Pakistan’s leaders have a penchant to lead the country from one morass into another. The country is already in the deepest abyss of discontent because of the incessant terror attacks, acute energy shortage, double digit inflation and extreme lawlessness. If the situation were not grave enough, political strife and jockeying for power has brought the nation to a standstill. The political standoff resulting from the Inqalab and Azadi marches to the nation’s capital, the resultant sit-in by Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) paralyzed Islamabad and the nation. After seventeen days of political drama, which included hurling challenges by both the protagonists and the government, the duo moved into the Red Zone and threatened to takeover of vital government installations including the parliament house and PM’s residence. The Army was summoned by the government to come to the aid of civil power and tasked with guarding the vital installations, while the Police and Rangers were deployed for maintaining security.
The government belatedly tried to engage the protesters in dialogue but apparently the members of the opposition, engaged in the talks to mitigate the crisis, were playing their own political games. With the talks coming to naught, tensions mounted as both protagonists were led into a blind alley. The Army tried to be neutral and refused to be sucked into the political vacuum and instead asked both sides to show restraint and assured its adherence to democratic principles. The government continued to drag its feet and failed to gauge the gravity of the situation, unnecessarily prolonging the stress. The emotional and bellicose speeches by both Tahir-ul-Qadri and Imran Khan only raised tempers. Tahir-ul-Qadri’s tear stained face and choking voice, waving coffin shrouds and asking his followers to dig graves and prepare for martyrdom further charged the atmosphere. Imran Khan’s obduracy in insisting that he would accept nothing short of the PM’s resignation lent an aura of extreme anxiety to the atmosphere while the government’s lethargic approach in evolving a solution was damaging. The Army tried to instill calm and at the request of the government, attempted to cool the nerves of the protesting leaders, but to no avail. The milieu was made murkier, by the PM declaring on the Parliament Floor that he had not asked the Army to mediate. The Army spokesperson’s categorical statement of the government’s order should have set the doubts to rest but the government now insisted that it had asked for facilitation and not mediation. Lost in semantics, the window of opportunity to resolve the issues peacefully diminished.
Finally in a desperate move, the two political parties, PTI and PAT broke out of the cordon and moved towards the Parliament Building as well as the PM’s Residence. The government retaliated, using brute force and injured and killed numerous protesters including women and children. They were stopped in their tracks but invaded Pakistan Television Building the next day, only to be evicted by the Rangers.
While the protesters were licking their wounds and considering their next move and the Army was attempting to sooth the flared nerves, Javed Hashmi decided to part ways with PTI and made a startling declaration, insinuating that the Army was behind the whole drama. He also alleged that he had been assured that the Chief Justice was siding with the protesters, which was soon dispelled by the CJ himself.
There had been earlier whispering campaigns of the ISI and Army’s supposed role in bringing the government to its knees to gain greater say in the Afghan and Indian affairs as well as the war on terrorism. The dramatic disclosure, moving speech and sudden resignation by an ailing Javed Hashmi turned the tables on the demonstrations and the government further dug in its heels to stick to its stance.
The rationale of Javed Hashmi’s departure from PTI and delivering a parting kick to his compatriots and in bargain to the Army through his alleged exposé is not clear. Whether he had become apprehensive of Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s relative closeness to Imran Khan or his personal sufferings of incarceration by the Army in a previous era or his failing health, his implication of the Army’s giving a nod to PTI and PAT storming the Parliament Building and PM’s residence through Sheikh Rashid has sullied the waters.
The immaturity of the politicians, their lust for power and bypassing the constitutional means to resolve allegations of electoral fraud and other issues have brought the country to the brink of anarchy. Despite the Army spokesperson’s strong denial of any involvement in the politician’s shadowy political jostling, allegations and accusations continue to be mounted at the Khakis. The international media too seems to be picking up on the cacophony of murmurs and undertones, which can become a crescendo.
One needs to ponder with a clear mind, what the army would achieve by rocking the boat of democracy at a critical juncture like the present crisis laden situation. Operation Zarb-e-Azb is being fought with all its might to crush the miscreants in North Waziristan; Modi and his hawks are hurling challenges at the eastern front besides violating the ceasefire along the LOC and international boundary; the international forces are drawing down from Afghanistan, perhaps leaving a vacuum in which the Taliban may cause grave risk to Pakistan along with challenging the writ of their own government. Under these trying circumstances, where the Army is sacrificing its own personnel by the dozens, it is unpalatable to assume that it would found time to play politics. If the past is any indicative of the future, previous Army regimes directly took control of the government through coup d’états and not through the backdoor. The army has tried to act according to its constitutional role and hold hands of the political leaders amidst the turmoil in Islamabad, which has led both the protesters and the government to a point of no return. If only the government for once adopted a visionary approach and took bold initiatives to resolve the crisis and end the stalemate which has placed Islamabad in a state of lockdown, it could prove its mettle of leadership and end the impasse.