Monday, December 1, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Dec 2, 2014

Shutdown threat Mercifully, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI’s) November 30 rally in Islamabad generally passed off peacefully. The exception to this outcome were some Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam protestors clashing with convoys of the PTI coming from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which resulted in 11 workers of both parties being injured in Karak, and some crackers thrown at a media van near the site of the rally. It appears then that good sense by and large prevailed, not the least because the PTI supporters seemed better organised and disciplined than their previous foray on and after August 14. However, that is where the good news begins and ends. In their speeches at the rally, the PTI leaders trotted out more or less the same script of allegations and accusations against virtually all and sundry, but focused as usual more on the government, former Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, former Supreme Court (SC) Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday, and the Election Commission of Pakistan. However, the new and even more dangerous escalation promised in Imran Khan’s ‘Plan C’ is a shutdown of major cities like Lahore on December 4 (since reportedly being reconsidered as to the date by the PTI’s core committee), Faisalabad on December 8, Karachi on December 12, and the entire country after that on December 16 (an unfortunate, ill considered choice coinciding with the fall of Dhaka in 1971). Plan C, according to Imran Khan, is contingent on the government agreeing to a complete audit of the 2013 elections and the setting up of a judicial commission to probe rigging. Now while bringing cities or even the whole country to a standstill remains a possibility, it certainly would not do any good to the country, and arguably, the fortunes of the PTI itself. Disruption of normal life in these metropolises, let alone on a wider scale throughout the country, would only entail huge economic and other losses, while threatening the outbreak of violence between the PTI supporters and the law enforcement agencies (not to mention the possibility of clashes with the PML-N supporters in Punjab and the PPP's in Karachi). Desperation seems to ooze out of this latest escalation by Imran Khan, given that Plans A and B (whose maximalist demand was the resignation of the prime minister through street pressure) failed to materialise. In reserve Imran has kept Plan D, which he thunders will be even worse, without revealing any details of what the next step may be if Plan C does not deliver. And how can it deliver? If the two main demands to which the PTI has clung are examined, any audit of any seat any only be dome through the election tribunals (which PTI has never seriously pursued and has by now given up on) and the judicial commission is in the SC’s court, which has failed so far to respond to the prime minister’s request for setting up such a commission despite the passage of four months. This implies that all these ‘Plans’ and the ultimatums accompanying them are merely steps along the path of a strategy of escalating demands and pressure and nothing else. The objective remains the same: unseating an elected government by force on the basis of spurious and unsubstantiated allegations. Were that to come to pass, it would set a horrendous precedent and lay the ground for any government in future running the risk of being overthrown in like fashion (even one, if he ever comes to power, one led by Imran Khan). The ability to see the implications of his position has either escaped Imran or he has sacrificed such wisdom to his overweening and impatient ambition. The government seems to be divided between its hawks and doves, with the former ruling out any return to negotiations with the PTI at pistol point and the latter still holding out an olive branch to the PTI. On November 30, the PML-N (PTI says “the government”, using taxpayers’ money) choked virtually all the television channels with long running advertisements highlighting Imran Khan’s contradictory and bellicose statements over time in a concerted effort to discredit him and blank out coverage of the PTI rally (an oxygen the party has been relying on so far). Imran Khan’s ‘Plans’, when seen in conjunction with Sheikh Rashid’s continuing incendiary speeches at PTI rallies, promise looming violence, a development unlikely to help anyone, and certainly not the country.

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