Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Islamabad: As Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri continue their D-Chowk sit-in, Parliament is beginning to flex its muscles to, in the words of ANP’s Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, “get over with it.”
So far, Parliament has advised the government to wait patiently for the sit-in to peter out. The strategy worked quite well as PTI/PAT hordes are now a threat only in the embarrassingly repetitive rhetoric of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri. Their major weapons have been naturalised: Call them Umpire, bluffers or elements in the establishment, they do not want to be seen aligning with D-Chowk wallahs even if they had some stupid script earlier. The possibility of violence is also out after the PTV-attack fiasco. The government would be totally justified to retaliate if Imran or Qadri tried that now. Basically, the protest has been reduced to a symbolic picnic-by-nightfall.
This is why the government has brought down its acceptance ratio of PTI demands from 5.75 out of six to 3. In the end, it is not moral and legal but political. After Imran missed the victory chance at his peak it is difficult to pressure the government on PTI terms of reference with a thinning crowd.
Yet it remains a problem. Bilour would not have it any longer. He said he had accepted his electoral defeat the first day he had lost to Imran Khan in Peshawar. He bounced back with a margin of 50000 votes in the by-election but never made any fuss about rigging. He suggested that the government should crack down on the protestors. This could be done by asking the Supreme Court to invoke Article 190 of the Constitution, which entails asking the military to clear the mess. Bilour thought that Imran Khan is undergoing mental depression where he sees demons in every body and every thing. Bilour is not the only one thinking about the crackdown as we hear similar murmuring in power corridors. And why not?
The Constitution Avenue remains closed with baton-wielding PAT hordes picketing its entry point. They let you go only after body search and those who get inspected include uniformed people. Shouldn’t this be the other way around? It is a disgrace as this is not happening in distant Swat where Taliban pickets had proved as the tipping point for the Army to start military operation. This is happening right before Parliament and the Supreme Court.
Parliament has reasons to be edgy. The state is half functional and Asad Omer can check out from his voters that Islamabad citizens are sick of their troubled life. Forget Zarb-i-Azb and the cancellation of the China visit, the hapless flood victims need more attention than DJ Butt playing off jazzy tunes. Also, the government is being pressured to pack off the circus before Nawaz Sharif embarks on the important UN session later this month. At stake are crucial regional and international issues with a possible meeting with Narendra Modi.
Imran is betting on a dangerous brinkmanship. Parliament hawks (largely obvious beneficiaries like ANP, JUI, Sherpao) are pushing PML (N) to accept PTI resignations. Once done, there will be no turning back for Imran Khan. He is sure to lose more members than the four MNAs who have already defected. The myth of PTI unity will be further broken if more than half its MPAs join the new KP government. It will be a big risk exposing ‘janooni’ youth to possible violence that could entail tear gas, jail sentences and what not. Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri also confront serious charges ranging from terrorism, arson, murder to incitement against state.
However, saner elements want PTI back in Parliament. We need Imran Khan to shake up the political ladder and for reforms from within. Fact remains that it is because of his sit-in that Parliament and the government got jolted. The political discourse returned to basic issues of electoral reforms, unjust administrative and judicial system and the irrelevance of Parliament.
Thanks to Raza Rabbani and Farhatullah Babar, the political discourse remained on the focal issue of realignment of civil-military relations. Babar had advised Nawaz Sharif to use Parliament instead of fighting it alone with the military, as it happened in the case of Musharraf. PML (F)’s Muzzafar Ali Shah reaffirmed that talks with military should not have to be confrontational. The best way is if we could have a joint parliamentary committee to help the military to sort it out in a congenial way. He minced no words that Parliament must rise to the occasion and become relevant by addressing the basic public issues as health, education and security. Otherwise, he warned, such hordes will keep haunting us. He definitely touched some raw nerves when he said: “we have to stop worrying about political control and devolve power through the local body polls.”
Like dharnas or not, it has made the very personifications of bourgeois duplicity talking in Marxist language. Revolutionary vocabulary is suddenly in vogue. We hear the representatives of big business, big landlords and big corporate talking about reforms. Some talked about land redistribution, others mentioned measures to lessen economic disparity and still others talked about subsidising small farmers. Teddy Roosevelt came after robber barons when there was widespread clamour against monopolies and cartels, which led to Rockefellers and Carnegies forming charity organisations. There was intense outrage against Bill Gates before he gave up his wealth for charity. Something of the sort may be required here. Where are our big philanthropists who made money not from great ideas but through written-off loans and under hand practices, aptly asked Raza Rabbani the other day?
Rabbani also asked: is the political class representing the very same elite in Parliament capable of reforming itself. We saw Nawaz Sharif taking constant notes whenever members talked about some radical suggestion. We hope he understands that the appeal of those camped outside were in such promises. The only way to neutralise them is to think on these lines - and fast. If he does not do it, somebody else will. Or so believe a huge chunk of our masses. It is a make-or-break situation, depends on how Nawaz Sharif sees it.