Thursday, August 28, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Aug 29, 2014

Endgame? The sit-in by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri’s supporters in Islamabad does not show any signs of ending. Off again, on again talks between the protestors’ and the government’s negotiators resemble nothing more than a roller coaster ride. Just when it seems the two sides may be moving closer, either or both leaders come out with a rigid stance that pours cold water over resolution hopes. After protracted negotiations, the government agreed to allow the filing of the FIR in Lahore regarding the shooting of Qadri’s supporters in Model Town on June 17. However, once the FIR was registered and its text was revealed, Qadri rejected it. Earlier, he had not only declared the doors of negotiation closed, he had demanded the hanging of the Sharif brothers, not just their resignations. Imran Khan too seems to open the door to negotiations a crack, only to shut it ‘firmly’ again when the results of the talks come back to him. Is this a case of a pattern of seeming to be ‘reasonable’ for public consumption when outright refusal to talk would damage the protestors’ leaders’ image and then reversing that in the belief that incremental concessions by the government indicate its desperation and weakness? Is it that Imran and Qadri’s ‘hopes’ of a third force intervention, even if they are yet to be fulfilled in the manner they would have liked (the removal of the government and either a direct or indirect establishment-manufactured dispensation), are nevertheless encouragingly playing out against the government and in favour of the protestors? If rumours are to be given any credence, the military’s message to the government is to resolve the deadlock at the earliest in the interests of the country but not to use force against the protestors no matter what happens (even an ‘invasion’ of sensitive government buildings). If there is any truth in these rumours, all the protestors have to do is stay put (which Imran and Qadri are exhorting them to do every day), let the pressure mount on the government and wait for the chips to fall in their favour. This strategy could not have found traction without the factor of the establishment’s support. Rather than delineate a minute-by-minute account of developments in the crisis (which because of the round the clock TV coverage is straining nerves by now), it may be more useful to draw out the implications of the events in Islamabad. If the present agitation succeeds in toppling the government, future elected governments too could be challenged in similar fashion with a few thousand supporters and the behind-the-scenes backing of the establishment. The demands could be reasonable or unreasonable but intransigence regardless could, with the help of the ‘third force’, bring any elected government eventually to its knees and tear up the will of the electorate. Already, the peaceful democratic transition of 2013 (the first in Pakistan’s history) has by now lost its lustre (the incumbent government having contributed to this outcome because of its aloof, indifferent attitude to the people’s woes). Can it be restored in the future for the sake of constructing a ‘system’ and settling the rules of the game of politics? Given the way things have played out now, it seems that the old problem of corruption will have to be tackled through a reform of the existing accountability regime, if possible, or the creation of a new architecture that enjoys the consensus and confidence of the entire political class as well as the people. If democratic transitions are to become the norm, credible, transparent electoral processes that carry acceptance by one and all will have to be put in place. Obviously this will include an audit of the 2013 election controversial seats, sorting out the anomalies revealed by such an audit and the reconstruction of the election commission. Whether agreement can be reached and all this carried out in the present atmosphere seems more and more unlikely. If no agreement on resolving the crisis is forthcoming and the government is hamstrung by the third force’s ‘advice’, the only way forward for the PML-N and the 11 parties in parliament that are standing by democracy and constitutionalism may be to announce a fresh appeal to the sovereign, the electorate, and hold fresh elections. In the present political landscape, the chances of the PML-N again either winning outright or in coalition with all or some of the 11 parties in parliament seems a good bet. Not so good a bet is the fortunes of the PTI and PAT, which may prove to have come out of this confrontation with a pyrrhic victory.

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