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October 29, 2016

Imran’s addiction


October 29, 2016

Almost everyone has a crippling addiction of some kind, a self-destructive tendency to keep indulging in the same vice even though it brings nothing but trouble.

Imran Khan’s addiction is to practise his politics on the street, which is particularly unhelpful when he also suffers from delusions of grandeur. This is a man hooked on the high of adoring crowds, of threats made to opponents, of being hoisted to the throne by his loyal band of followers. It might also explain why he leads more rallies in any given year than appearances in parliament. Not for him is the give-and-take of retail politics or the incremental progress made towards policy goals through negotiation and debate. He reaches nirvana atop a container.

The government has had enough of Imran’s brand of meaningless protest politics and so decided to impose Section 144 on Islamabad for two months. It also surrounded his Bani Gala mansion, playing right into Imran’s hands and showing an unhealthy disregard for rule of law. Imran Khan may be an annoyance but the constitution gives him a right to be a pest.

Sheikh Rashid, another person who’s natural habitat is the streets or an air-conditioned TV studio, may have made sense for the first time in his life when he said he would tear Section 144 into 144 pieces. This colonial archaism is an affront to our constitutional right to protest and the odiousness of the protesters should not matter.

The government has gone after Imran this time because it thinks he is weaker. And it is true that his rallies this year, while better-attended than anything the PML-N could whip up, have lost a certain verve. Perhaps everyone – even the faithful PTI cadres – have developed a tolerance to the product and now need more of it to get the same high. By swooping in early, the government wants to make sure the November 2    shutdown does not provide them the ecstasy of 2014, when the party took over the capital for months.

It says something about the government’s own purposely hazy understanding of rule of law that it allowed the PTI and co-protesters to storm the Red Zone and trash the PTV headquarters without taking any action but is now trying to stop a rally before it has even started.

Taking advantage of the PTI’s comparative weakness may be tactically astute but reeks of bullying and insecurity. The PTI should be allowed to protest in the streets and then stopped if they get violent but that carries the risk for the government of another Model Town situation arising and this government is nothing but risk-averse. It would rather curtail our rights than face any risk, a strategy that could end up backfiring as its own weakness is shown.

The PTI has reason to be fearful too. The people the party is bringing to Islamabad should scare the hell out of two groups that otherwise keep far away from each other – those who care about our democracy and the PTI. Sheikh Rashid is an odious toady and conspirator, but he is also comparatively harmless. He is not one to make decisions when others more powerful can make them for him. It is those Sheikh Rashid wants to bring along with him that are more worrying.

There is Imran’s buddy Maulana Samiul Haq waiting in the wings. The cleric’s madressah is now being funded to the tune of hundreds of millions of rupees by the PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but all the money in the world will not buy his loyalty. His first priority is always himself and the second his hateful ideology which still makes him better than the Difa-e-Pakistan Council extremists who are also threatening to show up and are dedicated only to spreading hate as widely as possible.

A word of advice to Imran: you love hogging the megaphone so it might be better to keep it to yourself and not share it with such people.

Then there is Tahirul Qadri, taking his annual vacation in Pakistan to escape the harsh Canadian winter. Ideologically he is less extreme than his fellow clerics but whenever he is around democracy needs to worryingly look over its shoulder. He has the same Messianic complex as Imran but also needs which side his bread is buttered.

Imran will only hint at third forces and umpires giving the government the finger; Qadri will say it outright. Last time he was taking over Islamabad with Imran, Qadri dramatically sensed impending martyrdom and asked for a shroud. He does this while hoping to dig democracy’s grave.

Here’s the worrying thing about Imran: even as one should stand up for his democratic right to protest, his protests are always anti-democratic. He doesn’t call on his supporters to vote out the government in the next election because he knows he doesn’t have enough voters. He weaves black threads of conspiracy because he knows ‘they’ are out to get him. The megalomania on display has spread so deep it leads Imran to declare that the horrific militant attack in Quetta was a result of government and Indian collusion to disrupt his protest. Or at least that’s what it seemed like Imran said. One can never be too sure what is contained in the word salad of his incoherent speeches.

Imran has enough diehard fans who believe every cynical explanation he throws out for his own political failure. This is why his rallies are demonstrations of weakness. They should know he could not cut it in democratic politics and will always be the outsider, not because he doesn’t want to buy in but because the electorate rejected him.

The writer is a journalist based in Karachi.

Email: [email protected]


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