Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Aug 21, 2014

Dual power? Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri seem adamant in their maximalist demands regarding the resignations of Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif before any negotiations can be held, either directly with the government or with either of the two committees set up for the purpose with the assistance of the parliamentary opposition. The government has acted with exemplary restraint in allowing the rallies and sit-ins, going so far as to permit the protestors to enter the Red Zone, reportedly after receiving assurances with the help of ‘intermediaries’ that no important or sensitive building would be attacked or occupied and the rally would remain peaceful. The military’s declared reluctance to be drawn into the middle of a political confrontation (with the possible exception of the deployment of army sharpshooters to guard certain important buildings in the Red Zone the other day) changed on Tuesday after a meeting between the PM and COAS General Raheel Sharif. Command of the security of the Red Zone was handed over to the army and troops deployed to assure the safety of buildings and institutions described by the ISPR DG’s press statement as symbols of state authority and therefore qualifying to be protected from ‘insult’. The PM has (righty) rejected the demand for his resignation (given his clear majority in parliament), scotching any attempt to set an unsavoury precedent that any ‘crowd’ laying siege to the fount of power can trump the expressed will of the electorate through the ballot box and topple an elected government at its whim and wish. Imran Khan and Qadri, through their expressions and challenges to the incumbent government, have been attempting through their rallies and sit-ins to create the illusion of ‘dual power’, i.e. the power of the government/state against the power of the street. Imran Khan has dubbed PM Nawaz Sharif as the Hosni Mubarak of Pakistan as part of his effort to inspire his supporters to create a ‘Tahrir Square’ in D-Chowk. Qadri has announced the holding of a ‘people’s parliament’ in front of the Parliament House. Where, however, these quixotic attempts have failed is in reading the ground realities and tea leaves correctly by transposing them accurately against the circumstances historically that led to the creation of ‘dual power’, Tahrir Square’ and a ‘people’s parliament’ as the alternative and challenge to the elected one. For the benefit of Imran Khan and his companion-in-arms Qadri who describes himself as a ‘Marx and Lenin rolled into one’, consider the historical context of such ideas. The concept of dual power arose during the stormy year 1917 in Russia when the Czarist monarchy was overthrown by a popular revolution in February, to be followed by a hiatus pitting a weak interim government led by the Cadets party against the power of the revolutionary Bolsheviks led by Lenin, the latter having gained majority support in the soviets (committees of workers, peasants and soldiers spontaneously thrown up during the February revolution). That hiatus, described in the literature as a situation of dual power, was finally broken by the October Revolution that year that brought the Bolsheviks to power. Hosni Mubarak was a dictator of 30 years standing, not a genuinely elected PM. Tahrir Square was the outpouring of resentment and opposition to that 30-year dictatorship that the people finally overthrew, albeit what followed leaves much to be desired in terms of the original aims of the struggle and its final outcome: a military dictatorship. Given these bare facts, the situation in Pakistan today is nowhere near Russia in 1917 or Egypt in recent years. Our dilemma is how to manage the real discontents of the people with parliamentary democracy in which governments are unable conceptually or practically to satisfy the aspirations of the people. That democracy is still in its infancy. The hope that peaceful democratic transitions like what transpired in 2013 would become the norm rather than the exception, leading to the consolidation of a democratic dispensation in a country with a sorry record of dictatorship, may be in trouble because of the Imran/Qadri marches and challenges, requiring serious thought on how to improve the electoral system to ensure its credibility and deliver to the people what are their rights. This reform is only possible if parliament is strengthened and made effective. One of the course changes the PM and his government require therefore is to pay proper attention to attending and strengthening parliament as the foundation of a democratic order.

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