By Mehr F. Husain
5 September 2014
In 2007, people chanted "Go Musharraf Go!" Today they chant "Go Nawaz Go!"
How things change. But generally, there has been little realisation of the difference between expressing contention according to the situation, i.e. differentiating between whether the head of state is aggressively claiming sovereignty like Musharraf, or he/she is the result of a rotting system due to lack of political evolution, as in PM Sharif's case.
Hence, Khan and Qadri's demand for electoral reform is actually undemocratic as it involves removing the head of state and looking to the military to resolve the situation.
These three flawed players can either destroy what has been achieved politically, or ensure that from this point on, much-needed harsh lessons are taught and will not be forgotten.
But until some form of breakthrough in this deadlock takes place, heads will roll, blood will be shed, and the weak democracy that is just about flickering amid the winds of change will be put out once again.
And it will be for nothing but sheer arrogance, unwillingness, and inability to accept on the part of three men.
Qadri, an unelected cleric, calls for political reforms which involve the removal of the current leader, to be replaced by handpicked, clean technocrats.
The sole aim of Khan, an elected official, is to get the head of state to resign.
Both are apparently part of an anti-government, undemocratic agenda and rely on the military to provide relief from a supposedly illegitimate Government.
Meanwhile, the civilian Government headed by PM Sharif resorts to state violence to contain the protestors while also relying on the military to provide relief from Khan and Qadri.
Turning to the military completely undermines parliamentary democracy. The military, which hasn't forgotten the anti-Musharraf chants, strategically replied to all three with a 'sort out the political mess yourself without state violence'.
This can be regarded as a warning and means they are waiting to see if the political forces can work out a solution via dialogue.
Or it can be seen as a means to an end, whereby people who are also crying out for military intervention experience the ugliness of democracy, and thus no criticism against the military can be voiced.
Or it could be that they are waiting for the situation to explode in mass violence, thereby justifying intervention politically.
Whatever it is, the current scenario is this – Qadri has the manpower, Khan has the legitimate protest, the military who can make or break anyone are waiting, and the PM is in trouble for refusing to respect and acknowledge valid concerns.
However, what the Government does have and must respect is Parliament's support.
Despite the PM rarely making an appearance, Parliament has sided with the PML N and there is unanimous agreement that there are legitimate concerns about the elections that must be addressed, and that to avoid being ousted the Prime Minister must govern better.
His previous two stints were interrupted and for a third time in power, he must now realise what to do and how to do it. Yet there has been no sign of either.
For Khan, who leads a party that has consistently existed on a reactionary basis, there is bound to be limited success due to lack of a progressive stand.
After eighteen years, one reason for his party gaining seats in 2013 is that the PTI was viewed as the alternative to the PPP.
Khan cannot ignore the fine line between the electorate choosing you for your mandate or a means to punish the incumbent.
He needs to examine the current outpouring of supporters and his assumption of electoral victory in the next election.
An angry party leader who has formed his current persona on being competition for PM Sharif, does not amount to being the leader of a nation.
Removal of the PM is in no way going to ensure that PTI will win the next election. Nor does it promise that a Government run by technocrats will ensure Pakistan will become the utopia envisioned by Qadri. Nor will it fix an already flawed democratic system.
Yes, the weak system with its creaky machinery is frustrating, but democracy has consistently been interrupted, halting political growth.
Consequently, it is disheartening to see how eleven years of Zia-ul-Haq were tolerated, while there are calls not to tolerate PM Sharif for only four more years when it is imperative he stays for the country's sake.
Mehr F. Husain is a columnist based in Lahore