Long march to disaster

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Imran Khan and Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri, head of Pakistan Awami Tehreek, need dead bodies for the success of their Azadi (independence) march from Lahore to Islamabad, which began on 14 August. Dead bodies, the blood of innocent people and chaos will win them public sympathy, and increase the chances of success for their march. This is not to suggest that they will successfully topple the government. Their role is to create an environment in which the intervention of other players can be justified.

Despite efforts to appease and reason with him, the defiant Imran Khan wants to go ahead with his illogical policies, designed to create anarchy in Pakistan. He seems to have distanced himself from wise council and is now under the influence of a megalomaniac preacher. And he wants to take revenge by promoting violence, hatred and bloodshed. This policy will not only divide Pakistani society; it may also divide the PTI.

If these men had made inflammatory statements full of hatred, incitement to violence and murder in a place like Britain, they would have been arrested and charged under the appropriate laws. But this is Pakistan, where the powerful get away with everything, even when they commit treachery.

No government should allow an attack of tens of thousands of people on its capital, with the declared intention of toppling that government. In order to fool innocent people, Khan, Tahir-ul-Qadri and other anti-government leaders say it is their democratic right to protest. True, they have a right to protest, but this thin veil of democratic right does not entitle them to change a government by mob rule.

If this precedent is set — that those defeated in elections can change the government by mustering 30-40 thousand people in D Choke — then no one in future will be able to rule the country. All stake holders and champions of democracy and human rights must understand this.
Imran Khan is a former cricketer and a social worker. It would have been better for him to continue with his social work, but lust for power has blinded him. No doubt he has a charming personality, confidence and a big mouth to accuse and attack everyone who disagrees with him. He was a cricketing star and a man with a controversial international reputation, but these characteristics are insufficient to make him a chief executive of a nuclear country with a troublesome geography and important strategic position.

His politics lack wisdom and consistency; his emotionalism and irrationality have won him the title of ‘U-turn Khan’ because of his frequent political reversals. What is driving Imran Khan and Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri is not any principle or the welfare of the people, but their own injured pride and ego. In order to satisfy this ego, they are duping the innocent people of Pakistan with notions of vote-rigging.

In Pakistan’s corrupt society, it is not possible to have totally unmanipulated elections. However, all foreign observers and political analysts agree that the 2013 elections were less rigged than the previous ones. And rigging did not take place only in Punjab; it happened in all provinces of Pakistan. So the question arises: why so much agitation in Punjab and not in other parts of the country?

This appears to be a power struggle between the political elite in Punjab, which is endangering Pakistan’s democracy and its future. Khan’s demand that the government must resign is illogical and uncompromising — he is most unclear about what will take its place. He also insists that a commission be formed to investigate corruption, yet what if the commission finds Nawaz Sharif innocent? Is he going to be re-installed as prime minister? Does Khan think the prime minister of Pakistan is like one of the directors of Shaukat Khanum Hospital, who can be changed on a whim by its founder?

Well before Dr Qadri was ‘launched’ for the second time, and before Imran Khan announced his long march with the intention of toppling the government by mob power, I told a Pakistani journalist in London that in the near future, Punjab would be Pakistan’s new battleground. We were discussing what India would do under PM Modi. I said Modi’s priority is economic development, peace and friendship, but if the situation warranted, he would not hesitate to go to any extremes.

The journalist wanted me to explain this further. I said I visualised a 1970-like situation emerging, but he did not buy my logic and changed the subject. So when Punjab really had practically become a battleground, Professor Ejaz Pracha, who was present at that meeting, complimented me on my prediction, but insisted that I must have had some information from somewhere.

I want to assert that the real issue is not electoral reform or rigging in some constituencies. Khan and Qadri’s mission has many targets, and satisfaction of ego is one. Both these revolutionaries want to take revenge on Nawaz Sharif for their own reasons. Sharif shattered Imran Khan’s dream of becoming the chief executive of Pakistan, and this was perhaps his last opportunity. In the next elections, if they are held constitutionally on time, the PTI will not even get 30 seats, as people will be more familiar with Khan’s game plan.

Also, it looks as if the agenda is to prepare the ground for some other experiment in Pakistan, and it is important that Punjab is invaded or subdued for this purpose, and Nawaz Sharif ousted and defamed. What the men behind this game need to understand is that it could lead Pakistan to disaster.

No doubt the Sharif government has committed blunders, but all regimes make mistakes and this doesn’t warrant toppling an elected government. Flaws in the electoral system could be improved and relevant laws passed to ensure that in future elections, there is no rigging. But that is not the real agenda of the two revolutionaries, who want to create anarchy.

Now that the government’s olive branch and agreement to set up a Supreme Court Commission to investigate the rigging allegations has been rejected by Khan and Qadri, it is clear that they don’t want a peaceful resolution. They want chaos and bloodshed to satisfy their agenda and the government, whose first responsibility is to protect the lives and property of its citizens, must not allow them this opportunity.

Both revolutionaries and their senior colleagues should be taken into custody. The government must understand that, having started their march with thousands of people, it will be difficult to control them. A reluctant and ideologically divided police force will not be able to restrain the frantic mob.

The government also needs to understand that the army will only protect certain sensitive positions, especially those of military importance. They will not shoot at a Punjabi crowd. I know some people will accuse me of playing the regional card, but history proves my point. The Pakistan army has never hesitated to shoot Pakistani civilians in other provinces — East Pakistan, Balochistan, FATA, KPK, etc — but when they were ordered to shoot in Lahore, they fired in the air and preferred to resign. If the army is asked to shoot at Punjabi protestors, moreover a Sunni crowd, they will not shoot. The government must avoid reaching this quandary.

The government also needs to understand that, just like members of the police force and other secret agencies, soldiers have religious faith and are also influenced by religious leaders. History proves that, despite claims to the contrary, many Pakistani senior army officers had extremist tendencies and worked against army discipline.

In view of this, if these two revolutionaries are allowed to create anarchy, resulting in civilian deaths, the danger is that Pakistan will enter a new phase of civil war that will have far-reaching consequences, not only for Pakistan but for the entire region.
— Dr Shabir Choudhry