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PDM’s Lahore show

The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) held its much-trumpeted rally in Lahore at the historic Minar-e-Pakistan on December 13, 2020 on a cold wintry day. Given the hype generated by the organisers before the rally, the result was less than inspiring. PDM leaders had been labelling the Lahore rally as a ‘make-or-break’ moment, but on the evidence of the gathering, substantial though it was, and the response of the crowd, it proved underwhelming. Admittedly, the severe cold may have proved a damper, but PDM is hard put to it to justify the outcome despite the government and police deciding not to seriously block roads and routes leading to the city and on to Minar-e-Pakistan.

Whether the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) government assessed this to be the best course, a reversal of some of its threatening (even blood-curdling) statements on the eve of the rally, is not known. Speculation abounds that it may have consulted its powerful backers in the establishment and was so advised on the basis of their assessment of the potential of the rally.

At the rally itself, the PDM leaders put on a brave face, reiterating their by now well-known rhetoric. This includes the stance of no talks with the government and girding up their loins for the march on Islamabad, which Maulana Fazlur Rehman stated would occur end-January, early February 2021. The Maulana and other leaders were at pains to argue in their speeches at the rally that a ‘rigged’ system was unsustainable, not the least because the choice of the ‘selected’ has turned out to be such a blunder.

Though the narratives of the PDM and PTI government are by now coming out of the public’s ears because of constant repetition, there appear to be some not so hidden problems in the PDM alliance. For one, the resignations issue has engendered hesitation and internal fissures. Whether the report (denied by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, PML-N, spokesperson Uzma Bokhari) that a considerable number of PML-N parliamentarians (and presumably their supporters) did not turn up at the rally because of reservations about the resignations demanded of them by their party leadership is correct or not, it would come as no surprise if the ubiquitous establishment had approached such elements and played on these sentiments. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), despite its stance on the ‘selected’ government, has more stakes in the present dispensation than anybody else in the shape of the Sindh government. Despite the receipt of resignations from their parliamentarians, both the PPP and the PML-N need to go back to the drawing board to reconsider this tactic, whose efficacy is at present in doubt in any case. Despite the possible scenario of the present dispensation being emptied of whatever moral and political credibility it still has by en masse opposition resignations, there appears little hope that this government or its backers will take that into consideration and make way for fresh elections.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s argument that state institutions should not stand in the way of the people’s will has weight. He warns of possible anarchy if these institutions and the people come face-to-face in the event of no solution to the present impasse. Nor, the Maulana continues, can national solidarity be ensured if people’s rights continue to be violated.

Akhtar Mengal of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), a recent defector from the PTI coalition government to the opposition PDM after being frustrated by failure to extract from PTI what it had promised him vis-a-vis Balochistan, reminded the rally audience of his benighted province’s woes. The most heart rending of his words were the reminder that 10,000 people are still ‘missing’ in Balochistan and no one seems to care. His smarting wounds may have been assuaged to some extent by the PDM rally’s resolutions, one of which highlighted the ‘robbery’ of Balochistan’s natural resources and its deprivation in the same breath.

Maryam Nawaz revealed that the 2011 rally held at Minar-e-Pakistan by the PTI, which launched it as a ‘serious’ force in the country’s politics, was orchestrated by none other than former ISI chief Lieutenant-General Shuja Pasha (retd). The latter stuck with the PTI and Imran Khan until their ‘long march’ on Islamabad in 2013, by which time his message to Imran was: we have ‘tamed’ then prime minister Nawaz Sharif (regarding his outreach to Modi and India) and therefore Imran should abandon the ‘long march’ and planned dharna (sit-in) in Islamabad. Imran refused, citing his loss of face if he backed down then, and despite his repeated calls from the dharna stage for the ‘third umpire’ to raise his finger, Imran was disappointed. It took a different ‘third umpire’ later to fulfil Imran’s wish. The rest, as they say, is history.

It cannot be denied that the PTI’s constant bombardment over the years of the theme of the corruption of the previous ruling parties, the PML-N and the PPP, has found resonance in large sections of the public, particularly the urban middle class. However, the partisan witch-hunt of these two parties’ leadership by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has weakened the argument. In any case, corruption is endemic to our system, from top to bottom. It cannot be eliminated by the strategy in vogue at present. What it can do and arguably has achieved is to bring the credibility, and therefore the longevity, of the present dispensation into question as it stands on shaky moral and political ground.

There appears no alternative out of the mess created by the establishment (once again) except genuine free and fair fresh elections. These will have credibility but most likely bring the same opposition faces into power again. Only allowing the system to run as it should can hold out any hope over time of corrupt elements in the political class (including the PTI) being weeded out and replaced by better people. ‘Short cuts’ of the type the establishment trots out again and again despite experience proving their inefficacy, will not work.

Rashed Rehman, "PDM’s Lahore show," Business Recorder. 2020-12-15.
Keywords: Political science , Minar-e-Pakistan , PTI government , Sindh government , Imran Khan , Maryam Nawaz , Akhtar Mengal , BNP-M , PTI , PPP , PML-N

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