When hype meets reality: the great climb-down
Things not shifting, General Headquarters as silent as the Sphinx, and Raiwind rattled but not fallen, the genius with the gift for the tall statement, Imran Khan, has had to back down, the civil disobedience call a clumsy camouflage for this open retreat.
His long march is over, his present dreams shattered, although being who he is it won’t be long before he assembles another set of dreams. But whether anyone will take him seriously when he next rants of change and ‘naya’ Pakistan is a different matter. When you tilt at windmills there is a price to pay.
I feel sorry for his supporters, especially those coming from afar and having to camp out in the open. What have they done to merit such treatment at his hands? Hopefully Imran will have learned something from all this, although doubts must remain heavy on this score.
Allama Tahirul Qaqdri has been left high and dry in all this. His supporters are organised and dedicated and will do what he tells them. But on his own he can do nothing. Imran and Qadri together could have managed a bigger display of fireworks. But Imran’s problem is that he wants all the glory for himself. He virtually ditched Qadri when he set out from Lahore and would not have cared a hoot if there had been bloodshed in Model Town. It was the Allama’s quick thinking that got him to Islamabad sooner than Imran’s disorganised supporters. Or he would have been left trailing behind their chaotic caravan.
The Allama too now will have to beat a retreat. Of all the operations of war an organised retreat is the most difficult to carry out. The Allama will manage it because he leads a more disciplined force and his powers of persuasion are great. But after all the hype about a national government of democratic reform he too loses face and standing. But this will be nothing compared to what he will lose if he decamps to Canada again.
If he remains in Model Town he can become a force to reckon with. The coalition he is a part of – along with the Sunni Ittehad Council, the Majlis Wahdatul-Muslimeen and the remnants of the Q League – has the potential to become a powerful political force. But only if he burns his boats and forswears the more salubrious climes beyond the oceans.
Anyone seeing his followers – men and women – cannot fail to be impressed by their commitment and discipline. On two dharnas and so-called long marches the Allama has already taken them. He must think carefully before embarking upon another Russian campaign. His sit-in he should now call off because his passionate cadres have gone through enough. When setting off for Islamabad the Allama said he was ready for shahadat. His shahadat is to remain in Pakistan. That is the least his acolytes deserve.
Among the liberati and sections of the media it has become a fashion to berate and ridicule the Allama. But he is a learned man and a gifted orator and he has spent a lifetime educating his followers. The kind of Islam he espouses is the kind that Pakistan needs, away from the violence-laced extremism of the hard-line Sunni sects. He has given a political voice to moderate Islam. This is a positive development.
This crisis even if it is on the verge of fizzling out has conclusively demonstrated that the PML-N and the PPP are two faces of the same coin. Imran Khan’s PTI now joins this distinguished company. It is now just another contender for power, its image as a party of change badly dented if not discredited altogether by its ill-conceived adventurism.
The PML-N remains in power but it is a badly-wounded party, its leadership shaken by the turbulence of the last few weeks. Will it learn something from its troubles or will it be business as usual, government continuing to be run like a family enterprise? The PML-N leadership has been in and around power for the last 34 years. It is not easy to cast aside old habits. The discomfiture of its opponents may even have the disastrous effect of confirming it in its sense of infallibility.
In the events unfolding before us there was a real danger to democracy, with the threat of military intervention, hidden or open, looming on the horizon. That threat has receded. But for the system to become more stable and less prone to shocks as administered by the long marchers and their sponsors – yes, their sponsors – governments both at the federal and provincial levels have to perform better and deliver more. For the PML-N the lesson should be that flyovers and roads are no substitutes for tackling the root causes of maladministration.
Let’s not also forget that the ghosts of the Model Town killings still hover over the national scene. Fourteen deaths can’t just be wished away and this case, the registration of which has been ordered by a sessions court, will continue to haunt the ruling party.
On the question of sponsorship it is relevant to ask whether Qadri and Imran were on their own or whether they were foot-soldiers in a sponsored charade. If it was sponsored we must wonder at the collective intelligence of the sponsors. What were they really aiming at? What were they hoping to achieve, the government’s ouster or its course correction? Nawaz Sharif was already a diminished figure because of the mishandling of the Musharraf trial and the position he took in the media civil war – I am being careful – which erupted soon thereafter. If not the ouster of the government and the formation of some kind of an interim arrangement, what were the sponsors getting at?
Or were there no sponsors and Qadri and Imran had set out on their adventure on their own? In which case, one must question their collective intelligence.
We must be clear about one thing. No forced political change has ever occurred in Pakistan without the support or role of the spy establishment. What exactly was its role in this crisis? Or did Qadri and Imran assume things that did not exist? A PhD thesis is waiting to be written here.
But when this research paper is compiled let not one thing be forgotten. Ill-fated as these marches were, the ground for them was prepared, the path for them delineated, not by the foolish leadership of the PTI but by the workers and dedicated cadres of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek. The latter stood up to the brutality of the Punjab police and in Islamabad and Lahore put the police to flight. The Punjab government was inclined to use strong-arm methods to deal with Qadri. But the government’s confidence was undermined by the resoluteness of PAT workers. If it hadn’t been for them there would have been no long march out of Lahore.
In our national life there is a lack of discipline and organisation. There are, however, some political and religious entities which have developed discipline in their ranks: the MQM, the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Jamaat-ud-Dawah and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek. We may not subscribe to their philosophy but their organisational capacity compels admiration. I am not swayed by Allama Qadri’s philosophy but when I see his charged and dedicated supporters, young girls and boys, caring not for their ease or comfort but willing to undergo privation and suffering at the command of their leader or for what they take to be a larger cause, my eyes, and I am not exaggerating, fill with tears. All honour to them then and may the angels speed them on their way.
Tailpiece One: With apologies to Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, it would be in the fitness of things if Zaman Park were now named Jurassic Park.
Tailpiece Two: Thinking that the marches would deliver a fatal blow to the existing order – otherwise they made no sense – I predicted the government’s demise, events proving me to be utterly and unforgivably wrong. For this I cover my head in ashes and to Ali Hajveri’s tomb I propose to go to beg forgiveness for my sins…and lapses of judgement.
(Faint-hearted as I am, I have completely misread Imran’s civil disobedience call. Far from signifying any backtracking, it amounts to raising the tempo. The situation is getting more serious. The Allama is also raising his demands. Things are playing out according to the master script.)