With Maximalist-Minimalist Positions, Where’s Plan-B?  

This logjam can be broken by an honest broker, but who?

By Humayun Gauhar

When the two irresistible forces called Imran and Qadri met the immovable object called Nawaz Sharif, a political logjam ensued. But movement in the national mindset did take place with people discovering their ignored fundamental rights and the courage to reclaim them. No longer are they accepting the arcane VIP Culture but demanding an Egalitarian Culture instead.

A political logjam can be broken by common sense, an honest broker or by force. Only an institution without stigma and perceived partiality can act as honest broker, as pious as Caesar’s wife. Sadly, Pakistan has none left, except Caesar himself. Parliament is useless, the Supreme Court compromised by allegations of arranging electoral fraud itself. An honest broker’s role for the army is undesirable. Like the Arab’s camel that, once partially let into the tent soon occupied it completely, throwing the Arab out in the cold night desert, Caesar has the proclivity to take what is not his.

What makes the logjam worse is that neither Imran nor Qadri nor Nawaz seem to have a Plan-B. So they stick to Plan-A of staring the other down. The question thus is: who will blink first? Usually it is the one with the least moral authority. My vote is for Nawaz Sharif who has stopped four silver bullets.

  1. His interior minister informing the National Assembly that 60-70,000 votes cannot be verified in any constituency and the government not contradicting him. This is tantamount to admission of ballot rigging. What need then for an investigation into vote rigging? Needed now is to determine who did it and how and take them to their logical, legal fates.
  1. The government’s own Judicial Commission into the Model Town murder of 14 people and injury to some 85 by Punjab police determining that there was enough reason to register a police case or FIR for terrorism and murder against Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif and 19 others including federal and provincial ministers. When a Sessions Court ordered police to register the FIR the government appealed to the High Court that rejected it. The FIR has since been registered after over two months.
  1. The registration of yet another murder case against the Brothers Sharif and some ministers for murdering two people on Constitution Avenue.
  1. Nawaz Sharif committing the highest from of perjury by stating in parliament that he had not invited the army chief to mediate when he actually had. Rattled by political umbrage and possible revolt he lied to parliament, alienating Caesar further and exposing himself to disqualification from holding electoral office. A petition for his disqualification has been received by the Speaker but on the advice of the law minister he hasn’t sent it to the Chief Election Commissioner yet as he should have.
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These four silver bullets alone have made Nawaz Sharif lose all moral authority while the moral ground he occupies is neither high nor low but subterranean. No one believes him any more.

All three protagonists have taken maximalist-minimalist positions, the challengers insisting that they won’t lift their ‘dharnas’ or sit-ins unless their maximum demand for Nawaz’s resignation is first met, which has also become their minimum demand. Champion Nawaz Sharif is adamant that he won’t resign, which is his maximum and minimum position. All other demands can be discussed, he says, but his resignation is “non-negotiable.” Imran and Qadri are equally adamant that as long as Sharif is prime minister other demands become irrelevant because under him no impartial investigation can take place. So we have logjam and the longest, biggest ongoing protest party in Islamabad. Come one, come all.

Government’s hope of outlasting the protestors shows no signs of materializing. A night visit to Constitution Avenue shows the commitment and determination of the protestors, men, women and children, young and old, well-heeled aunties and doddering uncles, the ‘masses’ from all over and every strata of society. The atmosphere is palpable, intense and profound, leaving one in awe, admiration even, and in thanksgiving that the people have finally discovered their rights. How can you scoff at people that have stood there for six weeks facing rain and shine, heat and cold, wind and storm, hail and thunder, batons, bullets, water canons, tear gas, beatings and Illegal arrests without flinching? Those who do have to be living in cloud cuckoo land. The government and ruling party’s spokespeople make it worse with their inane statements denying reality. Wishful thinking aside, there seems to be no chance of anyone backing down or the protestors leaving the dharnas as a bad job. If either dharna leader caves in, he is done.

The Brothers Sharif and their gang of murderous morons unnecessarily brought this upon themselves. What was the need for the Punjab police to wantonly kill fourteen innocent people at Qadri’s Lahore secretariat one night? If the idea was to frighten Qadri from returning to Pakistan to lead his followers in procession to Islamabad to demand Nawaz Sharif’s resignation, it boomeranged and gave legs to what could otherwise have been a small ripple.

What was the need to hijack Qadri’s Emirates flight to Lahore? Qadri rightly refused to disembark there and got hours-long free television coverage worth millions of dollars. That put springs in the legs of Qadri’s followers. The die was cast. How stupid. Worse, government bootlessly placed cargo containers on numerous roads to prevent the marchers, giving more fodder to television and protesters.

