On the edge

The possibility of military rule looms large in Pakistan. Anti-government protests over the last fortnight have intensified during the past few days, unleashing chaos and political uncertainly.

With every passing day, the danger of the military stepping into the political arena is growing. Sadly, it is the irresponsible conduct of Pakistan’s politicians that is facilitating the military’s return to active politics.

Leaders and activists of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) are acting in an undemocratic manner, laying siege to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s residence and the adjacent parliament building to pressure Sharif to step down.

They have alleged that last year’s general elections were rigged to bring him to power. That election was a historic one - it was the first peaceful, democratic transition of power between civilian leaders in the country’s turbulent history.  

It seemed then that democracy in Pakistan was finally beginning to take roots. But Pakistan’s democratisation is now in serious jeopardy. To further their political ambitions, PTI chief Imran Khan and PAT’s leader, radical cleric Tahirul Qadri, have mobilised mobs to create unrest. The implications of their campaign are enormous as the unrest could be used by the military as an excuse to intervene. 

Sharif did well initially to put Khan’s demands before parliament. A parliamentary resolution rejecting Khan’s demands for dissolving parliament and the provincial assemblies was passed unanimously.

Interestingly, in a rare show of solidarity, the Pakistan People’s Party voted with Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League on the resolution. While rejecting Khan and Qadri’s demands for dissolving parliament, Sharif was willing to engage in dialogue to discuss their other demands and to set up a high-profile judicial inquiry into allegations of electoral fraud.

But Khan and Qadri have been obdurate. That was when Sharif stumbled. He is reported to have then requested army chief Raheel Sharif to mediate. This is a blunder as it has given the military the role of the referee in the ongoing conflict. 

The military’s role in the Khan-Qadri protests is murky. Some believe that a section of generals are behind the unrest. Others say that the military wants Sharif to use coercive force to restore order.

The government is in a tricky situation and must act soon. Rather than putting out the welcome mat to the military to fix political problems, Sharif must act to rally democratic forces, including his rivals in other political parties, to deal with the cris.

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