This article was originally featured in the Daily Times in two parts on September 17-18.
Quaid-i-Azam once said “Democracy is in the blood of Muslims, who look upon complete equality of mankind…[and] believe in fraternity, equality and liberty.”
For over forty days, Imran Khan and Dr. Tahirul Qadri have been staging sit-ins in Pakistan’s capitol calling for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation. Yet even at its peak the average number of those attending does not amount to winning a single constituency in the general elections. Both Imran Khan and Dr. Tahirul Qadri have become increasingly isolated and the hope of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation is waning with each day.
Here are 10 reasons why Pakistan has rejected the calls for inquilab (revolution) and azaadi (freedom).
1) Despite irregularities, 2013 general elections were better than ever before and several polls suggest PML-N sustains popularity. According to numerous independent election monitoring organizations such as FAFEN, PILDAT, and EU, although the May 11, 2013 Pakistani general elections were far from perfect they were actually better than all previous elections. The positive reports were based on the independent reports of over 41,000 trained observers stationed all over the country.
Evidence of PML-N’s sustained popularity is seen in many recent polls. A recent Pew Research survey shows that 64% of Pakistanis have a favorable opinion of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and only 32% give him an unfavorable rating. Another survey by PILDAT states that 63% of all Pakistanis believe the 2013 Pakistani Elections were fair and transparent.
According to Gallup Pakistan 66% of Pakistanis think that Imran Khan should have waited for the next elections. It also revealed a strong committment to democracy with 81% saying they prefer it to the 13% who favored dictatorship. Furthermore all other political parties have renewed their confidence in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and both Pakistan’s National Assembly and Senate passed unnanimous resolutions declaring it illegal to ask for his resignation or dissolution of the Parliament. Coercing his resignation would hence be an unconstitutional assault on the Parliament and Senate resolutions. As many have pointed out, if Imran Khan thinks Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rigged the 2013 elections on a massive scale while not even being in office, it doesn’t make sense that he needs to resign before any investigation takes place.
2) Time for unconstitutional power grabbing is over. While Pakistan’s neighboring country India has steadily been strengthening its democracy, Pakistan’s progress has been stifled by political unrest and it has suffered at the hands of military dictatorships. Imran Khan himself has said in an interview last year that the worst thing that has happened in Pakistan is the disturbance in the continuity of its democracy.
In 2013 Pakistan witnessed for the first time in its 67 year old history one democratically elected government peacefully handing over power to another democratically elected government. This peaceful transition of power is an important milestone in Pakistan’s history for which Pakistan was internationally praised and an accomplishment Pakistanis should feel proud of. Orderly and peaceful democratic transitions of power are a testament to a maturing political climate in the country. It is necessary for the constitution to be rendered supreme and the democratic processs strengthened for Pakistan’s future generations to inherent a strong nation.
Pakistanis are tired of political musical chairs. They no longer want to see their rulers desperately trying to sustain power but to actually tackle the problems which affect average Pakistanis. The constitutional way to call for the resignation of the Prime Minister is through a “no confidence” vote in the Parliament. There is no support for this from any other political party.
3) Current rigging allegations are not enough to change the PML-N’s majority. All political parties acknowledge that some local level rigging took place in last year’s election but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence it was massive or done by any one political party. Furthermore despite irregularities current rigging allegations do not change the overall results of a landslide victory for PML-N. This is why all other parties have accepted the results. 410 petitions against rigging were filed with the election commission, only 58 of those from PTI, and of those 39 have already been handled by the courts. Even if every single remaining allegation of rigging went in PTI’s favor it would still not be enough to change the overall results.
Though the government should have initiated reforms earlier to avoid the current crisis, there were already calls for both a Parliamentary Committee and a Judicial Commision to investigate accusations of widespread rigging and enact electoral reforms. Fiery rallies may rouse emotions but bring little practical change and are best kept for election campaigns. It’s imperative to work within the framework of the constitution for real change.
4) Conspiracies on both sides must first be investigated. PTI and PAT’s claims and ultimatums are getting increasingly bizarre and inconsistent. Imran Khan has accused the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudary, GEO/Jang, Najam Sethi, General Kayani, celebrities, and mafia in what seems to be one of the “most devious international plots” against him coming into power. But we have yet to see or hear of any proof. PTI’s Deputy Information Secretary Fayazul Hasan has claimed on national TV that Pakistan’s military establishment, USA, UAE, India, and even MI6 were all allegedly involved in a massive international plot against Imran Khan winning the elections.
These claims failed to be substantiated by any independent organizations overseeing the elections. Imran Khan and Afzal Khan’s claims have also been refuted by Election Commission. Afzal Khan not only said he has no proof to offer but he testified that the May 11th Elections were the best ever held in Pakistan. Undermining each of Pakistan’s institutions without providing hard facts is highly irresponsible.
Furthermore PTI’s own President, Javed Hashmi, has made damning accusations that Imran Khan and Dr. Tahirul Qadri are working on a conspiracy against Pakistan’s democracy at the behest of some retired generals who are responsible for writing this “script.” This puts both PTI’s and PAT’s credibility into serious question as themselves being “match-fixers.” Until a full investigation is done their accusations against others or demands made of the governement must also be taken with a grain of salt.
