By Mehr Tarar
24 November 2014
It has been 100 days, and there is no predicting when it would end. What started as a march for Azadi (freedom), and a Dharna (sit-in) for acceptance of demands has transformed -- one slogan-filled day at a time -- into a full-blown movement for change. “Change” being the keyword here. Imran Khan is all poised to set another record: have the longest-running sit-in in the history of Pakistan. Of course, there have been others, like the ones led by many Baloch to protest the “disappearance” of family members/friends, but those protests have not been worthy of much media attention. Most uncomfortable subjects aren’t. Khan’s protest has all the trademarks of topping the TRPs, bagging the headlines, giving the opposing sides’ headaches and heartaches, and keeping bigger issues on a backburner. Welcome to freedom movements, circa 2014.
It all started with the Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) demand for an investigation into the electoral results of four constituencies that saw the PTI bigwigs like Khan himself losing to the Nawaz Sharif-led Pakistan Muslim league-Nawaz (PML-N). Despite persistent demands from the PTI, the PML-N, in power at the Centre and Punjab, did not seem to be in any mood to open any sealed ballot boxes, maybe uncomfortably aware of how those boxes would become those Pandora’s boxes that would be full of much they didn’t want to reveal: bogus votes, multiple votes by a single voter, votes cast by voters who didn’t exist in voting lists, or had long been dead. Whatever the reasons may have been, the boxes remained sealed; Khan’s polite requests became loud protestations; Government remained impassive, with a statement or two by one or the other of its loudmouthed spokespersons after every protestation; the warnings got dire; and time passed. The status quo remained imperturbable, and Khan grew angrier with every act of poker-faced nonchalance from those who could-but-didn’t.
On August 14, 2014, Khan set into motion what came to be known as the Azadi March to Islamabad, and the rest as we know it is the chronicles of the capital in the last hundred days.
What will be the outcome of what Khan and his legions of supporters call a legitimate fight for the overhauling of system, and the opposing side — here that happens to be the government of Pakistan — labels a conspiracy to destroy the democratic structure of an already fragile system, tethered forever to a legacy of military dominance and shoddy governance? What will be the alteration in the “status quo” that Khan denounces in his nightly addresses? How will the system undergo a series of regulated checks and balances when there is no one to take responsibility for anything that has gone awry in a series of unfortunate events, otherwise known as governance of Pakistan in the last 67 years? Who will be the arbiter of change that Khan demands when there is absolute rigidity on all sides to even undertake the notion of accountability? Where will the march for freedom go when all roads seem to be muddied, and marked to end in a cul-de-sac of an uneasy compromise?
Notwithstanding the outlandishness of some of Khan’s statements, the outrageousness of many of his epithets (targeting his opponents) and allegations (again targeting his opponents), the arrogance of quite a few of his declarations, and the insidious simplicity of some of his demands, there’s no denying the potency of what his movement symbolises today. Being a witness to decades of military rule in the so-called democracy that my homeland is, I’ve nothing but trepidation for a demand of another prime minister’s resignation. Watching Pakistan struggle on the low index of development, I’ve little sympathy for prolonged sit-ins, marches, rallies, where much time and resources is spent on nothing but clichéd promises and much-heard admonitions. I wish for the PTI Dharna to end because I would like to see the fight move to the halls of parliament. But there is the quiet Pakistani me who endorses a great deal of what Khan and the PTI stand for — notwithstanding the difference in the presentation of our views.
I wish for a new Pakistan. But I wish for a new Pakistan through a democratic process, not anarchy. I wish for transparent accountability into all that has been siphoned from Pakistan’s treasury. I wish for all who harmed Pakistan’s sovereignty and writ of state brought to justice. I wish for nepotism to make way for merit. I wish for clean elections. I wish to see new faces in parliament working to legislate a new government order. I wish the musical chairs of power in the same hands to end. I wish for all black money to be accounted for. I wish for a Pakistan that is for Pakistan. And I wish for that Pakistan through the vote. The cracks have appeared. The awareness is simmering. The passion has been kindled. And despite the numerous brickbats, the credit of it all goes to Imran Khan. Now I will vote for change once the term for this government is over. Constitutionally. In 2018.
Mehr Tarar is a freelance journalist.