Salman Masood - Allama Dr Tahirul Qadri is once again threatening to descend on the political chessboard and upset the positions of regular pieces and pawns. After a botched attempt to force a revolution from his air-conditioned container last year, the moderate cleric is now heralding a new revolution as the Celsius is rising and patience of the petulant masses, sweating in power outages, is running short. Imran Khan has finally awoken from his mysterious slumber and vowing to forcefully seek a redressal of the alleged rigging in last year’s general elections. Khan has also announced to boycott Jang Group, miffed at the media group’s alleged partisan and questionable journalistic practices. The military establishment is licking its wounds, recovering from the “eight-hour assault” by Geo, with a consolation of finding other private news networks standing by its side like humble allies.
Just a few weeks back, apprehensions had soared that the military was straightening up to the challenge of civilian supremacy but that fear has now suddenly subsided. The army chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, has reiterated his commitment to democracy, but has nonetheless urged the media to stick to “responsible journalism” — an oblique criticism of electronic news networks. Khawaja Asif’s defence portfolio has managed to escape the chopping block for now.
The ever so crippling power shortages, which were the bane of the last political government, have staged a menacing comeback — the genie of circular debt being stubbornly uncontrollable — and have compelled the affected people across the country spill out of their dark houses. Talks with the Taliban were already stalled and now teetering on the precipice of a complete breakdown. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister, has finally admitted that those with guns have little appetite for a dialogue process, which was riven with contradictions and competing narratives. The government’s strategy of creating a rift between the militants appears to have succeeded; those groups who favour a negotiated settlement — primarily from the Mehsuds of Waziristan — have been identified. The rest will be dealt with surgical aerial strikes in the coming months. As a consequence, terror reprisal attacks will be unleashed across major urban centres. But it is a fight that the military establishment has been bracing for long.
On the economic side, the finance minister, Ishaq Dar, has “congratulated the nation” for the mighty World Bank has approved a One Billion Dollar budgetary support for the government. Dar is chuffed. The generosity of Saudis has swelled the reserves of the central bank. Dar managed to bring down the exchange rate of a Dollar to almost Rs 99 and gave crimson cheeks to Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, the poster-boy of sensational rhetoric and political broadsides. The sale of 3G/4G licences went ahead, despite some initial hiccups and a below-par performance of the auction.
In the midst of the building political storm, prime minister Nawaz Sharif has completed his London visit and would already have flown to Tehran, Iran, when the opposition political forces would exhibit their show of strength on the streets of Islamabad next week.
PML-N officials appear smug, almost sure that they can easily take the wind out of the opposition’s sails. Much of the confidence stems from the fact that the show of strength by the opposition political parties is already a sign of their weakness. The house of the political opposition stands divided and there is no unifying figure to put it all together. Imran Khan is playing on the political wicket with a lost sense of timing. Almost a year after the general elections, the electorate would be hard pushed to agitate forcefully on an issue that should have been taken up vociferously when the election results were initially announced. The local body elections, which could infuse a new spirit in the political body, don’t seem to be happening before next year. Inflation, law and order, electricity and other issues that are more pressing to the needs of the masses can rally the public but find no real mention in the sloganeering of the opposition.
Much to the chagrin of his ardent supporters, Khan is always a day late and a dollar short. Dr Qadri, the self-proclaimed messiah from Canada, has all the resources and faithful followers to choke Islamabad Jinnah’s Avenue but the anti-climactic conclusion of his protest rally last year hardly gives an inspiration for a sustained opposition movement. His physical absence will also be a missed sight at the Jinnah Avenue. Pakistan Peoples Party has comfortably placed itself on the political sidelines, enjoying the spoils of power in its base Sindh, and is in no mood to shoulder the weight of a grand opposition. The strategy of Imran Khan, Tahirul Qadri and the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, who have also announced holding protests in 12 Punjab districts, is aimed at questioning and de-robing the legitimacy of Nawaz Sharif’s electoral win. The eventual demand would be to seek a re-election in 60 national constituencies but it cannot see fruition in the presence of the current incomplete and almost dysfunctional election commission.
The gathering political storm sounds good on paper but in the cold world of realpolitik, opposition political parties don’t seem to have the leverage to force a regime change unless, of course, the military establishment throws its weight behind the Khan and Qadri duo with a new gusto.
This is not to suggest that there would be no trouble. There will be people out on the streets in the coming weeks. There will be loud and boisterous sloganeering and anti-government chants, resonating through traffic squares and finding their way onto the airwaves and political talk-shows. And, things can get ugly pretty soon — as often is the case here — and as protesting families of “Missing Persons” found out in Islamabad a few days ago when their attempts to break into the Parliament House were met with a brutal response by the Islamabad police; merciless batons and punches raining down on the protesters, with no distinction between man and woman, old and young. The highhandedness was a warning shot to all the politicians who intend to march on to Islamabad. There won’t be any warm welcome.
The writer is Resident Editor, The Nation in Islamabad.