By Ghani Jafar & Ifrah Waqar
Sep 4, 2014

A Political Circus

Pakistan has been in the grip of a political turmoil since the second week of last month. The schools are closed, government offices shut, public transportation halted and the economy of the country jammed because of the on-going protests and sit-in by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri’s PAT (Pakistan Awami Tehreek). The two parties are currently encamped outside the Parliament House in Islamabad. They have one demand in common which calls for the resignation of both Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother, the Chief Minister of Punjab, Shehbaz Sharif.

Although the government and the prime minister have repeatedly refused to oblige the protestors by stepping down, the two parties have also been reiterating that nothing short of the resignations of the two brothers would make them call off the sit-ins.

The Federal Government is virtually paralysed as the protestors have also blocked the entrance to the Federal Secretariat in the vicinity of the Parliament House. Nor is the protest confined to the Capital; the supporters of the two parties are staging demonstrations and sit-ins in other major cities of the country as well.

On top of all this, the President of Pakistan’s one of the most friendly countries, China, Xi Jinping, was scheduled to visit Islamabad from September 14 to 16. The visit has been postponed according to media reports because the Chinese President’s security team which was in Pakistan this week refused to issue him security clearance. It is most regrettable that Pakistan’s lingering political dispute has barred the Chinese President from visiting Pakistan.  It is also deplorable that Pakistan has not been able to extend hospitality to the honourable guest from China.

Nobody can predict what will happen or what shape or form these on-going events will take?  Speculations and rumour mills are at an all-time high, with some quarters wanting the army to take over, whereas others are rallying against the protesters. The security situation of the country is precarious with the on-going military operation “Zarb-e-Azb” in North Waziristan, and about 800,000 internally displaced persons from North Waziristan in relief camps or other places to which nobody, except the Pakistan Army and Paramilitary Forces, is giving any attention.

At the same time, taking advantage of Pakistan’s internal turmoil, Indian troops are frequently firing and shelling rockets across the Line of Control as also the Working Boundary dividing Indian-occupied former state of Jammu and Kashmir and Azad Kashmir and some of Pakistan’s border areas with India. The international scenario is getting further complicated with every passing day as the electoral crisis in Afghanistan remains unresolved, whereas the date of the American and NATO troops’ withdrawal from Pakistan’s bordering country, Afghanistan, is only a few months away. Militants of the so-called “Islamic State of Syria and Iraq” are opening up their tentacles beyond Syria and Iraq and now there are reports of their distributing pamphlets and literature in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well.

Against this backdrop, it would perhaps not be wrong to say that Pakistan is currently facing one of the worst political crises of its turbulent history. According to the figures released by the Finance Minister, Ishaq Dar, the PTI and PAT sit-ins have caused some 500-800 billion rupees to the country’s economy since the protests began. The policy-makers in Islamabad seem incapacitated to deal with the on-going political crisis.

According to some observers, the present government’s attitude is a part of the continuing problem rather than a solution. Their dismissive attitude and failure to cope with the crisis has led the country to the point that it has become a laughing stock within the world community. The government, instead of trying to resolve or even listen to the grievances of the protesting parties, has chosen to pay no heed instead. The protesters are being imprisoned all over the country, and, in Islamabad, they are being obstructed by the police and even shelled with tear gas, rubber as well as metal bullets which has resulted in the death of an unknown number of persons and hundreds have been injured.

A week-long Joint Parliament Session was called in the after-math in which leaders from a number of political parties have made thunderous speeches on the importance of democracy, and yet have aligned themselves with the government by stating they would support democracy and would not provide  space for a third party to intervene.

 The current political situation seems like a big ongoing circus. The protesters do not know their exit strategy, and the government has no clue as how to deal with them. Add to in this mix the inflated egos and hubris of the political leaders involved, and we have a full-blown crisis on our hands. No one is ready to give a breathing space or show some flexibility to the other as it has now become more of a personal face-saving issue rather than an attempt to get the country out of this mess.

The solution of the problem lies in both the Opposition and the Government parties taking a step back in the larger interest of the country. The onus of responsibility is on the Federal Government as it responsible for all citizens of Pakistan not just the ruling group. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is currently serving his third time as the Chief Executive of the country, has spent more or less 31 years in politics; the current situation demands a display of political maturity and magnanimity on his part. Whether the current ruling elite is able to follow rationality, only time will tell, but what is evident is that the Government needs to review and revise its current and future policies if it wants to survive politically and in  government.

It should also be remembered that a crises bring opportunities as well. While this political turmoil has created a tense situation, it has also given many lessons to the ruling elite as well as the people of Pakistan. Politics and Parliament have once again become relevant to the educated middle class. Political awareness has reached new heights. Politics is no longer the business of a few selected families. Depending on a peaceful resolution of the crisis, all these developments would have a positive impact in the long run, insofar as democracy in the country is concerned.

Mr. Ghani Jafar is currently working as an Editor/senior research fellow at the Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies.

Ifrah Waqar is currently working as a Research Associate at the Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS).

The views expressed in this article are of writers own and do not necessarily present the position of the Centre.

 

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