Has Imran Khan a hidden agenda? Was his party’s big rally meant to protest against rigging in last year’s elections or is he gunning for early general elections to grab the national helm?
Imran certainly is justified to publicly raise the issue of rigging as the complaints lodged with the electoral tribunal have not been redressed. He has the right to forcefully demand a reform of the Election Commission. But how reasonable was it on his part to use the occasion to run down the government and go hammer and tongs against it? It was, essentially, for the electoral tribunals to provide relief to the PTI and not the federal government. If the tribunals were amiss in discharging their duty within a reasonable period of time the proper places to seek remedies were the courts and the parliament. And if there was inordinate delay in securing a verdict from the courts, then parliament was the arena for the processing of the demand for reforming the Election commission.
Post-May 11 public meeting, PTI is now seeking the support of other political parties to build up a movement to exert pressure on the government. While some of the smaller parties would join it in this exercise to mobilize support, it is doubtful if PPP will agree to swell PTI’s ranks.
There also is the Tahir-ul-Qadri phenomenon. “Sheikh-ul-Islam” might descend from Canada and lead rallies in various places and whip up agitation. His goal, however, is altogether different from Imran Khan’s. For him there is no democracy in Pakistan and his revolutionary outbursts are directly aimed at the PML-N and in particular the Sharif brothers.
All this contrived tumult may be seen in the backdrop of a recent stir of differences between the army and the civil government. Imran has taken up cudgels in defence of the leading military intelligence agency and has become almost personal in accusing an influential TV channel of indulging in anti-state activities.
There is need here to pause for reflection to carefully see where Pakistan stands today in terms of political and economic realities. There is this fact that despite a recent smooth transition of power from one elected government to another, democracy has not yet taken root in Pakistan and the fear of a remote possibility of a take-over by the army cannot be ruled out altogether. Because of the disturbed and daunting conditions in Pakistan today, the military may not find it tempting to walk into a horrendously difficult situation. It may however, jump in, if turmoil and instability keep growing unchecked.
PTI, in the circumstances, has to tread carefully and not allow itself to become unwittingly an instrument for the emergence of widespread commotion and turbulence.
With regard to electoral reform, may one suggest that there is need to study and adapt the Indian model of the Election Commission. It is vital that the Commission, in Pakistan too enjoys full authority to enforce all the requisite arrangements free from the Executive’s attempts to interfere directly or indirectly. In Pakistan too, upright and competent retired civil servants can be found to head this important institution.
Here, it would be in order to say a word about the performance of the PML-N governments at the centre and in the Punjab. It has to be admitted that the incoming government inherited huge problems, in particular the plight of the economy and the state of law and order. To their credit, the PML-N administration has made serious efforts to face and solve these problems. Nawaz Sharif has grown considerably in stature and capability. He has bravely grappled with the challenge of starting projects to add to the supply of electricity and through a number of meaningful visits abroad, brought in commitments of investment and support for Pakistan. The PML-N Finance Minister too deserves appreciation for initiating the process of turning the economy around. Shahbaz Sharif also has been working hard to bring about improvements in various fields and has set an example of dynamism and hard work for other provinces.
I might add that Imran Khan is an outstanding leader and has the ability to usher in real change. KPK offers him the opportunity to demonstrate visible good governance. The record of the provincial government presently leaves much to be desired.
As I wrote in my last column, Pakistan very much needs peace and stability. It is unfortunate that the dialogue with the Taliban remained stalled for the last many weeks. In my view, government has not been circumspect enough to speed up the process with the result that doubts have arisen on both sides about the seriousness of purpose for arriving at a settlement. There is now a feeling of disenchantment about the feasibility of the intended talks, it is being said that preparations are in hand for a military operation. (A recent drone attack has also taken place.) It would be disastrous for peace in the country if the talks break down and warfare starts between our armed forces and the Taliban residing in FATA. Can Pakistan afford a restart of suicide bombings and widespread displacements of the people of our tribal areas along with the insurgency in Balochistan and increasing violence in Karachi? While there will be a second wind for tribal militants and religious extremists in various parts of the country, most of our development projects will also be at risk of attack by these elements. Our social indicators will take a dip. The post-Nato-withdrawal scenario in Afghanistan will add to our troubles as there is a probability of civil war which may well result in a huge influx of Afghan refugees into Pakistan. Already we have been carrying the burden of millions of Afghan refugees with an avoidable consumption of resources and law and order troubles.
We need a strong and stable administration to deal with the new BJP-led government in India. A politically disturbed Pakistan will be vulnerable to aggressive moves on the part of unfriendly regimes in the east and west.
So my humble advice to PTI would be, by all means pursue your goals of electoral reform and keeping pressure on the government to solve problems and provide relief, but do it sagaciously so as not to destabilize the country. Take up matters in parliament, in courts and the media. Work for a stable and prosperous Pakistan by strengthening the hands of those endowed with the people’s mandate to manage the nation’s affairs. And overcome personal irritations.
Let us not forget that it will take time to change the feudal culture which blocks the emergence of democratically-oriented political parties, enlightened leadership, lowers the prospects of good governance, and a welfare-oriented administration.
n The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political and international relations analyst.