I wonder if all Pakistanis feel that democracy either simply throws the rot of society up to the very top, from where they lord over us, or quickly makes the odd gamechanger that does come along just as rotten as them.
What’s happening now is a fine example.
Imran Khan’s very much the revolutionary so far as commanding very large crowds is concerned. But he’s increasingly treading, and making his many followers tread, very dangerous ground.
Because, the foreign conspiracy plot at the heart of his agitation is unravelling rather quickly as nothing more than a foolishly desperate attempt to bend the rules only to hang on to power.
Making such claims to play the martyr at political rallies is one thing, and it is working out very nicely, but he tried to use it to violate a constitutional injunction; which led to an acute constitutional crisis and left the country without a functioning government for about a week.
He’s still doing everything he can to deepen the crises that haven’t yet been resolved. Punjab, the biggest and most important province, is also without a chief executive for weeks now. And the passions ignited by the conspiracy card have charged his followers into creating a storm of online attacks against the Supreme Court, for invalidating his constitutional intrusion, and also the army, for letting his government fall.
But this week another high-level meeting of the National Security Committee, which included all three services chiefs, once again ruled out any conspiracy whatsoever. The foreign office’s investigation also reached the same conclusion. Even Noam Chomsky felt forced to rubbish this talk of conspiracy as more or less nonsense.
And this is where it gets even more confusing, even dangerous. Imran Khan’s simply responding to these investigations, which found no traces of a conspiracy, by saying that his claims about the conspiracy have been proved once again. And then he also says that he won’t settle for anything less than an open Supreme Court inquiry.
Since the court would also consult the institutions that have already delivered their verdicts, what could such a thing possibly achieve except more time for more fiery speeches and now also a march on the capital to press for early elections — hit the iron when it’s hot, so to speak, and there’s still confusion enough to keep the mob charged.
Since the other side, which is also the government, is not going to take all this sitting down, especially when it has the proof to call the former PM’s bluff, and Imran’s simply having none of it, a clash involving a section of the electorate and the highest state institution seems inevitable.
So now, after decades of institutional, ruthless corruption by the democratically elected elite, Pakistanis must now brace for yet another needless collision that is sure to cost them politically, socially, and especially economically. All this because the former cricket captain couldn’t take a legitimate, constitutional defeat by the same people he rallied against and considered beneath him, and plunged the whole system into crisis because of it.
And such is the beauty of democracy, the art of the possible, that the same bunch that lived off the fat of the land since forever has just managed to weasel its way back into power in a way that it could write the book on constitutional finesse. Yet that happened in no small part because in the few years that he was in power Imran went back on all his core promises, surrounded himself with exactly the kind of people, oftentimes exactly the same people, that he crusaded against for more than 20 years and dismissed people’s concerns as “fake news”.
He also lashed out against the press and became completely intolerant of any kind of dissent, from any quarter. And journalists who talk to people on the streets will tell you that some of them, at least, began seeing the hero as the villain and longed for the villains to return as heroes.
It ought to seem odd that, given these circumstances, very few people think that Imran should simply have done the honourable thing and resign when the no-confidence motion was a sure thing. That way he wouldn’t have the legal baggage that came with violating the constitution and he’d also have a much better shot at that early election that he’s clamouring for now.
But the choice he made makes you question if he really turned out to be very different from all the others. Now he’s fighting just as dirty and ugly as them; only they learned a long time ago never to cross constitutional lines. Everybody’s playing from the same book and mainstream democracy is all about pots and kettles calling each other black and blacker all over again.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore
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