By Meriam Sabih
May 10, 2014
In January 2013, Dr Tahirul Qadri, author of a renowned fatwa against terrorism, held Pakistan’s capital hostage for several days while making a categorical litany of demands that had to be met within 15 minutes by the government “or else”. It was a four-day-long drama but the crowd of 25,000-60,000 remained remarkably peaceful.
A similar carnival is coming to town again.
This time not only does it feature Dr Qadri and his followers, but the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Shiekh Rasheed and the Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JI) alliance as well. It’s a peculiar bunch but that is often what makes the carnival more appealing – one exuberant theatrical performance after another.
Dr Qadri will now compete with Imran Khan’s egocentric diatribes and JI’s eulogies for terrorists. Who will outdo the others? Will the various leaders be packed into one air conditioned bunker as their followers blister in the heat? Will each require their own bomb proof, bullet proof, make up bunker? In either case, we are in for lights, camera and lots of action.
Most importantly, we are awaiting the outcome. Will democracy stand at the brink of derailment? In a dramatic end, will part of the crowd save face at the last minute and will there be hugs all around? Last year, we held our breaths when Dr Qadri demanded his followers raise their hands and pledge an oath to not leave the confines of the dharna (procession) until he permits.
We saw women and children camping outdoors through cold temperatures, rain and hunger. But thankfully, within hours of the negotiations, Dr Qadri had developed a renewed fondness for all of Pakistan’s political parties – including those whom he had dismissed as “thieves”. He had thanked and signed the Islamabad Long March Declaration with the same person he called Pakistan’s “ex” prime minister, whose arrest he and his followers had demanded just hours ago.
This time, an unwavering Imran Khan has announced a battle against firoun (pharaoh) himself. We already see slogans of “we will fight” along with Dr Qadri’s calls on Twitter for martyrdom, and the likes of a dramatic revolution that may trigger the “permanent end to the powers of the rulers” are much talked about.
Imran Khan believes the legal system has failed him. He claims that the former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, whom he once praised for his bold decision-making skills, should be tried under Article 6 for being a “traitor”. Riding on the wave of the current displeasure against Pakistan’s biggest news agency for its allegations against the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), he claims that they, along with the returning officers and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) – which apparently swept the elections, gaining an overwhelming majority – maliciously planned a massive conspiracy to steal the elections from PTI.
However, he doesn’t stop there.
In a speech to his party workers, Imran Khan goes on to blame the West, celebrities, the mafia and all those in the nation who don’t agree with him, albeit secular or religious. It seems only inevitable that he may next indict fate itself, not just for the rigging but his inopportune fall as well. In a recent interview he called for the revival of jihad against all such above mentioned forces.
Isn’t that what the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan is for?
Had he been successful in opening their offices in Islamabad perhaps he could better consult with them on how to collaborate to fight a jihad against the media, liberals, parliament and judiciary of Pakistan. Perhaps another conspiracy?
Though no one is quite sure what will ultimately satisfy Imran, his justification for the dharna against Pakistan’s “false” democracy is that he found the Parliament depressing and deemed it unfruitful to go to the courts after not getting his way. In both the parliament and the court, there is no hoopla, fanfare of screaming girls or banners soaring with the wind. The thrill of the cricket match in which there is an ecstatic crowd cheering him on is missing. Perhaps he also misses the last few days that he was confined to his hospital bed and could not campaign.
The ‘cricketisation’ of democracy would entail quick justice, a clear winner and plenty of public displays of indignation. Such is required for the sensibilities of a former cricket star living in the fast lane, not a refined politician who must bear the ugly and often boring route of democracy.
In clear defiance of the Taliban’s threats, the people of Pakistan came out in large numbers on May 11, 2013. For the first time in their history, Pakistanis saw a peaceful transfer of power from one government to another; a remarkable landmark achievement for which Pakistan earned universal praise.
Yes it was not perfect but the question is, does it mark an important milestone towards a better future or a “black day” in its history?
For Imran Khan, that black day marks a day of rigging and massive conspiracy against his party. For Tahirul Qadri, it is his second attempt to overthrow the system itself. For the JI, perhaps, it marks a confused day in which “martyr” and civilian were at odds. For Shiekh Rasheed, it’s a reason to overthrow the present government and call for midterm elections.
Clearly it is a democratic right to rally, foster support from their base and even play the game of politics to gain relevance, especially at a time where there is much infighting within parties such as the PTI. In the meantime, it seems the PMLN has caught onto the cricket match and has decided to celebrate their one year rule on May 11.
Nonetheless, it is of concern that civil debate is being stifled in Pakistan. In a disturbing trend, PTI followers and grassroots leadership continue to display disturbing photos on social media that praise Osama bin Laden as a martyr and Malala Yousafzai as a drama. But how much can social media memes, rallies that resemble rock concerts and Twitter trolls help you if you are simply lacking substance to your arguments?
Furthermore when leaders such as Imran accuse the former chief justice of Pakistan of being a traitor, it sends a message to simply excommunicate those who don’t agree with him, with little evidence (similar to the media trial he rightly decries) and aims to silence the rest.
It’s about time Imran Khan began listening to the saner elements within PTI. Democracy takes hard work and time to flourish. Yes, there is a lot to fix but it should be done through legislation and rule of law. Let’s hope we see Imran Khan prove his worth as a legislator to his constituency, instead of crying over one-year-old spilled milk.