Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Oct 5, 2016

Imran’s inexplicable politics Imran Khan has stunned allies and critics alike by announcing a boycott of the joint sitting of parliament on October 5 to discuss the current tensions with India on the Line of Control. Reportedly, the decision did not come without heated debate and considerable dissent in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI’s) meeting on October 4. PTI members of parliament were vehemently opposed to the boycott decision, both because it was tantamount to giving up a platform from which to argue the party’s case as well as the possible negative fallout in media and public perceptions. But Imran Khan, with the backing of unelected members of the party leadership, overruled the dissenters. It should be remembered that the boycott decision came just one day after Shah Mehmood Qureshi led a PTI contingent to the multiparty conference on Pakistan-India tensions. The argument presented by Imran Khan in a press conference after the decision was that PTI would boycott parliament until such time as Nawaz Sharif resigned in favour of some other individual from the ruling PML-N as prime minister and offered himself for accountability in the Panamagate scandal according to the opposition’s Terms of Reference. Media reports say Imran and those supporting him in the boycott decision had reservations regarding indirectly providing Nawaz Sharif legitimacy by attending the joint session hosted by him. The fact that just a day earlier the PTI had attended the multiparty meeting hosted by the same Nawaz Sharif either did not appear to the authors of this decision as contradictory, or served to persuade them that the participation was a mistake that should not be repeated. Their logic appears to be that the iron is hot and therefore maximum pressure should be kept up on the government without too much concern about media or public perceptions. This strange logic appears to fly in the face of common sense that shows parties that do not ‘care’ for public opinion suffer the political consequences. Perhaps this overblown confidence in the power of the street as opposed to parliament owes more than a bit to the hubris that seems to have overtaken the ‘militants’ within the party after the PTI’s successful Raiwind rally the other day and its stated plans to continue this momentum by a march/rally on Islamabad. The fact the Imran Khan vowed at the Raiwind rally to shut down Islamabad and make it impossible for Nawaz Sharif to rule raises the spectre of violence and even bloodshed. While the constitution and democratic principles allow peaceful protest in a democracy, the bloodcurdling cries and threats from Imran and his party militants are disconcerting, to say the least. The PTI’s ally and junior coalition partner in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, the Jamaat-i-Islami, has expressed its astonishment and disappointment at the PTI’s boycott decision. The opposition parties, ranging from the PPP to nationalists from Sindh and Balochistan have all expressed shock and surprise, summed up in the term ‘incomprehensible’. The PPP has criticized Imran Khan’s resort to a ‘solo flight’ once again, seemingly not having learnt any lessons from the past. While the boycott appears to most observers as unfortunate, inopportune and lacking reasoning at a time when the country has united to face any threat on the western border, to Imran Khan it appears the best course to rock the consensus at the multiparty conference (PTI included) and return the party to the path of extreme steps in the hope of reaping political dividends. Imran Khan’s virtually exclusive focus on the rulers’ alleged corruption (from which charge, none, not even some PTI worthies have escaped unscathed) pitches him less as a political leader and more as someone aspiring to be the nation’s conscience or a moral crusader. While there is nothing wrong with such aspirations in principle, exclusive obsession with this issue at the expense, arguably, of all the other afflictions that bedevil state and society erodes Imran Khan’s political credibility. That credibility has been dealt another blow by the boycott decision. If he were to follow the logic of his present course, Imran Khan could end up painting himself as little more than an ambitious agitator with very little positive to offer the polity or the people.

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