Head- on collision unavoidable!

Country on a powder keg

The inevitable finally happened Tuesday, May 9, in Islamabad, but in a clumsy manner. When the chairman of the PTI, former Test pace bowler Imran Khan was bundled into an armored personnel carrier in the premises of the Islamabad High Court in a manner, which was enough to ignite the PTI supporters; given the fact that the PTI chairman has almost a devotee-like following.  The damage control by the Supreme Court might have stalled strife for the time being. However, as things stand; the deployment of the Amy, as reported in the federal capital, Punjab and in KPK; the strongholds of PTI, the non-availability of the internet services across the country; or a somewhat erratic connectivity; all strongly indicate a sort of ‘soft coup’ in place in Pakistan, with strings being pulled from somewhere. Further, the causes of unrest have not been put to rest, as they could have been.

Predictably, the incumbent government is also assessing its strengths and weaknesses. The erratic calling of a National Security Council meeting and then settling for the cabinet, indicates uneasiness in the incumbent ranks. Likewise, the summoning of the legal team, all precisely indicate that the war has not ended with the damage control exercise of the Supreme Court, rather the plot has been further complicated.

For Mr Khan and the other political stalwarts, it is high time they listen or decode what the resilient nation has to tell them. Failing which, the country can only afford to descend further into chaos and continue to perform new experiments in hybrid and quasi-democracy arrangements. As said many times, a reset of the system is necessary instead of new players every five years supported by the powers, while those fallen out of favour languish. Pakistanis need to be ’on the scene’ for a ‘Magna Carta’. Not for actions, which allow their servants, the state, to frame charges against them

Coming back to the on-ground situation, the so-called ‘regime change’ of April 2022 unleashed the PTI’s and its voter’s wrath towards the powers-that-be in a way unprecedented and unseen before in Pakistan. The component parties in the PDM coalition, the PPP and the PML(N), have been subject to interventions by the same powers several times between 1988 and 1999 and even after the exit of Musharraf from the political horizon in 2008. The Memogate, Iqama case, the Tahirul Qadri sit-in in 2012 against the PPP and the PTI’s own sit-in against the PML(N) have been thought to be quietly inspired by those very powers. The two parties discreetly protested over what they felt was the intervening powers’ encroachment over the domains exclusive to the civil order. These two parties never crossed the psychological barrier of openly accusing the powers of complicity.

However, the response to the same type of intervention by the powers in the post-April 2022 period has been unprecedented, to say the least. The reasons for that confidence; what the PTI distractors opine is due to its proximity with the powers-that-be. They feel that unplugged manner of protest by PTI in word and in action can only be imagined by an ‘intimate’ fellow of the establishment; which precisely looks convincing.

Any talk or conversation with the PTI-affiliated political activist or journalist would reveal the fact that contrary to the restraint of the PTI leadership towards radical action; the former two sections of society make no bones about their hate for the establishment. While the leadership has been talking ‘loose’ over the establishment role in the so-called coup of April 2022; it never realized the fact that it was slowly poisoning its voter and supporter base about the need to dismantle the whole system; once and for all. It is ironic to note that despite that talk, the party has never wargamed a strategy of change without the crutches of the established order.

Connecting the nodes; the scenes witnessed in the afternoon of May 9, might well be brushed off as ‘agent provocateurs’ from any side; however, it is also illustrative of the fact that the common supporter; who has been fed on the simple narrative during the last one year of PTI protest; was precisely expected to do that. The attacks on buildings, vandalism as well as outpouring of unrestrained anger; make one valid point.

The protestors declared their knowledge of where the strings are being pulled from. The equally strong worded reaction from the powers-that-be  also made one thing starkly clear, that the reentry of the PTI  in the corridors of power was impossible in the current scheme of things; unless the Americans intervene, as they did in the aftermath of the November 1988 elections between the Army and the late Benazir Bhutto.

Predictably, fearful that the spontaneous reaction of its cadre must have gone badly with the powers-that-be, the PTI leadership seems to be in a fix. Into the late afternoon Tuesday, select PTI voices, which were able to cross the barriers of an erratic cyberspace, tried their best to make a distance from the protestors vandalizing the military buildings. In properly worded statements, the vice chairman tried his best to disown the protestors; though calling for protests for the coming days; until Imran Khan is released from detention.

The emerging scenario looks like one where the public, or specifically the PTI sympathizer, has been radicalized to the limit, unseen in the Pakistani context. While on the other hand the PTI leadership is still bent upon playing by the system; courts attendance; electoral laws, pressing for elections, and so on, that dichotomy between the people and the party leadership is one point where there can be enough space for the ‘old regime’ to reorganize itself and pounce upon the forces it opposes it with greater zeal.

With a deeply divided nation, divided along political orientation, beliefs, ethnicity and tribal loyalties, there is ample chance that the radical few are further isolated with lingering FIRs, bothering them throughout their lives, as is the practice with the innocent political activists acting on impulse. The deployment of the armed units in two major provinces is geared towards a brutal crackdown of the aforementioned section of society and polity; an intent starkly reminded of in the ISPR press note.

The emerging scenario: if the current state of affairs continues, as it looks evident, it will, the political way out of the stalemate might fade away. Such a scenario means that solutions within the system will carry lesser weight for the prime stakeholders, the Pakistani nation. A politically astute nation can brave military takeovers, disappearances, single party dictatorships etc. The resort to the complete reset of the system will then be unavoidable.

Here it is important for the political forces to gauge through their grassroot nodes that people might well be fed up with the beaten track; the nuisance value of the ‘establishment’ and might want to call it a day for a return to complete democracy. That calling of the day, if not allowed within the system,  might well ask for other ways to do the same. Here Pakistani politicians had the chance to learn from the Erdogan of 2002, when he selected the evolutionary way to achieve the goal of striking the balance between the two forces governing the society. The Pakistani politicians lacked the will to challenge with courage and results are evident.

For Mr Khan and the other political stalwarts, it is high time they listen or decode what the resilient nation has to tell them. Failing which, the country can only afford to descend further into chaos and continue to perform new experiments in hybrid and quasi-democracy arrangements. As said many times, a reset of the system is necessary instead of new players every five years supported by the powers, while those fallen out of favour languish. Pakistanis need to be ’on the scene’ for a ‘Magna Carta’. Not for actions, which allow their servants, the state, to frame charges against them.

Naqi Akbar
Naqi Akbar
The writer is a freelance columnist

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