Azadi march


The following article is published in the Sunday edition (DNA) of Pakistan Today, dated 13th July 2014

(For online version: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2014/07/12/featured/azadi-march/ )

(For published version: Page 6 at:   http://issuu.com/abidoon/docs/dna_issue_32/7?e=3820687/8589798  )

Azadi march

Sane heads should prevail, or the fallout can be disastrous

By: Omer Zaheer Meer

The author is a Director of the think-tank “Millat Thinkers’ Forum”. He is a leading economist, qualified accountant and anti-money laundering expert with international exposure who can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer  or omerzaheermeer@hotmail.co.uk

Once again Imran Khan takes a stand that will take serious convincing for many even within his ranks to go along. Decisions made out of necessity are understandable, but fully believing in them is an entirely different phenomenon.

Let us revisit some recent history. We’re not prepared for this yet. Think about it, we just had a massive success in Lahore which can go to waste. Going to Karachi after this is just too risky. That’s MQM’s territory. We don’t even have a proper organisational structure there. MQM is too strong and its militants would never allow us to hold a successful “Jalsa”.

These were some of the “rational” responses from senior Karachi-based PTI politicians when Imran Khan’s intent to go to Karachi after the infamous 30th October Jalsa in Lahore was made clear to them. None of them could comprehend it. It just did not make any sense to them. Why take such a big risk when you had it your way and that too after a long wait? Khan’s response to them was not to think what may be lost but rather to think what may be gained. He turned out to be the eventual winner that time. The same story was repeated in different manners earlier in Lahore and later in Quetta, Rawalpindi, Waziristan, etc. All those times he turned out to be a winner though the odds always seemed to be stacked against him.

He has now announced a million-march towards Islamabad on the independence day of Pakistan, 14th August 2014. Many within and outside Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf are questioning the timing for the call of this long-march. They point out the human tragedy unfolding from the displacement of over 800,000 IDP’s (per recent reports), possible ramifications for operation Zarb-e-Azb, and limited time available to prepare for such a mega event. Some even point towards the possibility of another coup.

We need to remember that a million-strong show is something that even PTI, despite its massive popularity, has not achieved to date and if successful would add another dimension to the perception of its street-power, leaving every other party behind by miles.

Khan’s formal stance is straightforward. He’s been asking for verification of votes in four (4) constituencies for over a year to no avail and is not prepared to give this government any more time. Imran’s reason is that if the federal government does not have anything to hide than why did it go to such pains to ensure that the verification of the symbolic four constituencies did not take place? The treatment of the presumably independent ex-head of NADRA is cited as are the verification results of NA-118, proving manipulation and the disgraceful act of stuffing up bags with fake votes, which was proved in court. Furthermore, 14th August holds special significance. The potential for coup seems a distant possibility with over-stretched establishment as well as a relatively active judiciary. Also, Khan seems to believe that the IDP issue has been manipulated by the federal government by keeping not only him but also the provincial government of KPK in the dark regarding the operation, thereby not allowing them to prepare for the fallout. An interesting question here would be how aware and in control of the operation was the federal government, but it warrants detailed analysis.

We need to remember that a million-strong show is something that even PTI, despite its massive popularity, has not achieved to date and if successful would add another dimension to the perception of its street-power, leaving every other party behind by miles.

Having said that, perhaps there is more to this “tsunami” march which was more recently termed “Azadi” march by Imran Khan at an event hosted by PTI Punjab. After all, what difference does waiting for another month make after waiting for fifteen months?

First and foremost, by raising its voice PTI has given an outlet to the masses suffering from rising inflation, high load-shedding during an extremely hot summer and the ever-increasing menace of unemployment. The pressure on the government in Islamabad can be taken to the boiling point. The recent series of successful “Jalsas” have rejuvenated faith of some key leaders within PTI who were badly shaken following the 11th May election results. Also, perhaps lesser known is the fact that internal rifts within PTI have also subsided. As is natural, the key support-base of PTI, particularly the youth, has been motivated to face an external “foe”.

By raising its voice PTI has given an outlet to the masses suffering from rising inflation, high load-shedding during an extremely hot summer and the ever-increasing menace of unemployment.

However what concrete political mileage can PTI gain from this march is not clear to many. What makes sense is the “competition” with Tahirul Qadri. Although not a match for PTI, either in terms of popularity, street-power or even parliamentary strength, Mr Qadri posed the threat of swaying at least some of the PTI support base as well as the disgruntled general populace. By announcing the Azadi march before Qadri, PTI and has out-maneuvered the latter.

There are, however, important considerations that PTI should to take into account too. One key lesson any student of politics can highlight is that mere agitation has never been able to shake any government in Pakistan without the implicit or explicit support of the establishment. As of now, the establishment is not only bogged down in a multitude of serious problems but over-stretched too. The Nawaz government’s relationship with it has also improved and it is not as sour as it was a few weeks ago. If anything, the placating of the establishment, particularly regarding Operation “Zarb-e-Azb” by PMLN, has helped bring them out of the negative ambit they were in. Therefore clarity is needed as to what PTI plans to achieve from this Azadi march politically and what exact road-map they want to follow. Not many seem too certain about it right now.

PMLN’s government is also in a political fix over this issue. If they cede to Imran’s demands they risk opening up a Pandora’s box which may put in question the legitimacy of the entire electoral process and thereby the government itself. If they continue to hide behind technical excuses such as claiming the issue at hand should be dealt by the Election Commission, while pressuring, transferring and even removing key officials including tribunal judges, then they have to face a possible barrage of street protests by the most popular party of the youth of this country. Add to this the Qadri factor and it makes for a perfect quagmire for the incumbent government. How PMLN deals with it would define what course the matter would take. One hopes wisdom prevails and a repeat of the Model Town incident is avoided.

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