In the last few days, the honourable Supreme Court (SC), led by the Chief Justice (CJ) of Pakistan,twice ordered the clearance of Constitution Avenue. These orders went unnoticed as far as the two leaders of the revolutions were concerned. And not a minute was wasted in hurrying to the office of the army chief after Imran Khan and TahirulQadriwere summoned through a messenger.As this painful melodrama is taking an inauspicious turn,I am not sure what will form the political landscape by Saturday. Instead of predicting the future, I would like to share my opinion on the events of the last two weeks and their fallout.
Like a flood, political movements, despite causing a short-term upheaval, can bring fertility if they remain within the constraints of the legal order. If the political movement engineered by Imran Khan and TahirulQadriis examined dispassionately, we can find a mix of positive and negative effects. First, let us examine the social impact of the political mobilisation. We have seen a large number of young girls in a lively and festive mood while becoming a part of this political activity. As we have long been under the spell of a Taliban-related discourse on the electronic media, scenes of middle class females becoming the public face of a political movement can be seen as a happy break from the norm. It seems that Pakistani society has not only become more receptive to the proactive role of females but has also become more gender neutral towards the right of people having fun in public. They are, however, sceptics contend, being used as a marketing banner only as their significance in decision-making is still minimal.
The political fallouts of this agitation are quite dangerous because a very risky precedent has been established. Imran Khan quite confidently mentioned the intervention of an umpirethat finally raised its finger, as predicted by Khan and Qadri.For all democrats, the events of the last two weeks are quite disconcerting. We had wrongly assumed that after the disgraceful exit of Musharraf a democratic order had finally come to stay in Pakistan in which the prime minister would be the sole architect of public policy. Ever since Hamid Mir was shot in Karachi we had, however, been gradually witnessing thebrittle nature of the democratic order in our country. Through a section of the media, the judiciary as an institution was systematically maligned and its primal role questioned. Imran Khan took this hype to a new climax by pointing fingers at the judiciary and slandering parliament.
While the terrorists, including Punjabi Taliban, appear to be on an extraordinary long leave, the capital was made hostage by the activists of Imran Khan and TahirulQadri. Islamabad flashed back memories of Malakand and Waziristan. Just as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) established their own security check posts there, the private militia of Qadri was seen checking the cars of even judges. In speeches, people were asked to rise in mutiny against the state. Some demands were more radical evenby the standardsset by the TTP leaders. Some media channels have been playing the role of ShahidullahShahid. Many anchors speak like the judges of martial law courts where they try and summarily execute all those they dislike. Speeches asking children as little as a few months to spill their blood were relayed live day and night with no respite. The last time, when the ISI chief was accused of a murder attack, we saw how the biggest channel was punished. Now the prime minister is being accused day and night but no one is bothered.
The economy is one of the major casualties. The stock market alone has registered a loss of Rs 350 billion. International investors are very risk averse to political uncertainties. The positive impact that some recent reports by credit rating agencies had made seems to have been erased by the negative sentiment created by unruly scenes in Islamabad.
Politically, who come out as the winners and losers?In my last piece, ‘Insanity, thy name is inqilabin Pakistan’ (Daily Times, Aug 16, 2014), I had already predicted that whatever the final outcome, the prime minister as the civilian head of the country would be weakened. Both international and domestic analysts believe that the new lease of life for the prime minster will be given in exchange for Musharraf’s release and, like Asif Ali Zardari, giving the army its traditional overseeing role in matters of foreign policy, especially India, Afghanistan and the US.
While I see TahirulQadri as a major winner, I find Imran Khan to be the loser after a very tiring show. His underdeveloped oratory skills have exposed all the rough edges of his personality. Movements gain momentum as the popularity of their charismatic leaders soars. However, we saw a downward slide as Imran Khan painfully pleaded for better attendance during his evening shows. The latest polls by Gallup and Pew also reflect the downward trend in his appeal as a leader. Some mainstream media anchors, who I have always identified as the greatest heroes of PTI supporters, have also turned into outright critics of Imran Khan. Nonsensical advice given to the public regarding civil disobedience and commission of criminal offences did not help in boosting Khan’s public image as a national leader. Interestingly,SirajulHaq,the head of the Jamaat-e-Islami, emerged as a very respectable and eloquent political leader.As the melodrama is still unfolding, it is therefore a bit early to be definite as to who will have the last laugh.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org