Today, Aug 14, is Pakistan’s 68th birthday but instead of celebrating we’re wondering if we’ll have a government by the end of the day.
Two anti-government forces are trying to march on the capital of Islamabad to get the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to resign. Pakistanis are glued to their televisions as the two forces gear up for a fight. The plan is to march from Lahore to Islamabad. The capital is on lock-down. The police have orders to try to contain PAT activists in Lahore. Roads leading to the capital have been sealed. Imran Khan has, however, started his march towards Islamabad. Here is my newspaper's coverage as the day unfolds: http://tribune.com.pk/azadimarch/
These are the two parties trying to bring about a ‘revolution’:
1. PTI: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice), a mainstream political party formed by cricketer Imran Khan (pictured above) in 1997. It was only in 2013 that his party won people over, especially young Pakistanis, at the ballot box. The PTI did well in the elections which saw a smooth transition of power between two democratically elected governments (The late Benazir Bhutto’s PPP party swept the 2008 elections after her assassination in 2007, and her widower Asif Zardari became president). The PTI now runs the government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, one of Pakistan’s four provinces.
2. PAT: The fringe Pakistan Awami Tehreek (Pakistan Peoples Movement) is led by Canada-based cleric Tahirul Qadri (pictured in the cap). He is a fire-breathing demagogue whose support base draws from his 70-country network of ‘schools’ for religion called the Tehreek-e-Minhaj-ul-Quran. Here is a good profile by Firstpost.com. He has been accusing the prime minister of corruption since June this year.
What Imran Khan wants:
After a year of making accusations, Imran Khan now wants Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign. He said nothing less than resignation of prime minister and announcement of fresh elections would be acceptable at this point.
He argues that the 2013 elections were rigged, allowing Nawaz Sharif’s party, the PML-N to come to power. Imran says that fake voting took the PML-N count from 6.8 million to 15 million.
Imran has demanded an extensive inquiry through an independent commission, which, he says is possible only under a neutral set-up.
How PM Nawaz Sharif responds:
When matters came to a head, the prime minister announced, in a televised address to the nation, that a 33-member parliamentary commission would make recommendations for electoral changes that would apply to the 2018 elections.
He said he would task three judges with investigating the allegations of rigging.
How to interpret these protests?
The BBC's M Ilyas Khan has explained the protests as a mass outpouring of anger - mostly from the country youth bulge - against militancy, a lack of governance, corrupton, joblessness and a shortage of electricity. Imran Khan is seen as a saviour. However, many analysts have criticised Imran Khan for not articulating his policies clearly enough. If he wants to uproot corruption, he will have to fix the system and that can't be done in a day.
The Express Tribune's former executive editor Muhammad Ziauddin makes some clear points on Imran Khan's approach here. Is it constitutional to hold a sit-in till the PM resigns? Imran Khan has said he upholds democratic values. Imran Khan has said he wants PM Sharif to resign and an interim government of technocrats to rule until fresh elections are held. But analysts have said this is not democratic.
At the end of the day, many people argue that Pakistan has been through enough turmoil. In 2008, we held elections after a decade of a dictator's military rule. In 2013, after the government completed its full five-year tenure, elections were held again and the new government transitioned in smoothly for the first time in our history.
Imran Khan's allegations of rigging should be dealt with constitutionally. But mass protests which will likely end in bloodshed today, are not what we need now.
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