5) Peaceful and lawful protests are a democratic right. Without a democracy — this same one they detest — Imran Khan and Dr. Tahirul Qadri would not be allowed to voice their dissent. We should celebrate the right to assembly and peaceful protest. That’s what sets apart democracies from dictatorships. However, incitement to violence, attacking and trespassing into government buildings, holding PTV hostage, and disobeying Supreme Court (SC) orders are not “democratic rights.”
As is the case in any civilized country, protests must take place with the permission of authorities and within the frameworks of the laws. We watched in horror as Imran Khan said he would personally strangle police officers who laid hands on his party workers and equally shocked when Dr. Tahirul Qadri called on his followers to kill each member of the Sharif family if anything happened to him. Such statements advocating anarchy are reprehensible and can even be criminal. It is alarming that protestors have taken the law into their own hands. Furthermore the protestors are in clear violation of Supreme Court orders to clear the red zone, not bring infants and weapons into the area, or desecrate property. They have also gone against their written agreements with the government.
6) “Unverifiable” thumbprints due to ink quality does not make a vote “bogus.” Pakistanis risked their lives on May 11, 2013 simply to cast their vote. In historic numbers they defied the Taliban and fulfilled their responsibility to their country. Many lives were sacrificed for democracy. Still Pakistan saw the largest voter turnout in its history. We should not let such sacrifices go in vain. The fact that 50-60% of the votes may not be verifiable by thumb print because of the quality of ink used does not mean they are bogus votes. The National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) has already differentiated “bogus” votes from votes on which thumb prints are not verifiable but otherwise valid.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported the pre-poll environment was hostile to certain parties and there was not a level playing field for candidates to even campaign. Candidates from ANP, MQM, and PPP were routinely targetted. Yet in the national interest of the country they have accepted the results. FAFEN reported four areas in KPK were women were being turned away from voting. Have we ever heard Imran Khan or Dr. Tahirul Qadri speak out about these violent and obvious forms of rigging?
7) Civil disobedience hurts the state of Pakistan. The campaign for civil disobedience was not taken seriously by any of the other political parties, including the Jamaat-e-Islaami. It is reported that Imran Khan himself paid his utilities bills defying his own call for civil disobedience. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s minister for local government and rural development, Inayatullah Khan, said the province would not be practicing civil disobedience as it would be “tantamount to treason” if practiced by a government institution. The call was overhwhelmingly rejected by businessmen and traders throughout Pakistan. Hurting Pakistan’s economy at such a critical time is not helpful nor patriotic. According to some Pakistan has had one thousand billion rupees in losses due to the dharnas.
8) Neither Imran Khan nor Dr. Tahirul Qadri have offered real solutions. What exactly will Dr. Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan do to relieve poverty ? We simply don’t know. Chanting slogans are very different from delivering on the ground. It’s no longer enough for these two leaders to appeal to the masses by stating what’s wrong with others. It’s time to provide real solutions and show real results. Imran Khan has the perfect opportunity to implement his ideas in the province of KPK to show he can make things work. Pildat’s latest survey shows a 37% positive rating to KPK’s Chief Minister whereas Punjab saw a high 66% positive rating for its Chief Minister. Rather than the streets this is where the competition should be.
9) Pakistan is facing many crises that deserve attention. Hundreds of people have died in the past few days in mansoon flooding. Pakistan’s army is fighting a critical war against terrorism in North Waziristan which affects the security of the entire region. Many are calling operation Zarb-e-Azb a battle for the “existence of Pakistan.” Whereas one million people failed to show up to the Azaadi and Inquilaab marches, the number of IDPs have reached a record one million. The other political parties have urged the nation to pay attention to the IDPs and not be divided at such a critical time. Some crucial economic and defense deals with the Chinese President were to help Pakistan move along in its ecmonic recovery. That too was stalled because of the the dharnas. Repeatedly bringing Pakistan to the brink of instability also does not help the common man.
10) Power vacuums aide extremism. It is alarming that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has threatened to make its way into Pakistan. When we do away with the laws of the land, we are left with anarachy. Much of the Muslim world is in chaos right now. Already Pakistan’s minorities, women, and children are under attack from various extremist groups. A power vacuum would put the entire country into more danger. Political turmoil has given rise to extremist groups such as ISIS by allowing them the space necessary to commit atrocities not only against the state but its most vulnerable citizens. As if the threats TTP, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Al-Ahrar, and Al-Qaeda were not enough, ISIS has declared its plans for making Pakistan and Afghanistan a part of its ‘caliphate.’
Strengthening Pakistan’s institutions, government, and its democracy would act as a fortress against terrorism and make it harder for Pakistan’s enemies to threaten its stability and economic standing in the world. We need to take a good look at current events around the world to know how much worse things can be when there is political unrest in a country already under attack by terrorists.
Is that the future we want for Pakistan?