An Interview with Qamar Zaman Kaira


    Mob politics in Pakistan – how threatening are calls by Imran and Qadri to march on Islamabad?



    Mr Qamar Zaman Kaira is Secretary Information, PPP.

    Information ministers have the most subtle of tasks in government. A party in power can do all its homework, implement its best plans, even achieve impressive results, but spin it wrong and it will be a long time before its confidence is restored. Even then, its credibility might never be the same again.

    Similarly, even in the most compromised of situations, an able information minister is able to remind the public and party alike of the greater mission; buying time, so to speak, simply by keeping his eye on the ball.

    In the PPP government of not so long ago, which was no stranger to adversaries, controversies and agitations, Qamar Zaman Kaira was the ruling party’s straight-shooter, who’d often have to swing here and there to keep everybody in line.

    It was his negotiation skills, along with numerous cabinet old-timers, that diffused matters when thousands marched, under Dr Qadri, on Islamabad in ’13. And since a similar, if stiffer, challenge awaits the sitting PML-N government, it is to Kaira we turn to make sense of the situation.

    Q: What effect, in your opinion, does mob politics have on the political process of the country?

    A: Pakistan has a long history of mob politics. There were some public movements aimed at strengthening the democratic process, while some brought about military interventions, toppling of the governments and even resulted in bloodshed and violence.

    Political alliances that have been formed in our country’s history were also either aimed at toppling regimes or against dictatorships and restoration of the democratic process.

    Q: To what degree will the PTI’s azadi march (scheduled for Aug14) and Dr Tahirul Qadri’s anti government movement affect Pakistan’s so called democratic process?

    A: The mob mobilisation announced by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan and Dr Qadri of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) is the result of total failure, indecision, internal bickering, style of governance and thinking patterns within the PML-N governments in the center as well as in Punjab.

    All these point to the weakness of the government and not the democratic process. I strongly believe that neither Imran Khan nor Dr Qadri aim at subverting the democratic process.

    Q: How in your view should the government have dealt with the demands of Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri?

    K: It bears remembering that Dr Qadri marched on Islamabad in 2013 also, and how our government responded to his demands.

    Democracy, in my view, teaches how to deal with crises and how to listen to the demands of the opposition? We formed a dialogue committee comprising all seasoned parliamentarians, including Chaudhry Shujaat, Amin Fahim, Dr Farooq Sattar and others, who held talks with Dr Sahib and the situation was diffused. However, there is no strategy adopted by the PML-N government and rather they delayed tackling both issues – the demands of Imran Khan and Dr Qadri.

    Even cabinet ministers have been involved in their personal differences. The PML-N leadership and their ministers have ego problems and they feel talking to their opponents hurts their pride. They have even been involved in confrontation with state institutions, what to talk about the opposition.

    Other than these agitations, the government’s performance on other important issues also leaves a little to be desired. Just take the example of the North Waziristan IDPs (internally displaced persons). The government did not prepare for this problem at the right time (when ordering the operation), nor was any parliamentary committee formed to deal with the issue.

    Same was the case was with the dialogue process. First the government did not form a committee for dialogue with the Taliban and once a committee was formed, it derailed the dialogue by mishandling it.

    Let me warn the government. If political parties resort to violent anti-government activities, the situation may get from bad to worse and all the responsibility would lie with the government.

    Let’s take another issue – the handling of the Geo situation. First the government fully backed the Geo group and even its ministers got involved in a conflict with the army. Then, in a bid to block Pemra’s action against the channel, the government directed its ministers not to attend Pemra’s meetings. However, later it caved under pressure from the khakis and the transmission of Geo TV was suspended. Indecision has been a hallmark of this government.

    Now let’s come to Imran Khan’s demands and long march call. Imran had initially made a very genuine demand to the government. He said he did not want to derail the democratic process and despite his workers’ agitation, he put very genuine demands – to open at least four constituencies to probe rigging allegations. He said that he did not want a reelection but his effort was aimed at electoral reforms.

    PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari was actually the first to call these elections “returning officers’ elections”. However, just for the cause of the democracy, the PPP leadership decided to accept the results.

    Now let’s see how the government responded to the demands of Imran Khan. Chaudhry Nisar said on the floor of the house that the government was ready to open even 40 constituencies from both sides of the political divide. Now, if the leadership did not want to open these constituencies, it should not have given its word.

    The government, in my view, should have formed a parliamentary committee in the first place to help resolve this matter on the floor rather than allowing the opposition to take to the streets.

    If the government was serious about Imran Khan’s demands, it should have written a letter to the election commission, requesting to decide all the electoral disputes by holding hearings on a daily basis. Since the ECP is independent, the government should have made a request. But it did not do so.

    Secondly, in contrast to past traditions, the Supreme Court chief justice also did not take suo-motu action over the issue, despite massive countrywide demonstrations against vote-fraud. The court may have instructed election tribunals to hold day-to-day hearings and decide the matter at the earliest. However, this also did not happen.

    Q: However legitimate Imran Khan and Dr Qadri’s demands, do you think their marches can destabilise the government, or even democracy?

    A: Change in the system is the slogan raised by both Dr Qadri and Imran Khan. There is nothing objectionable about this slogan as it has been popular in the past also, and even chief minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif used to use such language in his recent election campaign.

    But there might be a dispute on the ways and means to bring about a change in the system. One may mobilise public opinion and in any elections, he or she may also win on the basis of the slogans.

    But any democrat would have reservations if anyone wanted to bring about change through violence. Violence in no way could be the harbinger of change. However, Shahbaz Sharif himself opted for violence during PPP’s government and he and his party colleagues led violent rallies against load shedding in Faisalabad, Gujranwala and Lahore.

    During those rallies, Wapda offices were ransacked and public record and furniture were burnt to bring about his revolutionary change in Pakistan.

    However, Shahbaz Sharif now wants the opposition not to indulge in mob politics. Now, what happened when Dr Qadri returned home from Canada? Police brutally used violence to negate any opportunity to the workers of PAT to welcome their leader. Even the airplane carrying Dr Qadri was diverted. This was all a planned effort by the Punjab chief minister.

    This was nothing new for the people of Punjab as police brutalities were also committed against protesting young doctors, nurses, clerks, lawyers and even against students who raised their voices for delivery of rights.

    Also, what was the Model Town incident all about? Brute force on part of the police left over 80 injured and 14 killed. There was direct firing at PAT workers and the killed included young girls. Nothing like this ever happened even during the worst periods of dictatorial rule. Such incidents of state violence don’t occur both under the worst monarchs. While such a brutal act could only be committed under the orders of chief minister himself, now the police are being used as a scapegoat.

    Q: So in your opinion, what will happen on August 14? Is the government left with any last chance to resolve the matter?

    A: Due to indecision and unwise policies adopted by the PML-N government, the simple demands by PTI have now turned into a hardened stance. The government should immediately take along all political forces to woo the opposition and dialogue should be held with both Imran Khan and Dr Qadri. Parliamentarians could be included in such a committee.

    Let me warn the government. If political parties resort to violent anti-government activities, the situation may get from bad to worse and all the responsibility would lie with the government.


    1. This man has no credibility whatsoever anyway. He is PPP's dacoit in cheif! We haven't forgotten your tenure and the public never will. PPP is a dead party.

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