Thursday, August 7, 2014

Daily Times Aug 8, 2014

Crisis, impasse, outcome The sense of looming crisis because of Maulana Tahirul Qadri’s August 10 ‘Martyrs Day’ rally in Lahore and Imran Khan’s ‘Million March’ on Islamabad on August 14 seems to be deepening. A flurry of activity and exchanges amongst political leaders of various parties on Wednesday underlined the growing sense of urgency to defuse the confrontation between the government and these challengers before things get out of hand and lead to a destabilisation not only of the sitting government but also the democratic system per se. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf's (PTI’s) coalition partner in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), has also become active in the mediation efforts. JI leader Sirajul Haq met Imran Khan and Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif and conveyed messages back and forth. The thrust of what Sirajul Haq shared with the media afterwards was that he had tried to find some middle ground between the government and the PTI to head off the threatened confrontation. While agreeing in principle with Imran Khan’s contentions about non-transparency and even rigging in the general elections 2013 (an afterthought shared increasingly by other opposition parties including the PPP), Sirajul Haq said he had advised the PM to address the complaints of the PTI. In answer to a question, the JI leader reiterated his party’s wait-and-see position by saying a decision on whether to join the PTI’s long march on August 14 would be taken after the JI’s Palestine solidarity rally on August 10. Peripherally, August 10 may also determine the JI’s decision based on what happens in Lahore on that day vis-à-vis the Qadri rally. In addition to Sirajul Haq, the PM received visits from Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Ejazul Haq and other leaders. Former president Asif Ali Zardari worked the phones from London for the second day running, calling Imran Khan and Qadri. On the sidelines, Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah met Asfandyar Wali. Whatever else these efforts may or may not have yielded, they failed to persuade Imran Khan for talks or a dialogue with the government and he refused to back down from the August 14 march. In his body language and statements, Imran Khan seems convinced that he is on the brink of a historic opportunity, one that will open the pearly gates to power for him if he stays the course. The government on the other hand (including the younger Sharif sibling’s government in Punjab) seems to be working on a two-track strategy. On the one hand, Shahbaz Sharif and other PML-N leaders have tried to dangle the carrot of talks before Imran Khan, while on the other hand, despite denials, it now seems clear that the Punjab police (bolstered to a strength of 10,000 in Lahore) has orders to arrest leaders and workers of PTI (a list reportedly of 600) and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (400), block routes into Lahore on August 10 or even before with 450 containers forcibly seized from private transporters, and impound hundreds of motorcycles purportedly being used by PTI workers for mobilisation for August 14. Raids for the arrest of those on the lists have been reported from some parts of the country, with mixed success since the PTI has ordered its critical cadres to go underground in anticipation of being detained to prevent them mobilising for August 14. While the government on the one hand braces for the protests and takes time-honoured measures to pre-empt the rallies, it is also reaching out to ‘friendly’ parties to find a via media to defuse the crisis. Many of these otherwise well disposed parties, amongst whom PPP must find pride of mention, have been objecting to the deployment of the army under Article 245 to handle Islamabad’s security. These fears are grounded in Pakistan’s history of military interventions in politics and even coups in the past. There is grave apprehension that the Islamabad deployment may turn out to be a case of the parable of the camel and the Arab. Meanwhile the uncertainty and apprehensions about what might happen on August 10 and 14 has impacted the Karachi stock market to the extent almost of a thousand point drop in recent days. The government has reportedly postponed an electricity tariff hike for fear of fuelling public anger further. Industry and commerce, already under pressure because of the energy crisis, are voicing fears of unrest causing a major dent in the government’s efforts to stabilise and revive the economy. PML-N leaders have categorically ruled out the ‘minus Nawaz’ formula (i.e. that Nawaz Sharif should be replaced by someone else from the PML-N), a response that one can only agree with on the touchstone of the constitution and parliamentary democratic norms. As to the now solidified PTI claim that the entire 2013 election was rigged, that contradicts the PTI’s mandate in KP too. But Imran Khan has never let an honest contradiction stand in the way of his political ambitions.

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