The power struggle: PTI versus PML-N


The political situation appears to be in a state of chaos right now. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) showdown is increasingly turning uglier. As the PML-N led government started arresting members of the PTI in preemption to the latter’s planned November 2 ‘lockdown’ of the capital city, the PTI upped its vitriol against the PML-N, and the resulting clashes of the PTI supporters with police officials is making ripples throughout the country. Using slogans of ‘real’ democracy and accountability, the PTI is justifying its extreme means as a necessity to overthrow what it sees as a system of personal fiefdom. And catered more towards the public watching at home than anything else, the PTI, apparently, hopes to create a media spectacle so big out of the entire episode that it would at best result in the overthrow of the prime minister, and at the least, pressurise government into taking substantial steps for the accountability of the first family in light of the charges brought forward after the Panama Papers leak.
However, what PTI is doing is inherently and glaringly undemocratic. The majority of the people of Pakistan did not vote for the PTI, and street power is no replacement for the holistic picture that a ballot gives. Even after the 2013 elections, the PTI has not been able to perform well in the by-election or local elections since then, except in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Hence, using street power as a form of coercion to get its demands fulfilled does not really match the high moral standing that the PTI itself claims to occupy.
Where the PTI is being unreasonable, the PML-N’s lack of responsiveness over the Panama Papers allegations raised over the first family also goes against democratic principles. Transparency and accountability are essential elements in a substantive democracy, and for the PML-N, merely paying lip service to democratic principles whenever it suits it without walking the talk is not sufficient. Moreover, mass arrests before any lockdown by PTI is not really characteristic of the principle of freedom of assembly that democratic countries uphold. It was Mian Nawaz Sharif himself who in 2009 led a long march, the destination of which was the capital in order to pressurise the then Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government to reinstate the judges deposed by former President General Pervez Musharraf. While that demand did enjoy wide support of the people as both the PPP and PML-N had used the issue of the judiciary to mobilise votes, the march itself as a form of protest jolted the PPP to reinstate the judges. This example shows that protests, especially in the political system of Pakistan, are an important means of getting government’s attention. Hence, as long as the PTI remains peaceful, its right to protest should be upheld. However, it is true that in case of any attempt by the PTI to forcefully lock down the city, its right to protest ceases to exist ,and then arrests by government are wholly justified.
Furthermore, all that the PML-N is showing through its overreaction is its own state of panic at the possibility of another event like the 2014 dharna (sit-in), which brought Pakistani politics to a precarious position. This should be a moment for the PML-N to introspect and to ask itself why events tend to exacerbate to this level. Surely, the demands of the PTI are not unreasonable, and adequate steps should have been taken long ago to inquire into the allegations raised by the Panama Papers. Finally, all of this chaos and instability sends the wrong signal to the international community. In the midst of heightened tensions between Pakistan and India, with frequent firing across the Line of Control, this should be a moment of a unified response, not divisive politics that risk instability. Moreover, in the aftermath of the attack on the police training academy in Quetta, the nation should have been mourning. Unfortunately, it appears that national tragedies have become so banal in Pakistan that they no longer elicit a strong response. And power games at the top do not get disrupted because of them, as they continue to be played with the same fervour.
Loss of lives on both sides of the Line of Control
Calls for befitting replies and strategical vengeance continue to whip up mass hysteria over an impending war in Pakistan and India. While cross-border skirmishes between the two armies may not be a new phenomenon, the latest series of unprovoked firing across the Line of Control has already claimed a large number of civilians and soldiers alike this year. And on both sides of the border.

It is quite unfortunate that both countries are still trying to evade peace lost in the alleys of violence even though it is 2016 and not 1947. The history of massacres that fuelled the birth of modern day Pakistan and India should have been reviewed by both Islamabad and New Delhi before wading into another spell of bloodshed. Even in the face of an incessant disagreement over the legitimacy of either’’ claim to Kashmir, a more sagacious solution could have been an elaborate discourse over respective reservations in lieu of exacerbating the already fragile peace alongside putting so many lives at risk. The fact that the last few months have not seen a single attempt — let alone a successful one — by the leaderships of Pakistan and India in downplaying the simmering tension clearly enunciates their priorities. With no apparent regard to establish peace in the region, authorities in both countries are instead interested in posturing for local audiences. Exaggerated theatrics and hate speech continue to reign supreme instead of a genuine wish for negotiation and dialogue. In their struggle to outperform each other on both domestic and international fronts, Pakistan and India have, hence, forgotten the cruciality of bilateral ties for their people as well as thousands of people of Kashmir, which each side is so obsessed with.

More essentially than ever, Islamabad and New Delhi need to let go of the previously employed tactics of bad naming and fostering resentment against each other. It is a pity that while the military and civilian leadership in both countries bluster and threaten each other from their safe houses, ordinary soldiers and even unarmed civilians are left to bear the brunt of this on-going retaliation. In last week alone, at least six civilians have died on the Pakistani side of the border whereas four including a three-year-old child were killed in India. Attacks on cattle on top of crippling infrastructure as well as mass migration from the border villages would set forth extensive and lasting damages to an already under-developed region.

Pakistan’s opposition to the perpetual violations of human rights amid unrest in Kashmir at the hands of Indian security agencies do hold great significance on moral as well as humanitarian grounds. Truly, India should increasingly strive to realise its much-touted advocacy for global peace and championship for democracy. Similarly, Pakistan’s government has not hitherto gained any success in mitigating India’s reservations with regard to the role of non-state actors in the present state of affairs. Only if both countries sit together and discuss all obstructions against restoration of peace, they can carve out a plan to act against their respective warmongers. Pakistan and India both claim victimhood during the on-going exchange of fire while accusing the other of initiating violence on the boundary.

We appeal to the prime ministers of both Pakistan and India to de-escalate conflict by replacing this heated rhetoric with calls for peace to honour the fallen soldiers and civilians across the Line of Control. On both sides.