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Ahsan Iqbal
October 30, 2016



Deconstructing the politics of lockdown

Deconstructing the politics of lockdown

The rise of the PTI was regarded a positive change in the political landscape of Pakistan. The PTI attracted a section of urban middle classes which didn’t find representation in the older parties. Moreover, Imran Khan being a sportsman was expected to be a positive role model for the youth following him.

But unfortunately Mr Khan has opted for politics of intolerance and destruction instead of engaging in politics of decency and development. In the process, he has radicalised the PTI youth with his ultra-aggressive and condescending rhetoric. Consequently, the urban middle classes now feel betrayed by his politics.

The proposed ‘lockdown’ of Islamabad on November 2 by the PTI chairman must be framed in a broader context to fully understand what it entails. In this piece I will present three propositions based on facts. First, Mr Khan’s politics is tantamount to quasi-fascism. Second, the lockdown of Islamabad is not about accountability, it is about the economic sabotage of Pakistan. Third, the PTI chief has no respect for the democratic process and institutions of the country and is willing to derail democracy for personal gains.

George Orwell noted in his article, ‘What is Fascism?’: “Any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’”. Mr Khan’s politics is based on bullying tactics; he threatens and insults the democratic and civilian institutions of the country. Mr Khan questions the moral credibility and integrity of whoever expresses his/her difference of opinion with him. It shows that the PTI chief has no respect for difference of opinion. This is the attribute of a quasi-fascist. 

Mr Khan claims that the aim of the lockdown is to initiate the investigation of the Panama Papers. So where does the investigation on the Panama Papers stand at the moment? The multiple petitions of the PTI and other opposition parties are already in the Supreme Court. Moreover, Prime Minister Sharif has announced that he and his family would be happy to bring the facts to the court and let law takes its natural course. So it is obvious that the real objective of the PTI lies somewhere else. In reality, the November 2 lockdown is a manifestation of Mr Khan’s design to bully the national institutions to get a verdict in his favour.

Mr Khan made his political career on the slogan of ‘accountability’ of his political opponents. But when it comes to accountability of his own government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and his party, he becomes indifferent. KP Ehtesab Commission’s chief resigned in protest on the grounds that he was not allowed to function properly. Similarly, Justice (r) Wajih-ud-Din noted that intra-party elections were rigged by party’s stalwarts and identified corrupt elements in the party. The PTI chief disgracefully purged Justice (r) Wajih from the party while those who were declared corrupt by Justice (r) Wajih stand right next to PTI chief. Similarly, several PTI MNAs and MPAs levelled serious corruption charges against the chief minister of KP. Instead of investigating the charges, they were snubbed by Mr Khan. How can we explain this?

It is very simple. Mr Khan has a single agenda: capture power via hook or crook. For example, Imran Khan accused ministers of the QWP in KP of corruption. But later on the KP government inducted them back in the cabinet for political expediency. This shows two main attributes of Mr Khan’s politics. One, for political purposes, Mr Khan can malign anyone. Second, he would embrace what he calls corruption for his political gains.

Adding to his frustration is the fact that the PTI’s performance has been poor. The KP government has allocated Rs161 billion for its 2016-17 Annual Development Programme, which is eight percent less than the outgoing year’s allocation. Moreover, in the last three years, not a single worthwhile development project has been put on ground in KP.

Economic development requires political stability and continuity of policies. The objective of lockdown politics is to undermine both of them. Therefore, it is tantamount to the economic sabotage of Pakistan. The PTI chief is cognizant of the fact that if PM Sharif’s government finishes its constitutional term, it will add 11,000 megawatts of energy in the national grid by 2018. It is worth mentioning that from 1947 to 2013 the total production of energy was only 16,000 megawatts. And the security situation has remarkably improved in the last three years.

Under the CPEC, $51 billion investment is coming to Pakistan. I would remind those with short memories that in 2013, Pakistan was seen as the most dangerous country in the world. But today Pakistan is being referred to as an emerging economy. Today, the economic growth rate is the highest in the last eight years and inflation is at its lowest. The summer of 2016 witnessed highest numbers of domestic tourists in Pakistan. This reflects that people are expressing confidence on the economy. Thus, it seems improbable for Mr Khan to win the 2018 election.

Cynics of the PML-N government equate the existing political system with monarchy (badshahat). These cynics are either totally ignorant or completely dishonest. Because under ‘badshahat’ people are not fortunate enough to criticise the regime. In Pakistan political parties and the media ruthlessly criticise the government 24/7.  In almost every by-election, local bodies’ elections, G-B and AJK legislative assemblies’ elections, the people of this country showed trust and confidence in the policies of PM Sharif’s government and rejected the quasi-fascist politics of Mr Khan.

Larry Diamond noted that democracy is simultaneously an inspirational concept and a descriptive term. There is always room for a nation to become more democratic, and Pakistan is no exception. According to Diamond, there are three main attributes that a regime must possess to be classified as democratic: i) universal adult franchise and citizens’ right to hold public office; ii) existence of political opposition; and iii) protection of civil liberties. Since 2008 Pakistan has made huge gains in all three dimensions and the PML-N government is committed to further improving the democratic process.

The people of Pakistan gave a mandate to the PML-N government via ballot and in the last one year it has won almost every election in the country – viz AJK, GB & by-elections. It is the constitutional duty of the PML-N government to implement its manifesto. And only through the ballot do people reserve the right to elect a new government. Mr Khan colluded with non-democratic forces in the 2014 dharna to attack parliament and PTV. And he is planning to do even more this time after being rejected by people in electoral politics. This shows that he has no regard for the democratic process.

The PML-N recognises the role of a robust political opposition in a democracy. We encourage objective and evidence-based criticism on our politics and conduct. Moreover, the constitution guarantees right to protest to political parties without obstructing the rights of their fellow citizens. The PTI chief has openly declared that he would obstruct the movement of people in Islamabad and he is going to decide who would be allowed to move around the city.

This is completely unacceptable in a democracy and it is the duty of the government in office to use administrative means to stop mayhem in Islamabad. Threatening to force closure of the capital city and government offices is not protected under constitution; nor is it a democratic exercise. In fact, it is tantamount to spreading anarchy. Therefore, I hope the PTI will rethink its current strategy and come to terms with the parliamentary style of politics.

I invite PTI lawmakers to come work with the government on the electoral reforms agenda, which Mr Khan has forgotten. The PML-N government is committed to consult all opposition parties to improve the existing electoral process so that the 2018 elections are free of any irregularities. 

The writer is the Minister for Planning and Development.