Monday, December 15, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Dec 16, 2014

PTI’s real agenda Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) mobilised for its protest in Lahore yesterday by selecting 18 sites in the city to station their cadres. These points controlled the entry and exit points of the city, as well as the main roads and arteries. The PTI leadership had been at great pains on the eve of the protest to assert that the protest would be peaceful so long as the ‘Gullu Butts’ (goons) of the government were not unleashed on them. They had also promised that Lahore’s citizens’ life would be disrupted as little as possible, appealing for support from ordinary citizens as well as the traders for one day’s sacrifice for the sake of ‘freedom’. As the day turned out however, this peaceful scenario did not quite transpire. Mercifully the government had drawn the correct lessons from the contrasting outcomes of the protests in Faisalabad and Karachi and wisely decided to convey to their PML-N cadre to stay off the streets and avoid a repetition of the clash between the supporters of the two parties. Apart from a minor clash in Chungi Amer Sidhu, no major conflict was reported. However, the blockade of the main roads and arteries was imposed through burning tyres, blockages manned by PTI cadres, etc. This led to scuffles and even the thrashing of ordinary citizens such as rickshaw drivers plying their trade or motorcyclists travelling to work, home, etc. The Metro bus system was brought to a grinding halt through stone throwing and other such ‘peaceful’ means. Along the blocked main roads and arteries, the markets seemed almost universally shut. However, the side streets feeding into these arteries were open, as were the markets located on them. This leads to the surmise that the traders along the blocked routes considered discretion the better part of valour for fear of damage at the hands of the PTI crowds, while the traders along the side roads/markets voted with the opening of their shops and places of business as on any normal working day. The shutter down therefore could only at best be described as partial. In any case, the traders and transporters bodies had clearly opposed the PTI call for a shutter down. That by no means implies that the denizens of Lahore did not experience difficulties and inconvenience. In fact, at the time of writing these lines, it was reported that four people had died in ambulances while being transported to hospital because, despite their pleading and begging, the PTI cadres manning the blockades refused to give them passage. This tragedy does not reflect well on the discipline of the PTI. The question now is, where does the PTI wish to take this campaign? Imran Khan says if the government gives a date for the setting up of a judicial commission to probe alleged rigging in the 2013 elections, his party will consider giving up its intended countrywide shutdown, otherwise December 18 will remain D-Day. While talks between the government and the PTI have restarted, there remain grave misgivings about whether the process can lead to a solution of the political standoff that is taking its toll of the country’s nerves and well being. In fact some observers are of the view that the PTI is precisely waging a war of nerves. The strategy appears to be to continue ‘talking while fighting’. Imran Khan has proved again and again that he does not say what he means and does not mean what he says. There is no guarantee that he will hold to his promises and stated positions. These stances seem purely tactical in nature, and as soon as they are conceded, Imran Khan raises the bar. Through such incremental demands, the PTI seems clearly embarked on making things so difficult as to lead to the overthrow or collapse of the government, clearing the way, so Imran Khan believes, for his ascent to power. Other than that, the content of Imran Khan’s politics, as reflected in his speeches, is full of sound and fury, signifying not much (with apologies to the Bard). The government on the other hand, because of this strategy of the PTI, seems caught in a cleft stick: damned if it represses the PTI protests, damned (politically) if it doesn’t. With no clear end in sight therefore, trepidation about the future of the country mounts with each passing day of the impasse.

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