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If Nawaz had accepted Imran’s initial demand of an audit of only four constituencies 14 months ago, this would not have come to pass. Imran knocked on every door of justice and was denied. The reality is that Imran has attracted a large following of the angry disgruntled by governmental ineptitude, corruption and congenital lies. He surprised many by taking a huge procession to Islamabad. It was given a great fillip on the way by an attack by Nawaz’s goons in Gujranwala. And here they are, adorning or defacing Constitution Avenue depending on your political position.

The joint session of parliament called for the sole purpose of finding a solution to the crisis has become a damp squib with nary an intelligent suggestion in sight, only self-praise, quarrels, lies, threats and declamations by the alienated and mentally challenged. ‘Parliamentarians’ demonstrated their illogicality and bad intent by first admitting rigging and corruption yet still offering allegiance to, by their own reckoning, an illegal prime minister produced by an illegal National Assembly. The inescapable conclusion: they are driven by self-survival, convinced that Nawaz Sharif’s downfall will lead to an overhaul and reform of the electoral system in which the vast majority of them could be left out in the cold. They are protecting themselves and the system, not Nawaz Sharif.

Now I understand why a group of monkeys is called a “Parliament of Monkeys” while a group of baboons is called a “Senate of Baboons”. Both sitting together should called a “Jamboree of Naked Apes” as Desmond Morris called Homo sapiens.

The reality is that both the government and opposition’s negotiating teams have come up with nothing because Imran and Qadri won’t budge from their maximum-minimum positions of the prime minister’s resignation.

The reality is that the judiciary has recognized the people’s constitutional right to protest peacefully and make legal demands. Anyone familiar with the constitution, and I mean familiar by understanding, would know that asking for the prime minister’s resignation is entirely legal.

The reality is that State buildings belong to the people who are the real landlords. Tenants are temporarily housed there by the landlords to discharge certain functions. If these buildings are illegally occupied the landlords have the right to evict the squatters. What then is all the fuss about ‘storming’ them and defiling their ‘sanctity’? What right do products of rigged elections have to occupy State buildings owned by the people? It is these squatters masquerading as parliamentarians and chief executives who ruin the sanctity of the people’s properties by illegally occupying them.

The reality is that a prime minister at his wits end virtually blinked by asking the army chief to mediate between the protagonists. Nawaz Sharif was wrong in giving more political space to the army and the army chief should not have accepted it. But he did probably with the intent of breaking the logjam, which he probably could have done. He met Imran and Qadri that night and they repeated their maximum-minimum demand. When the prime minister discovered this he became even more witless. Faced with resentment from his party and the opposition that he had himself brought the army into politics without discussing it with them first or even informing them, he told parliament that he had not and committed perjury of the gravest kind, saying that he hadn’t asked the army chief to mediate but had agreed to his meeting Imran and Qadri because they were requesting for a meeting with the general. His interior minister tried to put an unbelievable spin on it by saying that they had only asked General Sharif to act as ‘facilitator’, not mediator and guarantor. Mediate, facilitate, arbitrate, what difference does this poppycock make? They brought the army deeper into the fray. Later that day the army spokesman gave the truth in writing, that the prime minister asked the army chief to ‘facilitate’ and Imran and Qadir denied that they had asked for any meeting with the general. More owl egg on Nawaz’s face.

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The reality is that people finding voice and courage is spreading like pollen from beautiful flowers that a government in denial doesn’t see. Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif are greeted with “Go Nawaz Go” slogans from flood victims. His yokel defence minister is greeted with shoes sailing past him in his hometown. A former interior minister and current Senator and a ruling party parliamentarian were driven off a flight by angry passengers for delaying it for their convenience. When Nawaz’s wife and daughter traveling on PIA to London brought their maid up to Business Class from economy the cabin crew revolted. Finally, the captain had to announce that if the maid didn’t return to the seat she had paid for the plane wouldn’t fly. Could such things have happened before the dharnas? The meek have become assertive. They will not tolerate the ruling elite’s sense of entitlement and privilege any more. Our hated VIP culture is gone. No more Divas, no more prima donnas.

My beautiful friend Maria Wasti the famous actress told me that when you put a pot of cold water on a fire with a frog in it, the frog keeps raising its temperature and adapting. But when it is about to reach boiling point the intelligent frog jumps out. The stupid frog doesn’t and gets boiled.