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The U-turn not taken

Social media regulars may recall a rather cute little clip – or access it on YouTube – in which a young supporter of PTI is complaining on a roadside: “Police humain maar rahi hai, hum inquilab kaisey lain gay?” This was a long time ago when demonstrations were held after Raymond Davis was released in March 2011.

Fast forward to the summer of 2022 when the party of the former prime minister Imran Khan sought the protection of the Supreme Court against the use of “coercive measures” or “intimidating tactics” to stop supporters and leaders of the PTI from holding the next “peaceful Azadi March” in Islamabad.

However, the PTI petition filed on Wednesday was returned by the Supreme Court on Thursday, raising certain objections. We will have to wait and see how this will affect the action replay of the long march. Meanwhile, economic turmoil has overlapped with the toxic political wrangling, with the increase in the price of petrol and diesel by another Rs30 per litre. The potential for protest, thus, is rising.

Anyhow, the world has changed during the past decade. So has the PTI, with Imran Khan riding to the citadel of power in 2018 – and dethroned with a fatal blow of the vote of no-confidence in the National Assembly in April this year. But this is not a simple story to tell, considering how Imran Khan is fighting back to regain his power.

My focus here is the PTI’s long march of May 25 and its unfolding consequences. The march itself was meant to be a revolutionary onslaught of the multitude to force the present coalition government to bend down and announce early elections. There was to be a ‘dharna’ in the capital until this goal was achieved.

We were promised a political blockbuster, one that would define the triumph of people’s power against all the machinations of the corrupt conspirators and those who had betrayed the faithful with their neutrality. Imran Khan seemed to be on top of his game after he had pulled a letter out of his pocket to build the narrative of an American conspiracy against his regime.

His popular resurgence in the wake of the manifestly dismal performance of his government deserves a serious analysis. It may provide some insights into the psyche of our people and their longing for a saviour. Until May 25, Imran Khan was on a roll, addressing one large rally after another. The march – a ‘jihad’, a revolution – was building up as the climax of the campaign.

That it could be a bloody confrontation was very much on the cards. Leaders like Sheikh Rashid were almost bragging about the PTI protesters’ capacity to set aside all barriers and deal with the expected police action. Imran Khan had vowed that the march would not stop. He had himself shifted to Peshawar, protected by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s PTI government. That is how he covered the first leg of the march in a helicopter.

Let me not go into the details of what happened in Islamabad and on the roads leading to it on May 25 and through the night to that moment in the morning of May 26 when Imran Khan, having reached Islamabad, suddenly ended the march. He did not move toward D-Chowk, where he had asked his workers to gather. True to his style, he did so in a fighting mode giving the government a six-day ultimatum to announce the date for elections, threatening that otherwise he would return to Islamabad with better preparations and a bigger crowd.

That six-day ultimatum has passed and Imran Khan has not been able to get the protection he was seeking from the Supreme Court. On Thursday, the Peshawar High Court granted him pre-arrest bail till June 25 in 14 cases registered against him following the party’s May 25 march.

Whatever spin PTI leaders put on it, the aborted march is a setback and it may even have unhinged Imran Khan. What other explanation there is for him to say what he did in a television interview broadcast on Wednesday night. This is how his remarks may be summed up: “If [the] establishment does not take the right decision now ….they will be destroyed, [the] army will be the first to be destroyed….Pakistan will break into three parts”. Ah, but was the right decision taken in 2018?

Without going into a discussion on these views and on the debate that has ensued, the point to ponder is that the long march was a strategic mistake. Was it the kind of mistake made by Napoleon and Hitler in invading Russia?

If this seems an outlandish suggestion, let me explain. We know how Imran Khan has taken U-turns and has been censured for this. In November 2018, he told a group of journalists that a “leader who does not do timely U-turns is not a real leader”.

He had reflected on the failure of leaders like Adolf Hitler and Napoleon Bonaparte, saying that they “faced defeat as they did not change their strategies according to the situation and their armies were marooned in Russia”. A ridiculous comparison it is but the long march does look like a huge miscalculation.

Still, what Imran Khan loses is not anyone’s gain. The overall situation of the country remains very critical. We are witnessing an unrelenting systemic decay. We do have the setting for a revolutionary change. But can leaders and parties that have collaborated in Pakistan’s elite capture, Imran Khan standing out in this cluster, make a people’s revolution?

Mao had said that a revolution is not a dinner party. He had also said: “Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent”. But who among our leaders can follow in the footsteps of Mao or any other trailblazer of genuine social change?

Look at what Imran Khan is doing and how he considers himself irreplaceable. One thinks of Louis XV of France who had said: “After me, the deluge!” In fact, after him was the French Revolution.

Email: ghazi_salahuddin @hotmail.com

Ghazi Salahuddin, "The U-turn not taken," The News. 2022-06-05.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political blockbuster , Political wrangling , Corruption , Leaders , Journalists , Imran Khan , Sheikh Rashid , Pakistan , PTI