Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Islamabad Sit-in- The camel of Khan and Qadri failed to settle any way

The military has decided not to take sides. This also means that one can freely speculate about the intentions of the khakis, especially the ISI

 deviation from the series on Turkey is being made this Tuesday. Some friends want me to express my views on the ongoing dharna (sit-in) in Islamabad. I would have preferred to wait and see where all this will end, find out which way the camel finally settles. However, during dinner last evening at friend Ahmed Faqih’s place in a suburban house in northern Stockholm, I heard that Pakistan has entered the Guinness Book of Records for the longest, continuous dharna (sit-in) in history. With us entering that coveted book of records for all the wrong reasons, I suppose it is high time to express an opinion before the camel finally decides. Since this is the season of the festival of sacrifice and, of late, camels have been added to the list of sacrificial animals, I fear the camel in Islamabad may be slaugthered before it sits. The metaphorical camel I have in mind is neither the sitting government of Nawaz Sharif nor the messiahs Imran Khan and Allama Tahirul Qadri; it is Pakistan’s fragile, fledgling, impaired democracy. 
Let me say that I have always liked Nawaz Sharif’s positive approach to relations with India. I am also convinced that Pakistan’s economy is badly in need of a business-friendly government in power. Last but not least, we should give Pakistan a chance to extricate itself from the groove of cyclical military takeovers. Path dependency theory tells us that each time the military takes over, civilian democracy weakens, because when power is handed back to the elected representatives of the people after years of military rule, civilian institutions lack authority and prestige, and the elected government has to pick up the pieces once again and start laying the basis of civilian rule. I do not subscribe to the view that the Pakistan military and Inter-Services Public Relations (ISI) are the villains in this piece. I find Pakistani politicians to be a singular breed of opportunists who are democrats or even ultra-democrats when in opposition but, when in power, they behave like autocrats. 
It is therefore important that the government in power adheres to the rules of the game and, by that token, the legitimate opposition does the same as well. According to democratic and constitutional theories pertaining to the parliamentary system of government, a legitimate government is one that comes to power in a free and fair election, exercises power in accordance with the constitution of the country (the UK has no written constitution so exceptions to the rule do exist), upholds the rule of law and ensures that citizens enjoy their rights. The legitimate opposition has the right to critique the government and be ready to form the government in case the prime minister does not enjoy the support of parliament. I need not labour the point that we only partially adhere to such rules.
The dharna originated when Mr Khan’s complaints that the 2013 elections had been rigged and his demand that a recount in four constituencies as a test case should be carried out was subject to delays. It was a perfectly legitimate complaint and there was absolutely no reason for not letting the recount take place. The police action against the followers of Allama Tahirul Qadri in Model Town resulted in several deaths. It was a shocking reminder that the Sharif brothers had no idea that highhanded tactics could boomerang.
Then came August 14 and both Mr Khan and Mr Qadri came to Islamabad with their followers, pledging to bring down the government. The excessive demagogy and other antics that have since unfolded exposed the hollow nature of the opposition. However, instead of the millions Mr Khan and Mr Qadri threatened would converge on the capital, much smaller numbers of devotees took part. A steady number have remained. The military has decided not to take sides. This also means that one can freely speculate about the intentions of the khakis, especially the ISI. If you are pro-Sharif then the opposition is being aided and abetted by the khakis but if you are pro-Imran Khan and Qadri, the khakis are teamed up in the other direction: The new ISI boss, Lieutenant General Rizwan Akhtar, once wrote an article in which he argued that confrontation with India was not in the interests of Pakistan. So, to that extent he is in agreement with Nawaz Sharif. Of course, we should not forget the US that bet on all horses. I find such conspiracy theories both amusing and frustrating.
I support Imran Khan’s demand that we need a clean and transparent government. A government that has come to power by rigging elections enjoys no legitimacy. Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, invoking Justice Riaz Kayani, has recently come out in support of the allegation that Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry played a role in the rigging of the 2013 elections. Justice Chaudhry’s lawyers are preparing to take Mr Khan to court. Imran Khan is right when he says that corruption is rampant in Pakistan and this must end. He has lately been speaking of the rights of workers and peasants and of trade unions as well. I read recently in Daily Times that foreign investors are greatly discouraged from investing in planned projects. If everyone has a fair chance to market his product and talent it would result in most people benefiting. That type of capitalism is nowhere in sight anywhere in the world and, in Pakistan, we find the rich becoming richer, the middle class is bigger than before, but the poor, the sick and the old are at the mercy of charity. 
It is good that the government has accepted most of the demands made by Mr Khan but his stand that the prime minister should resign is too drastic. Let all the complaints be investigated by impeccable men and women and their findings be translated into action. If it is found that the elections were rigged in a serious manner then new elections have to be called.

The writer is a visiting professor, LUMS, Pakistan, professor emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University, and honorary senior fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. Latest publications: Winner of the Best Non-Fiction Book award at the Karachi Literature Festival: The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed, Oxford, 2012; and Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011), Oxford, 2013. He can be reached

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