Take the third umpire’s advice seriously
A small problem that could have been resolved easily has been turned into a national crisis. It is often said that to understand complex issues one should go back to the root-cause of the problem. The current political crisis began with Imran Khan’s very reasonable demand of investigating four selected constituencies for rigging and taking corrective action for the shortcomings. The government logically asked for the same number PTI’s won constituencies to be investigated, and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) readily agreed. Unfortunately, there was no concrete development on the issue, which led the PTI to stiffen its stance, ultimately asking for the prime minister’s resignation, mid-term polls under a reformed election commission, and punishment for those responsible for rigging in the last election.
The government was worried about investigations revealing irregularities in the four constituencies, which could lead to calls for mid-term polls as the legitimacy of the set-up would be called into question. However the crisis has led to exactly that situation and this could perhaps have been averted had the government taken positive actions before. What’s been interesting is the changing narrative of the government, which claimed it was not authorised to investigate the four constituencies after Chaudhary Nisar, the federal minister for interior, agreed to opening “40 constituencies” in the national assembly. However, as the crisis peaked, the same government proposed asking the Supreme Court for forming a commission to investigate the allegations of rigging, while there were also proposals of bringing “Ordinance” to open up the four constituencies initially selected for audit and verification by PTI.
The government was worried about investigations revealing irregularities in the four constituencies, which could lead to calls for mid-term polls as the legitimacy of the set-up would be called into question.
Certain quarters claim that atleast some of the four key ministers, Speaker National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Federal Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique, Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal and Federal Minister of Defence Khawaja Asif, did not wish to let their “victories” be examined and as such used their influence to push the PML-N government to a harder line by selling the above narrative.
It wasn’t as if the pressure of the campaign regarding four constituencies by PTI was sufficient to bring matters to the current boiling point. If we recall, things were actually looking quite comfortable for PML-N until that fateful incident of Model Town. Operation Zarb-e-Azb was announced, differences with the military were substantially reduced, public opinion was against protests during such an important operation, PTI had already announced cancellation of its Bahawalpur Jalsa and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) was also de-escalating. Then somewhere, someone decided to “teach a lesson” to Dr Qadri and set an example for the opposition. However the operation at Minhaj-ul-Quran cum PAT secretariat to remove barriers backfired and gave blood of unarmed civilians to the opposition. From there on, the anti-government movement gained momentum culminating in Azadi and Inqilab marches.
That momentum should make one wonder how the opposition lost steam going into the marches. PAT was always going to be the determined religious cult beefed up by Minhaj associated youth workers. It was PTI who was deemed the bigger player, the game-changer on its own. However, over the past few days what we’ve witnessed, though unprecedented in terms of the determination and zeal shown by PTI supporters, has left many surprised by a less than expected show of power by PTI. So let us examine what exactly went wrong?
Firstly, the administration lacked planning and organisational communication was minimal, if any. Several PTI’s office bearers left Islamabad on the 15th owing to lack of even basic arrangements, non-presence of party representatives/organisers and no-communication from the party command as to the expected arrival of the main procession led by Imran Khan. A prime example of the mismanagement was that despite the extreme weather forecast, the organisers didn’t bother to arrange for even basic and cheap items like umbrellas, which would not only have protected the participants from elements but also provided shade and sense of safety. Furthermore, post the infamous intra-party elections, the losing party workers who are in majority as only one of the five to ten contestants won, feel disgruntled. This majority was not taken on board or reached out to. As a result they didn’t attend or work for the success of the Azadi march nor did they ask their supporters to do so.
Certain quarters claim that at least some of the four key ministers, Speaker National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Federal Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique, Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal and Federal Minister of Defence Khawaja Asif, did not wish to let their “victories” be examined.
Against all mainstream analysis and despite all the internal setbacks and unprecedented failure of march organisers, Imran Khan’s own determination, resilience and charisma has done wonders in not only getting a very decent number of supporters out but motivating them enough to stay on the streets. Most analysts believed that PTI’s supporters were too soft to stay on roads for long and that too in extreme weather conditions. However, the determination of highly motivated PTI cadre has been no less than PAT’s religious zealots.
This whole situation, however, has serious implications for the country. The pride and stubbornness of the government has resulted in missing key moments for resolving the conflict. For fourteen months PTI kept asking for audit of just four constituencies which was ignored, and the deadline by Imran Khan during Ramadan was also brushed aside. They also failed to capitalise on Imran’s initial weak show in Islamabad. PTI has since gained much of the lost ground. Khan has now repeatedly stated that he won’t accept anything less than the PM’s resignation. The negotiations ended in cruel joke when the government suddenly decided to put up containers and IG Islamabad was transferred for allegedly refusing to use force on protestors.
While PML-N rightly states that majority of the parliamentary parties are on its side, this stalemate virtually melting down the economy cannot go on forever. If this situation is not resolved amicably, the army will intervene which may even lead to wrapping up of the whole system. The responsibility for such a disaster would lie more with the incumbent government as not only does it have the power, authority and responsibility, but also more at stake than the protesting parties. It should therefore act more magnanimously to accommodate, rather than ridicule, PTI and PAT. Letting loose its own workers would only exacerbate the situation. As the “third umpire” recently said, let sagacity and maturity prevail.