Imran Khan & Tahirul Qadri: Unelected crusaders
by Sandhya Jain on 03 Sep 2014 3 Comments

August having turned to September with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif doggedly in office if not fully in command, growing voices in Pakistan question the hidden hands behind the pincer attack on the regime by Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan and Canadian cleric cum Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) leader Tahirul Qadri on Independence Day (August 14). Many see the hand of the military behind the attempt to derail a democratically elected regime barely 14 months in office, particularly after the rebels seized the PTV headquarters, forcing the channel to go off the air on Monday, till the building was finally cleared by the Army.


When frustrated protestors resorted to violence after two weeks of stalemate, Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif conferred with the Prime Minister on Monday afternoon and reputedly asked him to step down to end the impasse. As an obdurate Nawaz Sharif claimed support from the elected parties in Parliament, the General was left with no choice but to retreat, “reaffirming support to democracy”. On Tuesday, both Houses of Parliament boldly batted for democracy.


As of now, the gherao by the PTI and PAT in the capital’s high security red zone continues; violent clashes in the past 72 hours have left three persons dead and several injured. The question legitimately arises as to how the protestors were permitted access to the red zone, where they attacked policemen with impunity. They also broke the main gate into the Pakistan Secretariat area which houses government ministries and the Prime Minister House. The head of Islamabad police and a senior police officer were injured in the violence.


Given the growing dissent in Imran Khan’s own party, and the fact that Qadri simply flew in from Canada (where he has citizenship), it seems obvious that the crowds gathered under their banner are the rent-a-crowd variety typically seen in countries slated for regime change. Given the presence of the Taliban and myriad homegrown terrorist organisations in Pakistan, they could even be controlled by more sinister forces.


Yet this time, Pakistani citizens and political parties are alive to the menace, and have spoken up boldly. On Monday, The Dawn newspaper reported that Javed Hashmi, president of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf, accused chairman Imran Khan of acting out a script prepared at least a year ago, to oust the elected government of Nawaz Sharif. Demands have risen for Imran Khan’s resignation as party chairman for violating the National Constitution by urging mutiny and attacking symbols of the State. In Parliament on Tuesday, Javed Hashmi (publicly sacked by Imran Khan in violation of the party constitution) berated the Prime Minister for failures on several counts, but did not call for toppling the regime.


Sources within the PTI claim that the plot was partly unveiled at a parliamentary party meeting held at Imran Khan’s residence at Bani Gala three months after the May 11, 2013 elections. Nasir Khan Khattak, Member of National Assembly (MNA) from Karak (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), stated that Imran Khan told party MNAs “to prepare for the elections in 2014 as the Nawaz government will not last more than a year”. The meeting took place soon after Imran Khan returned from the United Kingdom (where his sons live, safe from the turmoil) after the 2013 elections. Infact, the MNAs were told to stay in their constituencies as the next election would be held in 2014. At that time, few took the advice seriously, “but current developments have proven that everything was scripted,” Khattak told the media.


Events that have unfolded since Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri joined hands to oust the regime in Islamabad have caused serious misgivings in the PTI, with Javed Hashmi accusing Khan of acting on “external” directions. Nasir Khattak asserted that by calling for mutiny and attacking state symbols like Parliament and the Prime Minister House, Imran Khan has lost the right to lead the party and must resign and face legal action under Article 6 of the Constitution. This is tantamount of “a declaration of war against the State”.


Khattak and about 21 MNAs may face expulsion from the PTI for refusing to resign from the National Assembly. They contend that the decision was taken by an unconstitutional core committee, without consulting the parliamentarians. On Sunday, while addressing the protesters, Imran Khan declared the expulsion of three dissident MNAs for not complying with his orders, as also of Javed Hashmi, but the party constitution does not permit expulsion through public announcement. The dissidents say that resignations by PTI MNAs in the present volatile situation could only lead to martial law in the country.


That Imran Khan is determined to queer the pitch is unquestionable. On Sunday, when the corps commanders stressed the urgency to resolve the face-off, the PTI announced it would not talk with the government, though several Ministers expressed willingness for dialogue. The commanders’ statements were seen as a rebuff to both Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri.


The PTI dissidents claim that the party and its core committee had agreed that the sit-in would not move from outside the Parliament building to the front of the Prime Minister House. But in one meeting, a close aide whispered to Imran Khan and he unilaterally announced that the sit-in would move to the Prime Minister House. Thereafter, his supporters tried to ravage the symbols of the state like the Presidency, the Parliament building, the Cabinet Division and the Supreme Court building. The dissidents believe that guided by unseen forces, Imran Khan sent his team to talk with government representatives only to buy time to move towards the Prime Minister House and hurt Pakistan’s delicate democracy.


Dr Qadri, they say, is a spoiler determined to ditch all that is left of the democratic system. Qadri has poor democratic credentials, having served Gen Pervez Musharraf for many years, until some differences led him to seek asylum in Canada in 2008 on the plea that he could not enter his native country. Yet he had little trouble in returning to foment revolution in 2013, insisting that Asif Zardari step down before completing his tenure. Zardari ignored him and later handed over power to another civilian dispensation after elections widely perceived as free and fair.


Now the Canadian cleric who has access to unlimited funds, have returned with impunity in 2014 and found crowds willing to follow his diktat to overthrow an elected regime. This is fairly convincing evidence that there are powerful forces behind him.


In January 2013 too, Qadri was supported by Imran Khan. It is astonishing that he was again allowed into Pakistan and permitted to conduct incendiary political activities there. This is impossible without support from a powerful section of the Army. Only, unlike in 1977 when opposition parties agitated against alleged electoral rigging and paved the way for Gen Zia ul Haq’s takeover, this time all political parties (barring PTI and PAT) stand for the democratic system.


In Parliament, Aitzaz Ahsan criticised the government but asserted that the Pakistan People’s Party stood by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. Other parties also criticised the government and the Prime Minister but did not support the agitators, and the joint session of Parliament ended on a conciliatory note.


Bolstered by the political establishment, the authorities have begun to crack down on the protestors. Cases have been registered against Imran Khan, Qadri, and other leaders and activists of the PTI and PAT on charges ranging from sedition, murder attempt, assault or criminal force to deter a public servant from discharging his duty, trespass, unlawful assembly, and terrorism. Over 200 activists have been arrested from Constitution Avenue and hospitals in the past 72 hours, and arrests are being made of office-bearers and activists of the two parties in Punjab.


At the time of writing, Nawaz Sharif seems to have survived the challenge. For Qadri and Imran Khan, this is the second defeat. For the Pakistan Army, which dare not risk the odium of ousting an elected government at a time when its Western (read US and UK) mentors are struggling to bring (read impose) democracy on the world, this is another lesson in the perils of brinkmanship. It is foolish to raise one’s mast if one does not intend to sail.












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