The politics of Imran Khan and Dr Tahir ul Qadri

My latest column for Express Tribune published under the heading: “Imran Khan, Tahirul Qadri & a dharma”

Pakistan’s electoral system is far from perfect. Like most other state functions, electoral laws and practices need to be reformed. In a democracy, this is to be undertaken by the legislature and through a multiparty consensus. The allegations of rigging since May 2013 are all too familiar. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which garnered 19 per cent of the total votes(and fewer seats in the National Assembly) has been crying foul of ‘massive rigging’. Now exactly after a year of elections, and quite cynically exercising power in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), the party is launching a protest through a sit-in in Islamabad. Concurrently, another self-styled reformer, Dr Tahirul Qadri, is also launching a protest against the ‘system’. We all have serious reservations about the ‘system’ but the alternative provided by Dr Qadri is vague as well as populist.

These two protests come in the wake of recent tensions between the civilians and the military. Given Pakistan’s history, the PTI’s protest and the return of Dr Qadri from the safe environs of Canada are termed being ‘sponsored’. It is difficult to ascertain the veracity of this perception. However, the timing of these protests against the credibility of a parliament — of which the PTI and its leader, Imran Khan, are part of — is somewhat problematic. This time the responsibility of rigging is being termed a collusive project of the ruling PML-N, the judiciary and the largest television network, ie, Geo Tv.

The timing of PTI’s protests raises several questions. In the first place, why wait a year to challenge the election results? Why form a government in a province, become part of the assemblies, and then choose the street agitation route? Most importantly, despite the lapse of a year, substantive proposals were submitted in the National Assembly by the PTI to improve and fix the electoral system? It becomes even more intriguing that one agitated party is challenging the legitimacy of last year’s election results while the other, led by Dr Qadri, is questioning the rationale to have a parliamentary democracy itself.

Making matters more complicated, there is little or no interest by the PTI, as the second largest political party, to scrutinise the performance of the PML-N’s one year in office. Imran Khan and his party are also not offering any idea of how well they have performed in K-P compared to, say, the PML-N or the PPP. Take the case of local government elections, which according to the PTI’s manifesto, were supposed to take place within 90 days of assuming power. How has the PTI behaved any differently from the PPP or the PML-N by delaying these elections when it has used the rhetoric of local service delivery, justice at the doorstep and anti-corruption reform time and again?

These questions lead to the skepticism over the method and timing of the protests. While thePTI cadres are all excited about another show of force in Islamabad, others are worried what this political instability means for the country. The civil and military pillars of the power matrix don’t appear to be comfortable with each other. Media freedoms are under attack. Pakistan is inching towards a pariah state due to the growing cases of poliovirus and the alarming statements of the World Health Organisation that Pakistanis would need vaccination before travelling abroad. Terrorism has not vanished nor has the insecurity among the public.

This behaviour by the political elite is not too surprising either. We are quick to blame the military for its interventions in politics and for its perennial engineering of the political system. But should the politicians not answer for their apparent lack of interest in the democratic project? What has stopped the PML-N to open parleys with its foe — the PTI — and attempt a negotiated settlement? And why is Imran Khan not learning anything from our history where such confrontations create even more space for the ‘third force’ to intervene?

The PTI’s strategy to mount pressure on the courts is also a result of populism that has influenced the notion of ‘justice’ in Pakistan. The last few years have witnessed courts responding to, or engaging with, the media and taking up causes to placate the ‘public opinion’. A few judgments have also stated that expectations of the people are a factor in adjudication. This has created an opening and the PTI is only using that lever. Of course, this is not what the courts may wish to — and should not — deal with.

Hypothetically, the success of Dr Qadri’s mission would be the end of the current system of parliamentary democracy. Is that what Imran Khan wants? Definitely not. So this may be a calculated risk to augment pressure on the Nawaz government and in the process, endear the segments within the establishment that are annoyed with the government. As a short-term strategy it may work, but it is ultimately going to interrupt or even reverse the democratic transition that commenced in February 2008. Unlike Dr Qadri who has no real systemic stakes, the PTI must chart its course with caution. It should be focusing on the next election and push for electoral reforms and transparent methods of balloting rather than wasting its energies on populist, risky adventures. Neither a midterm election nor a coup d’état guarantees that the PTI will be in power anytime soon.

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  • khalid ayaz khan

    It was perhaps May 1997, I was sitting in the office of Malik Rizwan, the then Additional Deputy Commisioner Gujranwala as I had recently joined as Extra Assistant Commissioner Gujranwala, that suddenly the front door of office and a young man with scholistic bearing entered. He had a file in his hand harbouring the subject ‘ FLOOD PLAN 1997″. Someone told me that this Sh. Raza Riaz, Assistant Commissioner Wazirabad. This was my first indirect interaction with Mr. Raza who was on the way to become as Raza Rumi. But after few weeks you moved to Murree and our occasional and utterly formal encounters in official meetings ended. After many year it was only through electronic meadia appearance that I recongnized that Raza Rumi is actually our Raza bhai as I also belonged to same KAKASIAN clan as you maternally belong to. I used to follow you shows first on Capital TV and then on Express Chennel. Suddenly that sad and abominable incident took place. It was very shocking that attempt on the life of that brain was made that was not only glut with reason but also balanced through and through. The only tilt or bias that was visible in your talks and discussions was love of homeland and supramacy of Constitution and upholding of human liberties and freedom guaranteed by the book. Alhamdulillah, Allah Paak saved your life for the benefit of your immediate family and the distant family of your admirers. It really heartening that you are going to shift from Islamabad to an official residence that quite close to me. May be some day we may exchange pleasantries face to face. May Allah keep you and your near and dear ones within His guarded precints.

    khalid ayaz

  • khalid ayaz khan

    It was perhaps May 1997, I was sitting in the office of Malik Rizwan, the then Additional Deputy Commisioner Gujranwala as I had recently joined as Extra Assistant Commissioner Gujranwala, that suddenly the front door of office was opened and a young man with scholistic bearing entered. He had a file in his hand harbouring the subject ‘ FLOOD PLAN 1997″. Someone told me that this is Sh. Raza Riaz, Assistant Commissioner Wazirabad. This was my first indirect interaction with Mr. Raza who was on his way to become Raza Rumi. But after few weeks you moved to Murree and our occasional and utterly formal encounters in official meetings ended. After many years it was only through electronic meadia appearance that I recongnized that Raza Rumi is actually our Raza bhai as I also belonged to same KAKASIAN clan as you maternally relate to. I used to follow your shows first on Capital TV and then on Express Chennel. Suddenly that sad and abominable incident took place. It was very shocking that attempt on the life of that brain was made that was not only glut with reason but also balanced through and through. The only tilt or bias that was visible in your talks and discussions was love of homeland and supramacy of Constitution and upholding of human liberties and freedom guaranteed by the book. Alhamdulillah, Allah Paak saved your life for the benefit of your immediate family and the distant family of your admirers. It is really heartening that you are going to shift from Islamabad to an official residence thatis quite close to that of mine. May be some day we may exchange pleasantries face to face. May Allah keep you and your near and dear ones within His guarded precints. khalid ayaz Reply – See more at: http://razarumi.com/?p=6552#comment-296195