Dharna: season 2

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Hussain H Zaidi

The Khan-Qadri duo is back on the roads. On the face of it, they are protesting for different reasons. One is demanding accountability of the ruling family; the other is calling for bringing to book the people in power for (allegedly) masterminding the killing of his party workers couple of years back. Yet the undeclared target of both is the same: pull the government down.
That Imran Khan would start another round of dharnas was never in doubt. The only question was when he would choose to do so. Earlier, he took to the streets because he thought the 2013 polls were systematically rigged. While a judicial commission set aside his claim, he still sticks to his stance. Consistency is a virtue.
There is little doubt that if the Panama leaks had not seen the light of day, some other issue would have served as casus belli for Khan. Men, claim psychoanalysts, first make a decision and subsequently come up with reasons to justify their actions. If the will is strong, there is no dearth of reasons.
Khan has a penchant for agitation politics. Although, unlike in the past, he has restrained himself from quitting his National Assembly seat, he knows and everyone else knows, that parliamentary politics is not his cup of tea. He is the Shahid Afridi of politics.
One can’t expect Afridi to bat through three overs on the trot without leaving the crease at least once. He may patiently play a few dot balls. But sooner than later, his killing instincts will overpower him and make him go for hitting the ball out of ground. He may get the maximum runs or lose his wicket. Critics are free to find fault with him for his batting approach. But no amount of criticism will deter him, because this is the only way he can bat. Afridi is nothing if he is not aggressive.
By the same token, it was nothing but a sign of ignorance for anyone to have expected Khan to patiently wait for the government to complete its tenure. Zardari can do this and so can Sharif. But Khan knows only one way of doing politics: taking the bull by the horns. Call him courageous or foolhardy, brave or rash, outspoken or politically immature. It’s beside the point.
Khan has seen for himself a great opportunity in the Panama leaks. It has given him a convenient stick to beat the government with. In the wake of the prime minister’s dilly dallying over presenting himself for accountability first, as demanded by most of the major parties in the opposition, Khan has announced a march on Raiwind. His strategy seems to be simple: put the government under severe stress and force it to commit some dreadful mistake. Already the prime minister’s supporters have threatened to fight fire with fire in case their opponents take the battle to Raiwind.
The new season of dharnas can have three possible outcomes: one, they may force the PM to call it quits and announce fresh elections. Two, they may weaken the government, while it still stays in power. Three, they may make for some extra-constitutional action.
Khan is betting on the first outcome, because he feels it in his bones that his party is capable of sweeping the snap polls. He had similar confidence during the 2013 elections. It remains to be seen whether Khan will oust Sharif or his efforts will only make the establishment stronger vis-a-vis political institutions as happened in his 2014 sit-in.
Dr Tahirul Qadri, the other member of the duo, minces no words in condemning lock, stock and barrel the present ‘moth-eaten’, ‘rotten’, ‘unjust’ and ‘corrupt’ system. If he is to be taken at his word, the nation will remain in a hopeless predicament until the system is uprooted and its beneficiaries are put to sword.
However, he is not clear about the contours of the new system. With all its shenanigans and shortcomings, Pakistan is a parliamentary democracy. Should it be replaced it with a monarchy (constitutional or absolute), a khilafat, a military regime, or a presidential form of government? Qadri himself calls for an inclusive or real democracy. An excellent idea. But a country can’t graduate from sham to real democracy only through executive or legislative orders or by a change in government.
An inclusive democracy is not born; it evolves. It can’t be set up by decrees; it incrementally works out its way. Having such a democracy is not essentially a political but a wider socio-cultural question.
Then there is the economic question. Pakistan can’t be an inclusive democracy without an economic turnaround. So far neither Qadri nor Khan has presented a programme for shaping up the economy. Their only recipe is putting an end to corruption and stepping up pro-poor expenditure. But this is easier said than done. Corruption is embedded into the cultural fabric of the nation and may take a while to be contained.
Then there is the issue of resource constraint. ‘A narrow fiscal space’ is a reality that dawns upon those who enter the corridors of power.
Qadri wants to bring down the government to usher in a revolution. Khan wants to remove the government to get himself in the saddle – which in his eye will be nothing short of a revolution.
Both of them are a success story in their own right and owe their rise to the our unjust, corrupt system; both have joined hands with those who, like them, are among the highest beneficiaries of the system, and both are counting on forces which have the highest stakes in the preservation of the present system.