Thursday, September 18, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Sept 19, 2014

The people have spoken Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif has used the occasion of the inaugural ceremony of a new gas find in Attock District on Wednesday to deliver a firm and unequivocal message to the protestors in Islamabad and the people as a whole. He has posed the rhetorical question whether the mandate of the 180 million people of the country can be nullified on the demand of 5,000 protestors and the PM and Chief Minister Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, forced to resign. Obviously the answer to this lies in the solid support of all but one party in parliament to the incumbent PM and government, dwindling numbers at the sit-ins that are now more than a month old, and the failure of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri to set off sympathetic protests elsewhere in the country. The increasing desperation of the protest leaders at no way forward or back may have persuaded Imran to stage a rally in Karachi today, but such moves are unlikely to reverse the tide of opinion running increasingly against the protest. Had they calculated that politics is the art of the possible, they may not have landed themselves in the cul de sac they have. Qadri’s insistence on a ‘revolution’ that he has failed to explain, and which comes across as utopian reformist whenever he tries to explain it, and his companion-in-arms Imran Khan’s stubborn insistence in the face of all the odds that the PM must resign or he will remain in his ‘containerised’ vigil indefinitely, have both come across as unreasonable, opinionated and out of touch with reality. While Imran’s complaint of a ‘stolen mandate’ of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) is still to be proved, and appears increasingly like a flight of fantasy rather than factual, the pressure exerted by this extended protest has at least persuaded the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that it may have a (partial) case to answer. Although the ECP has given itself and former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry a clean chit by refuting election rigging or influencing the Returning Officers respectively, it has conceded at least the prima facie complaint of the PTI that the election result in NA-22, a Lahore constituency where Imran lost to National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, needs to be opened up to scrutiny by the complainant. Irrespective of the outcome of such a scrutiny, at least justice is being done and being seen to be done. Imran and the PTI’s impatience with the slow, creaking procedures laid down for challenges to the elections through Election Tribunals (procedures even the Supreme Court cannot supersede, a finding that contributed to Imran turning on his hero of yesteryear, the former Chief Justice) seems increasingly immature and hasty. Unfortunately justice grinds all too slowly in Pakistan, but if persisted with (a patience-taxing task no doubt), it grinds exceedingly fine. One reason for shifting ground from pursuing the election petitions to the protest in Islamabad may have been the mixed results of the petitions decided by the election tribunals so far. These results certainly do not point in the direction of a ‘tsunami’ in favour of the PTI (let alone the fact that the number of such petitions, even if all go in favour of the PTI, an unlikely prospect, would not overturn the government’s majority). Of course the damage to national life and the economy (including the aborted trip of the Chinese president) are chickens that will come home to roost all too soon and cause a great many people to rue the day when they perceived Imran as a bright white hope. The PM also made clear that clearing Islamabad of a few thousand protestors was very much in the government’s grasp, but it was acting with exemplary restraint. This may, in addition to the Model Town Lahore incident hangover, be to deny the protestors the ‘ammunition’ of dead bodies. The government is coming in for criticism from many quarters, including the continuing joint session of parliament, for not establishing the writ of the state. Intriguingly, although the PM stated to a delegation of parliamentarians that the government was prepared to offer Imran and Qadri a face saving exit, it is not clear that the two ‘revolutionaries’ have the freedom now to retreat, given the hyped up expectations of their remaining supporters in D-Chowk. If this be the case, the best solution may well be to put these two irrational leaders under house arrest, clear the decks of all protestors with minimum force and within the letter of the law, and allow the state and society to return to normality.

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