The protests in Islamabad led by Imran Khan’s PTI and Tahir ul Qadri’s PAT are the latest attempt to resuscitate a discredited democratic process. Real revolutions do not endorse the current system rather they call for a new constitutional framework. Khan and Qadri’s roadshow is nothing more than a distraction from the real alternatives such as Khilafah and designed to conceal the military’s operation in Waziristan.
Revolution to Nowhere
Revolution for real?
The spectacle of seeing politicians and ordinary people peacefully besieging the capital city of Islamabad is quite unprecedented in Pakistan’s volatile and at times violent political arena. The ‘dharanas’ or sit ins led by former cricketer turned politician Imran Khan and the self styled “Sheikh-ul-Islam” Dr. Tahir ul Qadri have brought a feel good factor for many of their supporters – liberation is apparently at hand. With the PML-N government led by Nawaz Sharif predictably and miserably failing to show any kind of meaningful progress on any front, Pakistanis are simply desperate for change. Change from not only the same old faces who play politics in Pakistan as if on some merry go round, where one steps out of power relatively momentarily only to yield to another established ‘player’, but also for a change in the system itself.
Yet cynicism and scepticism are never far behind in Pakistan’s manipulated politics. The PML-N regime declared the protests would not be permitted. However the ‘Azaadi’ and ‘Inqalabi’ marches of Khan’s PTI and Qadri’s PAT managed to enter Islamabad almost unhindered within hours of each other (cranes were brought to move shipping containers blocking main roads). This seems strangely at odds with the supposed high state of security in Islamabad after years of terror attacks. Moreover these ‘revolutionary’ leaders have also managed to jet around the country to hold political rallies again unimpeded; which administration in Pakistan in the past has given its opponents the political space to run amok at will?
Both have also been guaranteed prime time television coverage as well. No incumbent ruler or those who run the ‘system’ would surely allow coverage of their own demise but perhaps what is harder to quantify is how these Pakistani channels have been compensating for the loss of their advertisement revenue in their round the clock coverage. In a country where upholding the right to peaceful protest is something largely unheard of the fact that the protestors, barring a day’s worth of violence, have been almost unchallenged and allowed to continue their ‘dharnas’ leads one to simply question their authenticity. It would be hard to imagine that if the Taliban turned up and decided to besiege Pakistan’s somewhat erroneously named ‘Constitution Avenue’ to press their demands that they too would be accorded similar due process.
PAT and PTI’s failed solutions
The answer to this riddle is best considered by examining what both Qadri and Khan are actually calling for. Alleged election rigging is neither an ideological issue, nor does it set out any policy. Despite repeatedly saying the system is corrupt and failed, that it must be replaced, both are actually calling for the current Pakistani constitution to be ‘properly’ applied. It is apparent that the constitution is the blue print of any political system; so the reality is that despite their populist rhetoric, Qadri and Khan are not actually working for any real change in the system. Imran Khan already participates in the system, his party rules in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and with Qadri both are calling for new elections, hence endorsing the incumbent secular democratic system.
Moreover PTI as the ruling party in KP has very little to show for itself. Why is it that it can bring its protests to the heart of Islamabad on alleged election rigging but remained quiet since assuming power over US drone strikes and NATO supply lines in its province citing overriding federal jurisdiction? Apart from gimmicks like being able to register a First Investigation Report (FIR) online, it has done nothing substantive like reforming the police service or judiciary that could actually help bring down the need to register FIRs in the first place by cutting crime and speeding up dispensation of justice. Real standard of living indicators like GDP per head, inflation and cost of living, electricity and gas load shedding, education and healthcare provision, law and order remain appallingly poor as in the rest of Pakistan. If this is PTI’s version of a ‘naya’ Khyber Pakhtunkhwa then the chances of Pakistan prospering under a PTI government remain abysmally low.
Real Change vs Vested Interests
This may seem as a big disappointment to PTI and PAT supporters but the fact remains that removing Nawaz Sharif or tinkering with electoral reforms whilst continuing with the same constitutional democracy means continuity in the current system. This is the reason why both Qadri and Khan have been permitted to continue with their protests because ultimately they represent no threat to the system and most importantly its stakeholders. These stakeholders who comprise the feudal agriculturalists and the big industrialists are liberally stuffed into all the main parties including PTI. Together with the bureaucrats and the generals, all inter-related through marriage and commerce, they are not about to hand over the keys to real power to anyone. The ruling faces may change but the interests of this elite will remain permanent.
On an operational level those who are the power brokers in Pakistan, namely the army, do not have much to gain at all by showing Nawaz Sharif the door. Sharif is firmly compliant on all the major policy issues that matter both to the Americans and the military leadership. Sharif has publicly taken ownership of the military action in Waziristan. He has also made the right noises, despite India playing hard to get, on ‘peace’ with India; his statements on the recent LOC clashes are pitiful as Narendra Modi plays to his chauvinistic Hindutva grassroots. Sharif has also begun in earnest to privatise anything that is still left in government hands according to IMF demands. As for Musharraf, he is in good spirits as everyone knows a former army chief is untouchable in Pakistan, a political red herring; so why would the Americans and the army actually want Nawaz Sharif out?
Solving the problems of the people is not part of the agenda as the next man to take power such as Khan would have to immediately deliver on these issues. Given the inherent constraints in Pakistan’s system, where industrialists and feudals make up the bulk of legislators along with the civilian and military leadership’s addiction to American aid and loans, the next ruler will have to work within these parameters with no fundamental change. It does not make sense to sacrifice Sharif at this stage, he is the political fig leaf who will take all the heat until the next election.
