The consequences of Maulana's protest movement
The so-called Azadi movement, launched by Fazal-ur-Rehman, the head of a politico-religious party in Pakistan, is demanding Prime Minister Imran Khan’s resignation. The anti-government drive is partly supported by the two main opposition parties, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and enjoys the backing of several small regional and ethnic factions.
The roots of the movement can be traced back to Rehman’s extreme frustration: He firmly believes that he and his Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam (JUI-F) party were cheated in the last general elections. He, along with leaders of other opposition factions, maintains that the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party is in connivance with the establishment, a coded euphemism for the army leadership, which, in his opinion, manipulated the elections.
This is a serious charge, but unfortunately after every general election, the losing political party has not accepted defeat gracefully and blamed the election commission or state institutions for being partisan. In the previous election, when former PM Nawaz Sharif’s political party won the polls, Imran Khan led a prolonged sit-in demonstration for months, pressing for re-election. In an ironic twist of fate, the present protest movement is based on the grievance that the establishment unfairly supported Khan’s PTI party.
It is important that political parties and major state institutions take conscious steps to develop a functional and cooperative relationship so that the potential of the nation is actualized.
The Pakistan armed forces have made enormous sacrifices in defending the eastern and western frontiers and continue to do so as both borders remain highly volatile. Despite their high level of professional competence, however, they also have a history of influencing politics. Pakistan has been through four interludes of prolonged military rule since its inception. All the four military regimes had a sad ending and created more problems than they solved. In essence, the democratic institutions that were already very weak suffered further.
The more pertinent question that is on the minds of the people is how the present protest movement would play out and what would be its impact on the democratic process as a whole. Undoubtedly, the freedom to agitate is the democratic right of every political party or civil society organization provided it remains within the bounds of law. So far, the protest movement has abided by this tenet but it could all lead to anarchy if both sides do not display flexibility and spirit of compromise.
The demand for the prime minister’s resignation would be clearly unacceptable to the ruling party, and government representatives have unequivocally stated this. If Rehman and other parties insist on PM's resignation, it would certainly lead to the army’s involvement, which would be a huge setback to Pakistan’s fragile democracy. To defuse the situation, the army leadership could support reelection in specific constituencies that are disputed at the national and provincial level. And if the JUI-F leadership, along with the other two main opposition political parties, insists on fresh national elections and the chaos worsens, the possibility of army leadership assuming power cannot be totally ruled out. As of now, it is monitoring the situation closely.
Historically, the army has played a major role in influencing politics in Pakistan. Apart from having assumed direct power four times in the country’s short history, it heavily influences foreign, security and economic policies during civilian rule. The highly hostile relationship with India and the fallout of the civil war in Afghanistan have given the armed forces a special role in Pakistan. Unfortunately, political parties have been guilty of encouraging military leadership to intervene in order to leverage its presence in the political system against their opponents.
Due to the harsh but necessary economic measures taken by the PTI government on the advice of the International Monetary Fund, there is a general sense of despair and anguish among the masses. Rising inflation and high cost of living have hurt the masses significantly. The opposition parties are exploiting the situation and attributing it to poor governance. Whereas the PTI government’s performance remains far short of its claims, the fact that it inherited a very anaemic economy cannot be overlooked. This is also not to deny the government’s credit for introducing major reforms in the taxation system and monetary policies. Imran Khan may have overplayed his crusade against corruption, but his policies have sent a strong message to prospective investors and business community that the corrupt mafia would not torment them.
Political infighting, a disturbed security situation and a weak economy have adversely affected Pakistan’s image. It is important that political parties and major state institutions take conscious steps to develop a functional and cooperative relationship so that the potential of the nation is actualized. The responsibility lies with both the government and the opposition leadership for achieving this goal. That would of course require PM Khan to be more conciliatory and the opposition political parties should take the business of the parliament and their overall role seriously. As of now, they have trivialized it through their conduct. The immediate priority is to find an amicable settlement for the present political crisis and work toward developing a functional democracy that serves the interests of the people.