The Qadri-Imran Joint Enterprise – S Iftikhar Murshed

Martin Luther, the German theologian whose writings inspired the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, also believed uncompromisingly that “God would prefer to suffer the government to exist no matter how evil, rather than allow the rabble to riot no matter how justified they are in doing so.” His support for the status quo was remarkable inasmuch as some years earlier, he had been condemned as a heretic and an outlaw by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and excommunicated by Pope Leo X when he published his ‘95 Thesis’ against the sale of papal indulgences.

In a peculiar way the Lutheran concept of government is relevant to the political turmoil that has ravaged Pakistan for the past several weeks. When I mentioned this to a PML-N stalwart on Friday, he responded with thoughtless spontaneity that the rebel priest had enunciated the essence of constitutional democracy for which national stability is indispensable. It would have been futile to remind him that Luther had expressed these views at a time when absolute monarchies and an assortment of princedoms defined the political structure of Europe. The republican age, with its emphasis on constitutional government, was born several centuries after his death in 1546. 

The PML-N insider admitted that the government had fallen short on its promises and could even be accused of incompetence. But it was, nevertheless, democratically elected and commanded a comfortable majority in parliament. It could only be removed prior to the completion of its term through a vote of no-confidence as stipulated in Article 91 (5) of the constitution. The alternative was chaos.

Citing Luther he said that the government would never ‘allow the rabble to riot.’ He also conceded that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief, Imran Khan and the leader of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek, Tahirul Qadri had not violated any law in calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and, furthermore, they were at liberty to organise rallies. But these had to be within the parameters of Article 16 of the basic law which postulates: “Every citizen shall have the right to assemble peacefully and without arms, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of public order.”

Despite this, the protests and rallies have been anything but peaceful. More than 500 people have been injured, three have lost their lives and government property including the headquarters of the state-owned television channel have been vandalised in the three weeks that Islamabad has been occupied by a few thousand PTI and PAT supporters. The confidence exuded by the PML-N heavyweight that the demonstrations would not be allowed to degenerate into mob violence proved shallow. Chaos has reigned supreme. 

The inability of the government to enforce its writ even in the federal capital has had hugely deleterious consequences. The presidents of Sri Lanka and Maldives have already cancelled their visits to Pakistan, and, on Thursday private TV channels reported that the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping from September 14-16 had also been called off.

The reaction of the government on the media reports was pathetic. Even on a matter as important as this, conflicting statements were made by the top functionaries of the state. The Minister for Planning and Development, Ahsan Iqbal sarcastically congratulated Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri for derailing the visit, the prime minister’s adviser on national security and foreign affairs stated it had not been cancelled but could be postponed, and, hours before the news was carried by the electronic media, the Foreign Office spokesperson said that the visit was still “intact.”

The cancellation or deferment of these visits brings into focus the extent of damage that Messrs Qadri and Khan have done to Pakistan. The country is being progressively quarantined and isolated by the international community. The economic fallout has been disastrous. During President Jinping’s brief stay in Islamabad, approximately $32 billion in project assistance for crucial sectors of the economy was to be finalised. One can only hope that the visit actually materialises. 

Though it is too early to accurately quantify the damage the ongoing disturbances have caused, Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan issued a statement on August 25 saying: “The current protests have paralysed Pakistan’s economy and the direct losses to the economy have reached up to Rs800 billion while the indirect losses have amounted to several hundred billion.” 

The sharp decline in the exchange rate, which currently stands at Rs103 against the US dollar, has raised Pakistan’s external debt by Rs350 billion and has also resulted in a sharp increase in the cost of vital imported goods. Furthermore, the confidence of investors, both local as well as foreign, has been shattered, and, according to the commerce minister, “they have lost Rs450 billion in the Stock Exchange.” In this period, foreign exchange reserves fell by three percent to a paltry $13.9 billion.

The moronic occupation of Islamabad’s Red Zone by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri along with an unimpressive number of their supporters was not inspired by any starry-eyed ideal. It was prompted exclusively by their selfish ambitions. This was laid bare by the erstwhile PTI president, Javed Hashmi when he disclosed earlier in the week that Imran Khan believed that he had the support of the army to topple the PML-N government by the end of September and this would enable him to become prime minister.

The immediate and firm rejection by the ISPR about any such game plan and the reaffirmation of complete support for the democratic process should have come as a rude awakening for Qadri and Imran. But they have still not abandoned their insidious machinations that have wrought such havoc in the country. The two have much in common. They are opinionated men who believe that they and they alone are capable of saving the country from its myriad perils. Both are self-righteous yet they have enough skeletons in their own cupboards to fill a graveyard.

Imran Khan has based his agitation on the claim that last year’s elections were massively rigged but what he has never conceded is that most of this was pre-election rigging and that it was his PTI, the PML-N and the religious parties that were the major beneficiaries. This is because the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan did not allow the PPP, ANP and the MQM to run election campaigns due to their stance against the terrorist outfit.

The son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was kidnapped by the TTP as he was about to address a small election rally in Multan and his whereabouts are still unknown. According to the ANP leader, Asfandyar Wali Khan, 61 of his party activists were ruthlessly slaughtered in the run-up to the elections between March 30 and May 11, 2013.

In contrast the PTI and the PML-N campaigned vigorously through the entire length and breadth of the country – from the rugged hills of the Khyber Pass to the shores of the Arabian Sea – without any fear of violence. Shortly after the terrorist attacks on the Manawan police training centre and the provincial headquarters of the ISI in Lahore in March, 2010 Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif appealed to the TTP to “spare Punjab” because the PML-N shared its broad objectives. 

Imran Khan went even further. In a pre-election rally on April 21 last year, he vowed that he would terminate all military operations in Fata against the TTP should he become prime minister. A week later during an address at a public gathering in Rahimyar Khan, he made a startling appeal to the TTP to put its deadly agenda on ice till he came to power because within 13 days all their demands would be met. He reaped a rich harvest. 

These are the bare facts. We are too close to the cascading events of the past weeks to make a sound judgement. The coming generations will decide. The arrogance of those in high places has caused incalculable harm to the country. Let them heed the words of God which I have quoted before: “And walk not on earth with haughty self-conceit: For verily, thou canst never rend the earth asunder, nor canst thou ever grow as tall as the mountains” (Quran 17:34).