The following article has been published in the Sunday Edition of Pakistan Today, dated 7th September 2014
(For online version: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2014/09/06/featured/choose-the-best-available-option/ )
(For Published Version, Page 6: http://issuu.com/abidoon/docs/dna_issue_40/7?e=3820687/9210255 )
Choose the best available option
Learn from history
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
It was a harsh winter, like winters in Russia are. The mighty advancing army was not only unaccustomed but also ill-equipped to deal with the extremities of climate. The officer in charge contacted his commander in chief detailing the ground realities and proposing a retreat and re-assault in summer. The response was a firm no with orders to march on, citing that their forces had never retreated, defeating all the global forces till then. Soon, the same army was buried in the graveyard of history along-with the commander in chief and his empire.
This is not a fictional story but the real account of the turning point in the history of Adolf Hitler led Nazi Germany. This is not the only example, rather history is filled with such disastrous actions repeated by otherwise brilliant leaders. Refusing to realise ground reality and not saving one’s strength in adversities to fight back later often led to obliteration, as has been the law of nature.
Timing is crucial in politics. But the ongoing fiasco in Islamabad has been a comedy of errors, where political blunders were committed and key opportunities missed. For example, the whole crisis started with the Model Town tragedy for which there was no need or logical basis. Everything was under the government’s control with operation Zarb-e-Azb in place. Though certain PML-N sections claim there was a conspiracy in “police fire” and some firing from the Minhaj secretariat, the decision to send police force to “teach a lesson” to protestors was solely PML-N’s.
When angry protestors who clogged the streets of London were calling for trial and hanging of Tony Blair due to his invasion of Iraq, the British government did not fire, use tear gas or arrest them.
Similarly, there were many missed opportunities. The government denied some logical and basic demands despite making commitments. When the protestors led by Imran Khan were attacked by a mob led by the brother of sitting MPA of PML-N in the constituency of Khurram Dastagir – a powerful MNA deemed close to the PM – there was more bad blood. When the protestors landed with less than expected numbers due to various reasons in extreme weather conditions, key government ministers started mocking instead of showing goodwill by providing food and shelter to co-citizens and Mian Nawaz Sharif taking a delegation to meet Imran Khan at that time. Though some food was sent later on, the moment was missed, and it was returned.
As if that was not enough, brutal police action was used on protestors including women and children. The government’s claim that since protestors had gas masks and sticks, they were akin to dangerous terrorist’ makes one wonder about the state of mind of those in charge. Also an argument was constantly repeated that no one is allowed to protest with cranes, sticks and gas masks anywhere in the world and that prior permission for protests is always taken in the civilised world. Unfortunately even our ‘learned’ electronic media anchors failed to correct this false narrative.
There had been several protests in the west including UK, USA and France where protestors took to streets without any prior permission. The black rights’ movement is a famous part of American history while riots in cities of France including Paris are not too old, and who can forget the infamous million march in the streets of London that choked and effectively closed down the city. None of the above countries used containers to block their own cities or used deadly force to kill the protestors despite even serious havoc in the case of French protests. Yes the protestors are not expected to and should not have sticks or cranes but if we analyse honestly, what are they supposed to do in the face of brutal assaults by the state machinery and road-blocks using containers?
When angry protestors who clogged the streets of London were calling for trial and hanging of Tony Blair due to his invasion of Iraq, the British government did not fire, use tear gas or arrest them. Nor did they use containers to siege entire areas and their own cities. They let the protestors steam off and it ended peacefully. On the other hand when the French authorities used police force to try to quell protests, though avoiding live bullets or cranes for blockades, the protests turned violent and spiraled out of control. This should be a lesson for the government, to let protestors exercise their democratic right of protest instead of using fascist measures that turn protests violent.
When key organisers fail to provide even basic arrangements and when office-bearers could hardly pull out a 100th of the pledged numbers despite widespread support, Imran needs to re-evaluate his options.
Another unfortunate fact is that political divisions in Pakistan have reached the point where it’s believed there are only two views, ones’ own view and the wrong view. This needs to change. Opinion makers, analysts, anchors, leaders and even the general public needs to have an open heart and a receptive brain enabling them to listen and neutrally analyse facts.
The fact of the matter is that PAT never had a widespread following or legitimacy but PTI does command both. Unfortunately despite Imran Khan’s resilience, determination and honesty it has pushed itself in a situation where there are no truly winning options. In such a situation when most of the party is disenfranchised and internal issues warrant serious attention, when key organisers fail to provide even basic arrangements and when office-bearers could hardly pull out a 100th of the pledged numbers despite widespread support, Imran needs to re-evaluate his options.
At the time of writing this we’ve reached a political stalemate, with some positive indications from Shah Mehmood Quraishi’s eloquent address in the joint session of parliament. In the situation detailed above, and with a few dozen elected MNA’s, if Imran can ensure legislation inducing reforms and closing the loopholes in the system, get the election commission reformed and re-constituted with well-reputed and competent officials, and get an independent Supreme Court tribunal to investigate alleged rigging in 2013 elections, it’ll be a very good situation to be in for PTI under the circumstances and the only possible way out of the political impasse Pakistan finds itself in.
What PTI has achieved is unprecedented in Pakistan as thousands of people have braved extreme weather and continue to sit in for three weeks, sacrificing their jobs, family lives and personal comforts for the sake of a merit based system in Pakistan. Let’s hope all this was not for nothing.