By Faraz Jehangir
Managing Director, Spearhead Research
Islamabad has always been a relatively quiet city despite being the capital of Pakistan. Quiet for an average outsider visiting the city for a day or two or just passing through. The people of Islamabad seem to have their own small groups for socializing and for an outsider, it takes a bit of time and effort to get into one of them. It’s a common joke in Lahore, the city that never sleeps, that as soon as the sun sets, “Ullu boltay hain” (owls start hooting) in Islamabad. A bit of an exaggeration but Islamabad does look a bit deserted as most people there are professionals who work in offices and need to be at work on time, something very different from Lahori culture where dinner is served at midnight in the middle of the week and work starts at noon… its a city of trade and business.
But do not be fooled by the superficial quietness of Islamabad. Under the blanket of this lull are hidden the screams and shouts of “political power traders” which are louder than any fish market or more stressful that any stock exchange trading floor. Here the future path of our country and its people is designed and plotted on daily and hourly basis. Here the political giants and their egos are satiated with diet made from human fodder. The future of our children is compromised and sold to keep the political wheel spinning (direction of the spin is irrelevant). It helps democracy evolve — evolve in to what we are all waiting to find out.
Ever since PTI staged their dharna (sit in) in Islamabad to bring PML-N government down, it has now become a popular means to show political street power and cause a paralyzing effect on the state machinery. Getting a crowd to populate these dharnas is a piece of cake provided the dharna organizers have the money to feed the cake to the mostly workless youth, who are always more than happy to make a few bucks for sitting, vandalizing and getting some free meals without making much effort. Media feeds and breeds on political unrest and such events are covered minute by minute to keep the “work resistant” population glued to their screens. Every citizen watching these brain vaporizing tele-transmissions feels as if he is contributing to the national cause and helping democracy become strengthened. The question is, is the democratic institution actually evolving into a more robust and internally stable entity that can serve the ever increasing population of our beloved country? Do such political power tactics help the democratic institution?
If we ask a pro-PTI citizen to justify Imran Khan’s long duration extended dharna, he will have all the reasons and justifications. Most common being that Imran Khan did it for national interest and for the people of Pakistan. That IK is honest and doesn’t need to be doing this as he already has everything… And it will go on and on. Ask them about all the promises that PTI made to the public and how they have made “U-turns”on most of them and again the blame will be put on the past governments corruption and poor governance. Though Imran Khan did try to go through the proper channel and system to have his grievances and reservations addressed and only after failing to get a fair and proper response did he resort to street protests and engage in civil disobedience acts. So, we might say that his dharna was for a cause bigger than himself.
Later street protests by some short lived religious political “cult”political parties, also tried to pressurize the elected governments and abused their right to protest by turning their protest violent and acted against the people by damaging properties worth millions. The state was finally forced to use force to contain and control these illiterate minions, but many citizens felt that state let them down and a crackdown should have been conducted before all this damage was caused. Some people think that delayed action was intentional to expose the true nature of these protestors and their leadership to ensure public had no sympathy for these hypocrites pretending to be defenders of the faith.
Fazlur Rehman, leader of JUI-F, is an opportunist who thrives on political weaknesses of other political parties and their leadership. On his own, apart from some nuisance value he doesn’t amount to much. He likes to use and he doesn’t mind being used for political gains. As a politician he is pretty much exposed and carries a huge baggage of allegations of all sorts from his political rivals. He has not done much for the people and apart from enjoying positions of power in almost every past government, using power for personal gains and (as per his political rivals) building personal assets through misuse of his political power.
Fazlur Rehman’s latest misadventure in Islamabad to get resignation of the democratically elected Prime Minister was miscalculated and senseless. Fazlur Rehman, for the first time failed to achieve his usual power objectives under PTI government. He lost all his privileges and was asked to surrender state owned assets that he was illegally holding on to. In short, Fazlur Reham has tried to exert pressure by forming an alliance with all the other political party heads who are under arrest or are under investigation on various charges. Although PML-N’s backing Fazlur Rehman was not that shocking, but seeing PPP top leadership standing obediently behind Fazlur Rehman was actually sad. It showed the desperation of the party or rather the desperation of party leadership to save themselves by sacrificing their own party. The alliance of course was short lived and within hours PPP and PML-N gradually fizzled away from the protest and Fazlur Rehman. PTI remained confident and did not show any signs of weakness or panic throughout this protest. All the rumours of a third force behind this dharna also fell flat on the face. Is this the start of the end of Fazlur Rehman’s political career? It seems so and those who aligned themselves with him too have exposed their own political decline.
It seems Fazlur Rehman has had his final fulguration and now an extended period of darkness shall fall upon him and his party. This may also prove to be a blow to the dharna practice, as last two dharnas have proved devastating for the organizers.
Civil-military relations seem to be fine for now as Imran Khan is ensuring to keep the military leadership onboard on all critical issues. Military too seems to be comfortable with the current government’s modus operandi. A smooth working relationship between civil and military is very important for our democracy to progress. Political institution needs to identify its own weaknesses and faults and build a framework that helps it improve itself. There is no magic wand and there seems to be no shortage of challenges for Imran Khan from within his party or outside the party. Maybe we are seeing some political evolution here. Not exactly the way we had imagined under Imran Khan but something like that. It’s a decades old mess that needs to be cleaned up. One can hope that PTI will learn from its mistakes and experience.