents of the protests led by Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri, voicing support for their leaders’ demand that Nawaz Sharif step down. They believe that the British era elitist model of governance that only suits the politically and financially mighty ones has outlived its utility. It is a system they decry as anti-poor, and hence their six demands. In a dramatic way, Imran Khan ruled out any compromises on the issue of Nawaz Sharif’s resignation in a Wednesday evening appearance before the press and his supporters. We will not get justice as long as Sharif is prime minister, he said.

Over our dead bodies, say the PML-N ministers. As of Wednesday evening, the Sharif camp still sounded sheepish, pretending all was well. That was also manifest in Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s visit to China.

The elder Sharif did the pro-democracy chest-thumping in his own way. Addressing the National Assembly Wednesday afternoon, he thanked all his allies and said the collective resolution in support of the current system reflected “the triumph of a vision… which is not about individuals… governments come and go, prime ministers come and go, but principles of democracy and the constitution stay.”

It was only this much that Nawaz Sharif could say. And he has only to blame his own party stalwarts and advisors for this because:

a.   the course of events since March 17, when the police gunned down at least 14 protestors in Lahore, history has proved that the PML crowd of advisors is expert in surrounding themselves with crisis.

b.   the strident behavior – as demonstrated by a few ministers and the Sharifs themselves – suggests that the ruling party lacks a crisis-preemption vision and works at best more as an exclusive interest group than an inclusive political party committed to the ideals of democracy and public accountability.

c.    the party functions largely in a state of denial wrapped in a contradictory conduct ie it runs down opponents as power-hungry miscreants who it says peddle unconstitutional and illegitimate demands. But the party then turns this position upside down when it does engage the same miscreants in dialogue and “conceded to five of the six demands”.

d.   The party denies mischief but then has to endure a more or less consensus voice from amongst political supporters who do agree that elections are usually rigged.

As these lines went to the press, two major hotels in the capital hummed with intense consultations among leaders of MQM, PPP, and other parties. A few hundred meters away, PTI leader Jehangir Tareen’s home hosted several interlocutors too. Increasing alignment among all of them sounded like this: the prime minister occupies the biggest responsible position and this position demands sagacity, magnanimity and preemptive approach.

How would you sacrifice and magnanimity translate in your view, I asked a leading MQM leader?

This is the subject of our consultations. All we conveyed to the prime minister is that a state of denial wont work any more, he said. The present situation has triggered an economic crisis, created a political stalemate and might degenerate into a security crisis if Dr Qadri in particular refuses to budge from his demands, including the registration of the case for the June 17 killings and the resignation of both the Sharifs.

Besides the consensus on the issue of the FIR, the need for the vote audit, and the electoral reforms, most parties have increasingly converged on “sacrifice by the prime minister.”

Former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani also spoke his heart out as hectic consultations went on to diffuse the crisis. “They had raised hell against me and never mentioned or appreciated the supremacy of the parliament then. Still, we have now sided with the system,” Gilani told a private TV.

Responding to Sharif’s statement in the National Assembly, Gilani said that asking for investigating as to who is behind the crisis will not be good. “Any attempt to now run down other institutions at this moment will not be productive at all.”

They should have gone for the FIR of the Model Town incident much earlier. They cannot be selective in the application of rule of law, Gilani said.

Even the PPP is on board on this issue, an MQM leader told TFT, underlining that “while the method for change remains extremely contentious, the debilitating consequences of this method are even graver and demand a quick fix by the government itself”.

This offers both Sharif and Khan as well as Qadri a big face-saver, he said. MQM and PPP leaders also suggested that a written undertaking, signed by all political parties, should also offer a way out. It means a time-barred vote audit and electoral reforms acceptable to all parties must provide the way forward.

Most parties do agree that a violent handling of the issue will not only complicate the situation but could also polarize the PML-N from within, endangering its vote bank. This limits Sharif’s options.

Where do Imran Khan’s hopes lie? In the fast changing demographics. The young generation (15 years to 39 years) – those born in Pakistan off parents born in Pakistan – is free of the British colonial influence altogether and can be helpful in bringing change – moving from thinking to action, because they are more attuned with concepts such as inclusive democracy and the supremacy of rule of law.

Khan’s supporters reckon that the younger generation of 14 years and below needs a more strategic inclusive vision that caters to and facilitates the implementation of the ideals of democracy. They need to be filled with the hope for a better Pakistan running on law and merit, independent of familial dynasties.

The hopes for the Sharifs are likely to diminish even if Nawaz Sharif sails through this crisis. The likely resignation of the younger Sharif will deprive the party of a glue that has held Punjab together through his autocratic style of governance. Putting others in the driving seat also restricts Sharif’s space for maneuvering and party management. So, even if the crisis ends sooner rather than later, the political system will end up bruised, the economy battered and the PML-N fissured.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk