Change or exchange?

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

IMRAN Khan, our PM until the recent vote of no confidence unseated him, is demanding fresh elections without delay. Yet he is likely to obstruct – should he mislike – the electoral process whensoever it may commence or reject its results:

The simple reason being his uncontrollable allergy to ‘other’ parties or leaders. He appears to believe the country belongs to him politically and any politico who doesn’t go along with him is against – not him – but the country.  Call them ghadaarschorsdakkus he long has, and his range of abusive epithets now includes Ghulam, idiots or knaves who don’t go ‘batty’. He charges the ECP with bias when it says over-speeding electoral formalities has snags.

Since losing his position as leader of the House, Imran has dramatically demonstrated the overflowing public sympathy and support he enjoys in awesome jalsas nationwide. He rejects parliamentary opposition (It must be conceded that he was also rarely seen in Parliament even while he led the House.) and is readying all for another Container sit-in to gain his political ends. So great is the personal commitment of his followers, that they are unconcerned as to where and how their leader leads. Theirs not to reason why.

A fairly common assumption is that early elections are bound to favour Imran. Another fairly common assumption is that the more delayed the elections the more time will have passed to show up the inadequacies of the PDM coalition. To critics the question occurs: does Imran view the electoral process and apparatus merely as a road to crushing victory? If it disappoints and fails to render him an absolute majority, will he reject it and induce reworking of a Parliamentary mode whose spirit and workings he barely subscribed to, despite reiterating it had returned him as fairly elected?

Well before the PTI came to the fore there has been recurring discussion – and occasional application – of varied systems of government. Pakistan’s constitutional history includes the trial and failure of a couple of constitutions and modes of government other than the present system sworn to upholding the 1973 constitution. However, eighteen and more amendments to date underwrite that the constitution is held dear by Pakistanis generally: the choice and direction is of salutary reform not outright rejection or formal restructuring.

But that requires communication within Parliament and a recognition of the representative nature of opposition and concessions to the possible validity of dissent. Imran has shown he lacks the temperament for consensus and deems blinkered inflexibility a virtue. He means it when he says he will never talk to politicians he despises; he will never let his proud nation to bow before another power, or worse still be serving its interests rather than Pakistan’s first, as he accuses ghadaars now seated in the Treasury benches and occupying high executive office of doing.

Actually, when our governments have bowed to other powers it is because they found collective national wisdom therein. Mistaken or otherwise, stands vindicated or disproved, there was no malice aforethought.  Would the PTI have preferred General Musharraf to opt for having Pakistan reduced to the stone age and its populace more or less wiped out? Most of us compromising realists are grateful to General Musharraf for this alleged spinelessness; and also for his National Reconciliation Ordinance that allowed a graceful non-traumatic resumption of substantial civil democratic process, facilitating ethnic and nationalist rapprochements rather than implosive alienations.

In that averted stone age Imran Khan could still be looking for flint. Right now, he obviously feels he has found the flint to set national politics ablaze. Unfortunately, the fire is not such as to warm the hearth; it tends to wildfire: Who or what would be the fire-extinguishers? Citizens are accustomed to military incursions or presence in civil political space, subsequently endorsed and legitimized by the judiciary. Some of the democratic-minded deem the candour of a military coup a la Musharraf a lesser evil than publicly undefined cooperative hybridity as recently illustrated by Imran Khan’s PTI.  The ‘same page’, its content undisclosed or printed over more than once, is opaque or illegible. Such obscuring hybridity is democratic hypocrisy.

As for the Constitution, Imran Khan either has scant knowledge of its content or disrespects it. Even traffic signs in the city remind citizens ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’. And sometimes ignorance carries a price – such as ignorance of the supreme Judicious power to require assistance as it deems fit in case due directives in a judgement are disregarded.

After the shock of the PM’s blatantly unconstitutional dissolution of Parliament, it was a public relief to have the Court render the law of the land’s existence palpable and avert yet another nationally debilitating and critically dangerous flouting of due parliamentary process. Pragmatically speaking as well, any prolonged administrative ambiguities as evidenced in Punjab would have been unsustainable at the national level. Resultantly, though, Imran Khan considers himself hard done by the judicial arm of governance. He is less forthright regarding grouses with or critiques of the military arm. There was a rapid retreat after his opening skirmish while still PM regarding the vices inherent in neutrality.

In democratic dispensations the armed forces do not seek controls and determination of civil political space and party policy. General Ayub’s martial law left ineradicable scars on Pakistan’s polity despite its material economic success. But it is also important to understand what popularly sanctions military intervention within the varying specifics of its immediate context.

When General Zia intervened on July 4-5 in 1977 it was because he was desisting from commanding Pakistan’s troops to shoot to clear the streets and disperse the serries of PNA’s peacefully adamant rejectionists of the national electoral results. Curfews and emergency measures had preceded the penultimate order the General refused to implement. General Zia’s critics maintain he sabotaged an agreement PM ZA Bhutto had reached with the PNA leadership. Quite possible. But the counter-assertion that the PNA did not trust Bhutto to keep his word also carries weight. Regardless of political convictions, sadly or gladly, General Zia’s pull back from the precipice of the country’s troops actually shooting at its unarmed citizens was seen by Pakistanis as action born out of a tragic national necessity.

Again, when the army high command opted in October 1999 to ensure that General Musharraf’s plane was safely returned to Pakistan’s airspace, and control taken away from PM Nawaz Sharif and his choice of a replacement Army chief; the nation collectively heaved a pained sigh of relief. PM Nawaz Sharif’s infamous proposed constitutional amendment (which his heavy parliamentary majority was not showing any lack of confidence in) had most of the country’s population, which did not want a latter-day 21st century ‘leader of the faithful’ acquiring and exercising absolute power in nominally democratic guise, endorse General Musharraf and his ‘counter-coup’.

There is a rare national consensus that Pakistan has long been fighting external terrorist threats, some linked with obscurantist extremist mindsets; others with militant nationalism. Sustained internal popular political discord is a gift to Pakistan’s ill-wishers. Where may Imran Khan’s policy of inciting public rage and hate of the ‘other’ into a fury that buries ‘ghadaars and ghulams’ lead? How far can he or should he be allowed to go? There are fast-increasing instances of incendiary verbal exchange and actual physical clashes in public. Could or do merely stupid rash politicians and their activists – not necessarily execrable American or Zionist conspirators and abettors – really want to reach a point where the army in the urgent cause of averting anarchy needs to shoot at citizens to stop their running amok? Fiercely disputatious party leaders would do far better by the country they cherish and the followers who cherish them, to restrain themselves and their adherents from aiming to ‘show up’ each other. Such negativity paralyzes positive functional governance: a condition no State can afford.