Triumph of the will…!

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Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif takes part in a press conference alongside the Turkish Prime Minister after their talks in Ankara on September 17, 2013. Sharif is on an official state visit to Turkey. AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN (Photo credit should read ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Moeed Pirzada | FB Blog |

Triumph of the will…the power of determination – Amazing piece by Ayaz Amir – Idolise Imran Khan or pillory him, the fact remains that against the odds, out of the seemingly impossible, through sheer force of personality he has shaped an agitation…which if led by the half-hearted, or the weak of will, would have died a natural death long ago. “Go Nawaz go” did not seem much of a slogan to begin with but it is now catching on. The PML-N stalwart Pir Sabir Shah may now say that his tongue faltered when instead of saying “Go Imran go” at a party rally in Peshawar he found himself saying “Go Nawaz go”. Even if we are to take him at his word, and give him the benefit of the doubt, isn’t this a Freudian slip revealing the subconscious mind?

Two weeks ago in ‘Bozos who make morons look good’ I argued that the time may have come for Imran and the Reverend to re-examine their tactics and call off their sit-ins. I thought their sit-ins were losing steam and the two leaders had nothing much left to say. And I took a dig at Imran’s powers of oratory.

But as I have talked to people over the past few days I am coming to the reluctant conclusion that I couldn’t have been more off the mark. As our two leaders rail and thunder against the ‘system’ or the existing order of things, they are touching some chord somewhere because people are liking what they are saying. And the fiercer the attacks the sicker and more out of touch with popular feeling the Sharif dispensation looks. Whether because of inflated and cooked up electricity bills – probably the first time we are witnessing something as brazen and crooked as cooked up bills – or joblessness or inflation, it’s hard not to see that amongst whole sections of the population, the poor and the not-so-privileged, there is a great discontent against Sharif-style Thatcherism…the Thatcherite approach being to favour the rich and screw the poor.

Like them or hate them, admire them or make fun of them, the only two persons in Pakistan today giving voice to this discontent are Imran Khan and the Reverend Qadri. When they speak their audience is not just the few thousands in the sit-ins but the millions watching the spectacle on television. If this is an ISI plot shouldn’t we be grateful that for once the ISI is on the side of the people? This is a strange democracy sections of the commentariat are glorifying, which seems so removed from the ebb and flow of public opinion.

In times past Pakistani democracy’s biggest fear used to be from the bayonets of the 111 Brigade. In the Nawaz brand of democracy the fear of the bayonet has been replaced by a fear of a vote recount. It seems more afraid of the workings of the judicial process. So in face of widespread evidence that in entire Lahore constituencies there was systematic rigging, Sharifian democracy is adamant that there should be no vote rechecking. Faced with the Model Town shooting this democracy is adamant that the ends of justice should not be met. The Punjab government itself appoints a one-man tribunal to look into the Model Town incident. And when Justice Ali Baqar Najafi of the Lahore High Court is so heedless of consequences as to write the truth – the truth as flowing from the evidence coming before him – the Punjab government is aghast and every effort is made to suppress the report. This is our version of democracy.

But something will have to give. Imran and Qadri are not going away. They are staying put in D Chowk and there’s nothing a beleaguered, fever-stricken government can do about it. It may badly want to use force to clear the dharnas but it dare not because it knows that because of the resistance put up by the protesters the time is past for the police forces stationed in Islamabad to act above and beyond the call of duty. If nothing else, the dharnas and the speeches have given the police the first stirrings of conscience…strange as this may sound. The protesters meanwhile, having gone through their paces, are now battle-hardened. The use of force therefore remains not much of an option.

The onus is thus on the Sharif government to explore ways to resolve this crisis. By now the protesters should have looked exhausted. But it is the other way round, the government feeling the heat. And Imran, changing line and length, has just had a very successful jalsa in Karachi. Already the economy is suffering, the State Bank’s latest verdict on the state of the economy making this amply clear. Suppose the agitation goes on for another month. How will everything look then? All this has happened because Imran and the Reverend, braving the odds, have stuck it out. When Imran said he would stay atop his container come what may, even if he was left alone, it sounded, to the sceptic at least in me, a bit like Don Quixote. Not anymore.

Much of the punditocracy has got this agitation completely wrong, not that any certified pundit would readily admit to this…modesty not an outstanding characteristic of this class. For a long time they kept declaring that Imran had boxed himself into a corner and that he needed some kind of a face-saving exit strategy. For a long time the standard response to Qadri was to make fun of him. Now the jokes have dried up and there is less talk of exit strategies.

Those who really think they carry a democracy medal on their chests should pay tribute to the bravery of the additional sessions’ judge who ordered the registration of a case in the Model Town shootings. He’s proved himself a better democrat than many of the armchair samurai crying themselves hoarse in print and on TV about the grave conspiracies afoot against democracy.

What else are Imran and Qadri saying? Only this that far from being a democracy this is a mockery of democracy and that true democracy can only come when elections are not stolen and there is some notion of justice in the land. When the law itself becomes a tool for evading the law, is there not point to Imran’s demand that vote rigging allegations can never be properly investigated as long as Nawaz Sharif holds the keys to power? Those mortally afraid of a Model Town case, are they likely to facilitate a proper inquiry into allegations of election rigging?

The Sharifs knew how to deal with the PPP. They knew how to deal with Benazir Bhutto. A long list of PML-N figures got funds from the ISI for the 1990 elections. Yusuf Raza Gilani was defrocked as prime minister on the basis of a legal quibble. But has any action been taken against the beneficiaries of the ISI’s largesse in 1990? The PPP was never in a position to take on the Sharifs in the matter of rigging. It is just Nawaz Sharif’s luck that he is dealing not with a down-and-out PPP but a ziddi and obstinate Imran Khan.

As for the Reverend, “woh toh ghar ke bhedi hain, woh toh sab jaante hain”. And at his beck and call stands an army of dedicated followers, ready to face anything on their leader’s call. Those eating political halwa all their lives have never faced anything like this. Small wonder they look so disoriented.

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