Tuesday, August 19, 2014

No Way to Protest

The streets of Islamabad continue to be rocked by the now joint protest squads of Imran Khan and Tahir ul-Qadri, taking the ultimate stand for the Nawaz Sharif-led, elected government of Pakistan to step down and call for early elections scarcely a year after it won a historic election. Moreover, by marching into the Federal Capital's "Red Zone," the duo have clearly crossed a line.

To be fair, Sharif's government has not been awe-inspiring. It's tepid response to many of Pakistan's pressing problems, particularly on the economy and electricity, as well as absolute inability to do anything at all about continuing gang violence in Karachi and violence against minorities, as well as the Prime Minister's own shocking absence from Parliament have clearly demonstrated that the Pakistani voter perhaps made a mistake. However, democracy is not just about making the right choices but about respecting collective responsibility for wrong ones.

There is a reason why rules exist despite the fact that they may prove to be a roadblock for the country. The Constitution of Pakistan does not allow for any way for the elected government of the land to be dismissed except by a loss of a majority in the National Assembly. An extra-constitutional mob cannot be allowed to overturn a constitutionally-elected government, if democracy is to have any place in the country. It was not too far back, after all, that the Army itself kept toppling elected government either through direct intervention or otherwise. Today, Pakistan has a chance at restoring democracy and deepening its roots, a process that includes making and managing mistakes, and Imran Khan is blowing it.

From one dimension, the entire protest smacks of hypocrisy. In alliance with the Ja'amat-e-Islami, Khan's PTI has a government in KPK province, where it has been thoroughly short of its high promises and has faced a great deal of flak for playing politics with the country's security. In fact, his continued stand that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan is not a terrorist organization has eroded his original support base in the middle class. Now, the PTI is only left with populism to save face in Peshawar.

Nawaz Sharif, for the sake of democracy, must stand strong and reject Khan's ultimatum. He cannot succumb to the threat of violence. It is heartening that the PML-N's arch rival the PPP is also standing behind the government. If only Khan could take some cues from that. 

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