The dharna (sit-in) politics of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) has a huge impact on the social, economic, political and psychological life of the country. The three weeks siege of Islamabad has paralysed the state’s functioning. The lives of residents of the city are in complete disarray. The country is suffering a financial loss of Rs 150 billion per day. People are feeling nauseous watching and listening to biased reporting and pseudo analysis on television channels day and night. The psychological/mental state of the people is reflected in their loss of ability to argue rationally and accept difference of opinion. Anger, anguish, disgust, depression, despair, hopelessness is the general mood of the public.
The stubbornness of the leaders of the PAT/PTI and the absurdity of the demand for the prime minister’s resignation is mindboggling. The insistence of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri to bring a revolution through a few thousand protestors in the capital is the height of political naïvety and immaturity. There is no example in the history of the world where revolution is being brought through dharnas and by putting demands to the prevalent status quo. Revolution is about transformation of the structures of power and complete takeover and control of the state by the oppressed masses of the working classes.
Both the PTI and PAT are forces of the status quo and establishment. Their fight is for a greater share of power within the existing status quo. Their rhetoric of revolution and azaadi (independence) becomes a joke in the presence of their revolutionary vanguard that includes discredited characters like Sheikh Rasheed, the Chaudhrys, jali pirs (shamen) like Shah Mahmood Qureshi, business tycoons like Jahangir Tareen and hawkish academics like Shirin Mazari, etc. Fake revolutionaries are trapped in their own maximalist demands. Stepping back on the prime minister’s resignation means political suicide for both. Therefore, they are left with no option but to continue to lay the siege for their own political survival.
The political turmoil created by the competing right wing forces of the status quo, however, is not without collateral benefits for the people and democratic process of the country. The inqilab (revolutionary) and azaadi marches have fully exposed the nature of the state of Pakistan. It is so blatantly obvious to everyone now that the military oligarchy continues to be in full control of state power. Elected governments have always been and the present one too is subservient to the army. Also, it can be discerned from the speeches of Imran Khan and Qadri, both aspirants of state power, that they were desperately looking towards the ‘bosses’ and wanted the umpire on their side to win their inqilab and azaadi. That is why, while attacking the Pakistan Television Station (PTV), slogans of “Pak fouj zindabad” (long live the Pakistan army) were raised.
However, during this political drama, there were several occasions on which the hierarchical civil-military relations were discussed in a manner that deeply embarrassed the military establishment to the extent that the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) had to issue statements reasserting the non-political nature of the army as an institution. Another collateral benefit of the political muddle came through the collective voice of competing political parties in favour of the parliamentary system. All parliamentary parties are the beneficiaries of the present political system in which they are allowed to share and enjoy the crumbs of state power. Unprecedented parliamentary unity on the issue not only isolated the PTI and PAT, it makes it extremely difficult for the umpire either to restart the game or to set the new rules of the game. The restraint on the part of the military establishment to directly intervene in the present political situation shows that the army has internalised the fact that they have to work with political forces with whom they have competing but not contradictory interests.
The successive civil and military regimes ignored the people’s needs and interests in governance for the last 67 years. People have managed to show their power through these sit-ins. Their resolve and perseverance (without judging their cause) will haunt the present government and governments to come. The fear of public accountability will go a long way to force government to bring some improvement in governance.
Similarly, the people’s agenda has also been pushed to centre-stage in the political discourse because of this public protest. There will now be an immense pressure on the ruling parties to deliver on all those demands that they would agree to with the PTI and PAT. Electoral reforms and the devolution of power to the people through holding local government elections alone would go a long way to bring some relief to the miseries of poor people.
Another benefit of dharnas for the public is that they have helped people to have a better understanding of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri as leaders and their politics. Through their incoherent speeches without any substance, both of them fully exposed themselves as extremely incompetent politicians. People have realised that both of them have no political acumen and are incapable of leading the nation. This creates space for an alternative political force that is genuinely democratic and committed to the revolution, and bringing a transformative change to eliminate power structures that suppress the people of Pakistan.
Last but not least, the public’s immense appetite for music and revelry in these dharnas demonstrated that Pakistanis are not ready for the Taliban’s Pakistan where music and dance are deemed haram (forbidden). Music in the dharna actually served as oxygen for the protestors and kept their flame of enthusiasm alive. The presence and sharing of dharna space by both men and women legitimised women’s role in politics.
My only advice to the government in office is to learn from this political fiasco. Improvements in macro-economic indicators are meaningless for people if they fail to bring direct and immediate improvement in their daily lives. It is still not too late. If the Nawaz Sharif government wishes to come out of this quagmire and complete its tenure, it should come up with a social policy with clear social development indicators and matching resources must be pledged.
The writer is a human rights activist and university professor