Who Is Behind The Captain’s March? – Aftab Siddiqui

Imran Khan is a national obsession. The man keeps Pakistanis engaged with whatever new idea he chooses to focus upon. The nation’s good spirits have been with him since he first dazzled on the cricket field, and have stayed with him as he pulled at heart strings building a cancer hospital in his mother’s memory and more recently thundered and railed over politics and the need for change. 

His determination is legendary – once he focuses on an issue he invests all his energy and reputation on achieving his aim. Historically, a constant in all his previous endeavours was a similarly committed team of friends and volunteers playing under his captainship. These players shared his vision and carried out the groundwork for his ultimate success. 

The task he has now undertaken – to overthrow the current government and call fresh elections in Pakistan – is probably the biggest challenge of his life. In order to understand the main impetus behind this decision we have to analyse the central characters influencing his judgement today.

Dr Tahirul Qadri, a moderate Islamic scholar, veteran politician Shaikh Rasheed Ahmed and the oligarch politicians, the Chaudhrys of Gujrat are the unholy troika that has made Khan change his party’s principled decision to accept the results of the 2013 elections and form a PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Collectively, this troika has less than 10 seats in the National Assembly and a very long running political feud with the PML-N. 

The troika on its own has no political or public support to push its agenda to regain power. Behind the scenes it has tried to enlist the support of other parties to help destabilise the government but without success. Recently, however, they have engineered to convince Imran Khan to accept their captainship. In the process, Imran Khan has handed over the PTI’s hard-earned mandate, squandering the sweat and blood of the party workers who worked for and sacrificed their lives for the party and more importantly, for him. The PTI, now at the disposal of this troika is more of a lame duck than a game changer – its promises of the 2013 election campaign forgotten, its vision for KP and Pakistan neglected. 

The PTI’s new taskmasters are not committed to a political or democratic ideology – their aim is to be part of a sitting government. Any government will do and as such they have served as prime minister, chief ministers and held key positions in parliament in all types of setups. Interestingly, they have never mobilised forces against any unelected and undemocratic government. Captaining such turn-coat, match-fixing players has lost Imran the moral high ground the nation and particularly his voters had come to expect of him. 

Imran has also squandered opportunities. The PTI had an electoral mandate to run KP with the freedom to deliver a promised ‘tsunami’ of social and political reforms; implement the PTI’s manifesto in the province. Any other political party would have used this great opportunity to turn KP into a pinnacle of public welfare good. 

Meanwhile, the PTI was handed complete control of KP, a chance to prove its mettle and establish its credentials. Instead, the party has chosen to expend its energies and talents in furthering the self-serving goals of feckless men rendering the possibility of a landslide victory in the 2018 elections ever remote. The PTI could have chosen to provide real leadership in KP by focussing on progress which would have made the task of lobbying for and implementing election reforms and other crucial measures far more achievable. Imran would have shown how a peaceful, democratic, legislative route and soft power could be used for the advancement of his party’s agenda and the nation’s good. 

It is now some days into the Azadi march. The evolving situation may give lawyers like Sharif Uddin Pirzada and others an opening to re-enter the game. They may devise new schemes to provide legal cover to an unconstitutional ouster of an elected government. The last time they provided legal cover to Musharraf’s technocratic takeover, their black magic like legal manipulations were widely derided – both locally and internationally. 

If the current situation leads to legal tampering of the constitution the PML-N may not go down without putting up its own strong show of public popularity. It may elect to bring its own ‘Pakistan Bachao’ march to Islamabad. This could lead to huge public disorder. Under Article 245, the army has to assist civilian administrations to maintain public order and safety. However, the army will be brought in kicking and screaming; it is reluctant to step into the fray and moreover is wary of Imran’s unpredictable politics and habit of dishing out unfounded accusations in every direction. He has recently criticised all the major players who helped the PTI’s cause over the years. 

For instance his accusations against Jang/Geo. The channel’s ‘Tabdilli Ko Vote Do’ election message helped position the PTI as the only credible party capable of bringing change and progress to Pakistan. Some may argue that this slogan encouraged millions of Geo viewers to vote for new forces rather than the tried and tired old guard. Fakhuruddin G Ebrahim, then chief election commissioner, a person of impeccable integrity has also been the focus of Imran’s undue criticism although, remember, Imran initially supported his appointment. 

The judiciary in general, along with the then chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, has been branded as major players who teamed up to rig the elections. However, Imran conveniently forgets the fact that it was due to his demands that the judiciary accepted a role in conducting the elections.

That leaves the army as the only institution not yet named as a party to the 2013 election results. If the protests degenerate into a public disorder situation – when the red zone area is breached or rival groups come face to face – the army will find itself under tremendous pressure to intervene. This is sure to generate further criticism and public rebuke from Imran possibly provoking his followers into a dangerous, destructive cycle.

The most likely situation is that the government will continue to ignore Imran and Qadri’s protest. Other institutions of the state will continue to operate within constitutional limits and chosoe not to interfere. In such a situation as sit-ins drag-on with no end in sight , the only lever in Imran’s control will be to submit mass resignations of the PTI government. This will be a high price for PTI voters to pay who will have effectively found themselves aiding and abetting a troika whose only goal was to topple a sitting government. Disillusioned voters will never believe in the ‘Tabdilli Ko Vote Do’ slogan again. 

The PTI must honour the social contract with its voters to value the mandate given to them – to work as a government and to raise the standard of living of common Pakistanis. 

If this social contract is broken it will be the biggest disservice to Pakistan by any political party.