Failed Heroes of the Red Zone: Pakistan's Nemesis

You cannot write about Pakistan today because tomorrow — or a few minutes later — things will change. There are no heroes, only villains. Even the protestors who were beaten up have ended up as less than heroic because, the argument goes, they should have known better.

At face value, this reasoning fails me. If you can admire dissent elsewhere in the world, and applaud the many springs and summers in the Middle East as an assertion of people's power, then why does it hurt when it is home?

The two men who led the movement to dethrone Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are not trustworthy. For any change from the ground, the leaders need to be either rebels who do not care about power or those the public can repose faith in.

What Pakistan is witnessing instead is a Canadian of Pakistani origin, probably carrying back jars of maple syrup with sugary ideas. Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) is a cleric, a strange distant figure who seems to be granting benediction. He has no notion of what happens at the grassroots, but has managed to garner support.

Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) are better equipped, and it is a bit surprising that despite his huge ego he decided to hold joint protests with Qadri (or TuQ, as he is referred to). Khan has always fancied himself as a Robinhood figure, except that he has the posh demands of a James Bond. Style overrides substance. For his rally he chose to make a bulletproof and air-conditioned container his home and office. It acquired a mythic quality, with pictures and stories about him enjoying a siesta and long lunch break adding to the persona of a man of leisure who is sacrificing precious time and slumming it for the people, for inquilab.

The revolution turned out to be about resignation. One cannot be certain yet, although television channels and some news sites are mentioning how the army chief wants Nawaz Sharif to resign and others are saying that the PM wants the chief of army staff, Raheel Sharif, to quit. The latter for not being able to control the hordes, who also took over the government PTV offices. PTV, like all government channels, is a direct link to the public.

Imran Khan probably had no control over how the protests would end up. Perhaps, he did not even care. He had said earlier:

"Educated people who were discussing politics in their living rooms are awake now, they have sent their views and message for the nation. They are no fools, this is the educated class who can clearly see what Nawaz Sharif is up to, they are not any hypnotized or paid people. This is the voice of nation."

The last time he took out a big rally against drone strikes he had turned back. Have they become so much more educated that they would sally forth? People have died, many are injured. The police used teargas and rubber bullets.

In this situation Pakistanis, who crave democracy and believe they are a democracy, and Nawaz as an elected leader (rigged ballots need to be questioned soon after polls) is some proof, are looking to the army. Naturally, it is not to rule them, but they should know better than anybody else that the army has taken over the reins whenever there is internal strife.

It does not make matters any better when they learn that the PTI president Javed Hashmi has spoken out against Imran Khan, alleging on TV channels that the move to break the fence and into the parliament building came after Khan got a call. That call was supposedly from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) or the army, or both. I am glad as an Indian I don't have to add that I am no IK fan to be a bit iffy about Hashmi, who is being hailed by Pakistanis as some sort of last hope. This is desperate, for he is telling people exactly what they want to hear. His target need not have been Imran Khan; it could be a voodoo doll or a dartboard. He certainly does not look like the straw that broke the camel's back, for he was riding on that back.

It was the ruling government that called in the army. So, I am trying to understand this. The army decides to use the protests to plan a coup or some influence, but agrees to work with Imran if he does the dirty work of getting rid of the Nawaz regime? And Nawaz calls them in, so while they are doing their job, there is a tacit understanding with the protest leaders that they should create more trouble for them to quell?

Things continue to be in flux. (Updates here) Imran Khan and Qadri have been booked on terror charges. The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) also issued a statement:

"ISPR has categorically rejected the assertions that Army and ISI were backing PTI/PAT in anyway in the current political standoff. Army is an apolitical institution and has expressed its unequivocal support for democracy at numerous occasions. It is unfortunate that Army is dragged into such controversies."

The army is certainly not apolitical, and it often invites itself to controversies.

Nawaz Sharif says he will not resign, and it is just as well. The option for the people of Pakistan would be elections again or the army. Democracies are not easy to negotiate. Bitter as the current strife is, it appears to be a better lesson in functional democracy than an army intrusion can ever be.

Imran Khan may well have brought in an inquilab after all, even if is at the cost of his own credibility and by becoming a national liability.

© Farzana Versey

My earlier piece: Imran Khan's Revolution - The Inheritance of Loss