Real political change is a difficult path to tread but not impossible. When it does happen it overthrows not only the existing rulers but also the oppressive political system in place. The Bolsheviks in their revolution executed the Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his family overthrowing their monarchy beginning in 1917 to eventually found the now defunct Marxist Soviet Union in 1922. The French in their revolution between 1789-1799 also removed King Louis XVI, eventually executing him and laying the foundations of their modern republic by abolishing their monarchy. The Americans who back dictatorships and proxy governments in the Muslim world today in their version also removed their British colonisers between 1775 and 1783 to create their republic. So how does that compare with Qadri sharing his stage with PML-Q’s notorious ex Chief Minister of Punjab Pervez Elahi or Imran Khan allowing DJ Butt to organise the dance music for his rallies?
Indeed it is evident that such a farcical comparison to revolutionaries of past is an insult to any man or woman’s intelligence. Real anarchists get gunned down, their leaders get arrested; one only has to look at what happened in Egypt last year to see how the people were brutalised and killed in their thousands by the American backed Egyptian regime. Are we really to believe the Pakistani system and its backers will quietly roll over if it were gently tickled?
Failed Democratic System
If change in the system is not the intended target then what is this latest Pakistani political soap opera really about? The first is self evident, with so many people disgusted at the way politics is organised in Pakistan, all that increasing latent political energy needs an outlet as far as the establishment’s political strategists are concerned. A simulated and managed purge of political pressure is far better lest the Arab Spring really arrive in Pakistan too. The second is this political circus coincides with the military’s latest adventure, operation Zarb E Azb, at the behest of America in Waziristan. Military operations carried out by the Pakistan military remain deeply unpopular with the public and critically within the army. In 2009 prior to the Swat valley operation, the melodramatics were provide by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claiming Islamabad was about to fall after Zardari’s ‘Nizam e Adl’ Shariah devolution supposedly failed to pacify the Taliban. Such a distraction removes attention from the plight of over two million homeless IDPS and gives General Raheel Sharif more time to deliver on the American agenda out of sight and out of mind.
This charade is also a deeper attempt to restore faith within the current political system, that it can deliver change and that democracy can work. Giving people hope now can forestall political anarchy and a real loss of power for the elites and the potential Islamic alternative of the Khilafah. The reality though is that PTI is now a heavily tainted brand, with Imran Khan having surrounded himself with old failed politicians like the former PPP foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the former PML-Q’s Jahangir Tareen who are part of the problem. Javed Hashmi, the former PML-N leader and now ex PTI political turncoat made the parting accusation that the army leadership is backing the Qadri / Khan protests. How can anyone take these born again saviours seriously at face value?
The simple fact is PTI like the rest of the political parties are part of a system that will not be reformed. Democracy is not simply about electing your rulers; elections are simply a style of selection that even dictators like General Musharraf used. The real substance of the democratic process is that those who sit in parliament use it to pass legislation that they want, leaving it open to abuse from vested interests who follow polices that ensure the status quo. Moreover the secular creed, from which democracy draws its legitimacy from, assigns no value to the Allah SWT. That naturally creates conflict for nearly 200 million Pakistanis; try telling them in simple terms that Islam has no place in life and they are likely to be left aghast. Sheikh Qadri knows all of this but still flagrantly calls for democracy; Imran Khan cites Quranic ayat, Hadith and the Khilafah Rashidun as his example but unashamedly continues to push democracy as the solution.
It is because of these two twin reasons, vested interests and no fixed moral compass, that democracy stands discredited in Pakistan today. The people have had enough of a system that abuses them and gives them nothing in return. The democratic system in the West gained its wealth by colonising other lands for hundreds of years during which time domestically there was no universal voting or equal rights for women. The French thinker Raymond Aron wrote in his famous 1955 thesis, the ‘Opium of the Intellectuals’, that “Nowhere in Europe, during the long years when industrial populations were growing rapidly, factory chimneys looming up over the suburbs and railways and bridges being constructed, were personal liberties, universal suffrage and the parliamentary system combined”. This Western model for ‘growth’ cannot work in Pakistan, it is doomed for failure. The argument presented by the fringe Pakistani liberals that democracy will improve over time is both morally repugnant and disingenuous as millions grind in poverty while these liberals live in luxury. It is right that the people of Pakistan look for an alternative model, one that agrees with their values, with their history. Democracy has failed in Pakistan and only the naive or those with a vested interest will continue to deny this reality.
A Real Solution
In conjunction with the PML-Q, PTI is being showcased as the next political leadership that can take the reins to ‘save’ Pakistan. Those who are serious for change should reflect upon these games and reject another false dawn as the solution. Developing Pakistan requires fundamental changes such as land reforms, ending the capitalist polices of privatisation and IMF loans and taxation reform to tax the wealthy while eliminating it for the poor. Crucially it means abandoning the failed master to slave relationship with America and defying the colonialist international order by using the military to maintain and build interests in the region and beyond instead of subcontracted killing for America of your own people.
These are difficult yet essential steps which PTI or PAT never talk about because they can never deliver on these changes. Khilafah provides this time tested solution with the Shariah as the source of legislation, inoculating the legislative process from such abuse from vested interests and relative morality of favoured laws. This is the real debate, the real solution that Pakistan so desperately requires. Yes Nawaz Sharif needs to go, but whether he stays or not does not matter as long as this rotten democratic system which facilitates vested interests continues in place. It’s time both Tahir ul Qadri and Imran Khan along with their establishment puppet masters faced up to this truth and ended their ‘revolution’ nonsense.