On November 6, former Prime Minister Imran Khan wrote a letter to Presideonsnt Arif Alvi to invoke the powers of the President as the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces to address certain issues of the abuse of power and violations of the Constitution. In the letter, Khan raised several questions, but two of them invite immediate attention. First, under what law could the two army generals hold a press conference, which was immensely politically charged? Second, what are the legal boundaries of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), which is otherwise meant to be an information office for defence and military issues?
Whether President Alvi could take any action or not is a different thing, but merely questioning the authority of the Army to hold a press conference and challenging the jurisdiction of the ISPR to perform a function more than an information office are quite unprecedented in this country.
Whereas Khan’s several political claims are doubtful, one thing is clear: Khan is determined to contest the limits of the Army and its attendant offices. This is one of the main reasons the multitude are found stirred into following him. The main chunk of his followers is the youth, which is inspired not only by revolutions overthrowing the sitting governments but which is also fed up with the conservative traditional way of life, be it related to family, society or politics. Hitherto, it is apparent that the old-school of politics is dying fast. Populism is venerated because it pacifies curiosity about finding something new one day.
Pakistan is changing rapidly. Restrictions to suppress views may not work. Voices of dissent may not be muted. Khan is right in saying that “no person or state institution can be above the law of the land.” Further, custodial torture and abductions carried out with impunity by any state institution are unacceptable. The law of the land is equal for all and equally applicable to all sans any exception. A time is reaching swiftly when the shackles of “sacred cows” will be removed.
Precisely, it is not that Khan’s followers are becoming anti-state; it is that they are refusing to surrender their rights to the state institutions. They want to protect their sovereign rights from any infringement. These people are becoming averse to the coercion of state institutions and loath to the culture of intimidation. It is a common finding that the state institutions work to suppress the people’s voice while the civil governments remain a silent spectator. The gesture of indolence and inaction cannot last long. It is about to be over.
In 2018, an artificial push to Khan’s political party, the Pakistan Tehreek E Insaf (PTI), existed. Nevertheless, one of the major attractions for its voters was the hope of demolishing the confines of traditions, whether these persisted in society or politics. People got fascinated with the PTI’s electoral vow to wipe out the boundaries of the Governor Houses and to turn the Prime Minister House into a university. Though these promises remained unfulfilled, the idea such promises encompassed– to change the system– still reverberates with the masses. One way to express the change was to replace traditions with modernism; the other way was to redefine the boundaries of the state institutions. Apparently, even today, the PTI followers, who are swelling in number, are still dreaming of the “change”– a famous but forgotten slogan– though without naming it.
Defiance entails its own strength. Interestingly, the GT road has brought both Khan and Nawaz Sharif together. In August 2017, while leading a rally from Islamabad to Lahore, Sharif raised the famous slogan of “vote ko izzat do” (respect the vote’s mandate). In November 2022, Khan is in fact raising the same slogan, though couched in different words, in his Long March from Lahore to Islamabad.
In the letter, Khan touched a raw nerve when he wrote: “We have been seeing a massive abuse of citizens at the hands of rogue elements within state organizations, including custodial torture and abductions all carried out with impunity”. The point is this: who can disagree with this statement? None, perhaps. There are state organizations, which are after writers, journalists, free thinkers, and any persons who tend to raise their sovereign voices. Ending the letter, Khan requested the President to “act now to stop the abuse of power and violations of our laws and of the Constitution, which ensures the fundamental rights of every citizen”. Taken together, the afore-quoted statements are imbued with implications, as these carry an appeal to the youth of the western half of Pakistan. Besides, Punjab is revolting and that irreversibly. The proponents are the youth.
All those who dislike the state’s intrusion into the socio-political sphere are following Khan. The haters are from various walks of life, perhaps deserting different political parties. The same factor means that Khan’s version of “vote ko izzat do” is bound to survive for years to come, making the PTI a force to reckon with. It is apparent that Khan is raising the country’s political temperature; his followers also demand so– to give vent to their feelings. The emerging situation indicates that Pakistan is changing. Pakistan did not change in 2018, when the PTI raised the slogan of change to reach the corridors of power. Pakistan is changing now. People are getting aware of their rights.
The Kakul graduates are losing their relevance. Making and raising warmongering songs and sentimental nationalistic orotundity cannot serve the purpose. The youth, educated mostly from private educational institutes, demand something cultured and concrete. Neither reverence nor terror of the uniform is inhibitory.
Precisely, it is not that Khan’s followers are becoming anti-state; it is that they are refusing to surrender their rights to the state institutions. They want to protect their sovereign rights from any infringement. These people are becoming averse to the coercion of state institutions and loath to the culture of intimidation. It is a common finding that the state institutions work to suppress the people’s voice while the civil governments remain a silent spectator. The gesture of indolence and inaction cannot last long. It is about to be over. The major respite the Wazirabad incident has offered to the incumbent government is to halt the advance of the long march. The Center might be thinking that Khan is taking along a mob to enter Islamabad, but the Center is overlooking that anti-traditionalists have been supporting the march. Whether the march is successful or not is a different thing, the march has become able to infuse the sense of individual rights in both marchers and bystanders.
In short, Khan’s letter to the President holds lasting implications. The letter represents the thought of the masses, the awakening. It is yet to be seen how the President responds to the letter.