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#4636, 1 September 2014

Af-Pak Diary

Pakistan: Crouching Democrats, Hidden Khakis
D Suba Chandran
Director, IPCS

It appears that the biggest threat to democracy in Pakistan is its democratic leadership, that too the elected ones. Ongoing developments in Islamabad clearly highlight the problem – all in the name of democracy and revolution, but through un-constitutional and violent means.

One can discount the politics of Tahirul Qadri; he is a “visiting” politician with a Canadian passport, whose politics and love for democracy and revolution in Pakistan is seasonal. How then must one describe Imran Khan’s politics? And Nawaz Sharif’s response (or the lack of it)?

Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party (PTI) is no-longer amateurs; they have been in politics for over a decade; partaken in elections, and after the 2013 polls, have even formed a government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Why is he trying to wreck the political process?

One explanation could be his patience quotient. Perhaps, he now believes that his time has come to become the next prime minister of Pakistan. He appears to be on a ‘now or never’ approach and is unwilling to make any compromise. There has been a pattern to his demands since the beginning of this episode; what started as a rigging issue (in the 2013 general election in select constituencies) with a demand for recount of votes has slowly evolved into nothing but the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

One is unsure, whether Imran Khan would agree to Sharif stepping down at this moment. He would like nothing short of him being appointed as the next prime minister. This is politics of opportunism.

The second explanation could be the lack of intra-party democracy within the PTI and Khan’s leadership qualities to listen to dissent. Is there a consensus within the PTI in terms of pursuing a democratic approach to dethrone an elected government through sheer blackmail? The differences between Khan and his party President, Javed Hashmi, is a case in point. According to a Dawn news report, “He (Hashmi) said the core committee had unanimously decided not to march on the Prime Minister House, but Mr Khan bypassed the decision after receiving a message from ‘somewhere’ at a time when negotiators from the two sides were about to finalise an agreement.”

Personalised politics has been the bane of the politics in the sub-continent. Even within the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which is now at the receiving end, and those outside the crisis – the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Pakistan People’s Party –have been driven by their leaders, with less or no consideration for their “core-committees.” To rephrase Louis XIV of France, many leaders believe and act with the same sentiment – “I’m the Party.”

The third explanation could be the space provided by Nawaz Sharif’s response, or the lack of it. As the prime minister and leader of the Parliament, armed with constitutional support, Sharif failed to evolve a coherent strategy from day one to deal with Khan’s threats. In retrospect, it appears that former Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari dealt with Khan and Qadri better, politically, by engaging them. Sharif seems to have isolated himself and avoided taking any decision. He appeared to be willing to abdicate the decision-making process to the Supreme Court, the parliament and later to the military, hoping that somehow the crisis would get resolved on its own.

A final explanation for Khan’s offensive is perhaps, he is playing to a script written elsewhere by the Establishment. A section – both in Pakistan and outside consider that Khan and Qadri are only playing a match that has been already fixed by the military. Two reasons could be projected supporting this explanation: first, Khan’s decision, almost after a year, to realize that 2013 election has been rigged; and second, Qadri would return to Pakistan to launch a revolution, and then join hands with Imran Khan.

Whatever be the reasons, the real question today (as on 1 September, 2014), is what next for Pakistan?  The above explanations would easily explain what is in store. If the political leaders – ruling and opposition – would prefer not to play by democratic rules, remain opportunist and decide to blackmail the system with few thousand followers, it is setting a dangerous trend to the future of political process in Pakistan. Even if Sharif is dislodged and Khan made prime minister, it would be easier for the PML-N to return the favour.

Second, a section believes, that in fact a, coup has already taken place with the military striking a deal with Sharif that the Parliament would not interfere in shaping Pakistan’s foreign policy towards US, Afghanistan and India. Soft coup, as it is referred to, the military wants a political process led by democratically elected leaders, but the decision making, retained by the former. Of course, the Parliament can deal with mundane matters of the State, discuss, debate and even legislate, but the main issues would be silently dealt with by the military.

Whether the military would take over as result of the present crisis, is immaterial. The democrats have already done enough damage to democracy in Pakistan.

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