Has Khan Boxed himself into a Corner?

IK (Credit: worldtribunepakistan)
(Credit: worldtribunepakistan)

Islamabad, Aug 20: The political soap opera being currently played on the capital’s stage is getting more melodramatic. The story is unfolding strictly according to the script in this season of ‘revolutions’. It begins with the march on Islamabad. Now we are into the second episode: the storming of the ‘red zone’. What next? Breakdown of the order and entrance of the arbiter. There is little suspense about the ending, but the next episode is going to be critical.

If not macabre, at the very least the situation is bizarre. Imran Khan came to storm the citadel of power and destroy the old order, but may have killed his own and his party’s political future in the bargain. He is trying to rock the boat that may sink him too. His call for civil disobedience followed by the decision to resign from the assemblies is a high-stakes game that he may never win.

Imran Khan seems to have boxed himself and his party in a blind alley with no exit. One wonders if there is any logic behind this apparent madness. How can a leader of a major political party be so thoughtless in his decisions — decisions that not only threaten the entire system but also politically isolate him and his party?

He may be strictly following a prepared script, but the situation seems to be getting out of control. Can there be a new twist to the story? One is not sure. We still have to wait for the end of the political stage show gripping the capital. It may not be too long now, with the fast unfolding situation.

The support of parliament is still the biggest strength for the prime minister provided he wakes up from his slumber

Away from the screen and the 24/7 hysteria, it was a different story on the ground at the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s dharna. It was not even remotely close to the ‘massive sea of humanity’ as projected by party leaders and some television commentators. Over the next five days, it turned into a part-time dharna with the protesters reassembling in the evenings — almost corresponding to prime time TV viewership — to listen to the unending rants of their leaders with the blare of song and music in the background. The atmosphere was more festive than charged with revolutionary zeal.

The disconnect between the leadership and the audience could not be more obvious. While the leaders would return to the comfort of their place of residence after the end of the late-night dharna sessions, those who came from other towns were left to spend nights in the rain. It was a chaotic setting for the struggle that promised to deliver change.

Just a few minutes’ walk across the road it was a completely different milieu where Qadri is staging his separate dharna, a round-the-clock vigil with leaders fully integrated with the cadres and the crowd much bigger and more organised and disciplined.

What has been most impressive is the huge participation of women and those who are surely more ideologically motivated. Qadri’s support comes largely from the educated lower middle class. It is a mix of religious and political following. Notwithstanding his highly questionable background such dedicated support is remarkable.

A powerful demagogue, Qadri has upstaged Imran Khan with his more radical pitch. He proclaims himself a revolutionary in the “cast of Marx and Lenin with a strong Islamic shade”. His ‘revolutionary manifesto’ presents the outline of a ‘utopia’ where everyone will be equal. In contrast, what has been lost on the kaptan is that politics is not a game of cricket. Not being in electoral politics Qadri has nothing to lose, whatever the outcome of this confrontation.

But most intriguing has been the complete disappearance from the scene of the prime minister, regarded as the villain of the piece. He has not emerged since the Aug 14 Independence Day ceremonies where his glum expression was most noticeable. He is occasionally seen in the news in a huddle with his brother. His seems to be getting more dysfunctional in the face of the Khan/Qadri challenge. The suspicion of the military backing the anti-government marches seems to have compounded his inertia.

His decision to set up a Supreme Court commission to investigate the allegations of fraud in the last parliamentary elections is not only too little too late, but may not even be implemented because of some legal and constitutional hitches. Both Imran Khan and Qadri have closed doors on any offer for talks.

A new political alignment is emerging as the threat of the winding up of the system becomes real. All major political parties have closed ranks as the country descends into chaos. Even the Jamaat-i-Islami, the PTI’s only political ally, is not willing to support its decision to quit the assemblies and call for civil disobedience.

The destructive politics of the PTI seems to have given Sharif some space to regain his initiative. The support of parliament still is the biggest strength for the prime minister provided he wakes up from his deep slumber. But it may already be too late. His options are running out as he gets more deeply mired in the turbulent waters. Even support from other political forces is not much of help. The balance of power is already shifted to Rawalpindi.

Once again Pakistani politics has taken a unique twist just when a feeling had crept in of a return to the democratic process. Whatever the outcome of the last episodes of the melodrama, it has broken that slow reassurance amongst most Pakistanis. This confidence, important both for citizens and our image internationally, has been broken by the kaptan leaving deep scars on Pakistan’s already bleeding politics.

The vacuum created by the confrontation would inevitably be filled by horsemen already in the saddle. Sharif is paying the ultimate price for his hubris, ineptness and more importantly for his conflict with the military. The sound of the boots is getting louder, pushing the country deeper into a state of uncertainty and instability.

The writer is an author and journalist.

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