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Who will celebrate martial law?

The ‘awam’ in Azad Jammu and Kashmir have just delivered a package of sweets to Imran Khan by electing the PML-N with a thumping majority. Only three days earlier, Imran had told a public rally in AJK that “Democracy in Pakistan is threatened by Nawaz’s monarchy and the people will celebrate and distribute sweets if the army takes over”. How can a popular politician be so out of touch with reality, caught in a web of his own make-believe world? Or is he up to something?

Imran Khan’s intellectual capital can be captured in 200 bullet points, some of which are plain truths, while the rest are simplistic assumptions, half-baked theories or blatant and baseless accusations. What makes this genius so popular among his followers is the belief that he is honest and so therefore he can transport Pakistan to another galaxy. In a heretical moment, they should also contemplate another possibility – that he is dangerous and can ruin this country more thoroughly than anyone has been able to so far.

I do not know what Imran Khan or TV anchors or anyone else mean when they use the word ‘awam’. There is no category more confusing than people. Babus in Islamabad are the awam and so are the children in Thar; Jahangir Tareen is the awam and so are those toiling at his farms and in his factories; Shah Mahmood Qureshi is the awam and so are his barefoot followers who need his blessing to wash away their sins. With my simple mind, I do not see any similarities beyond basic biological functions – though nutrition status impacts them as well.

When a political leader uses the word awam, he is usually referring to his own followers. Since the PTI won 7.5 million votes in the last elections, we should accept his claim, for argument at least, that millions of people will throng sweet shops as soon as they hear the phrase “meray azeez hum watno”, making it the largest celebration of martial law in the country’s history. After all, it will herald the end of monarchy in Pakistan.

At a time when the PTI is getting ready for a countrywide agitation against the government, Imran Khan’s comments are an ominous reminder of a letter written by one of his role models, Air Marshal Asghar Khan, on April 25, 1977 – at the height of the PNA movement against the then PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In his open letter to the armed forces, Asghar Khan touches on several grievances against Bhutto, claiming that he dismembered the country through his Machiavellian schemes and asks the three services chiefs and the military to disobey the elected prime minister.

The letter ends with these lines: “As men of honour, it is your responsibility to do your duty and the call of duty in these trying circumstances is not the blind obedience of unlawful commands. There comes a time in the lives of nations when each man has to ask himself whether he is doing the right thing. For you, that time has come. Answer this honestly and save Pakistan. God be with you.”

It did not take the saviour Ziaul Haq very long to overthrow the dictator Bhutto to save the country and rule it lawfully for a decade. Zia’s martial law was celebrated by the ‘people’, that is those supporting PNA. However, what happened afterwards should interest or concern Imran Khan more. On July 5, 1977 Asghar Khan rivalled Bhutto in his popularity and was seen as the future prime minister. By the time Zia left a decade later, Asghar Khan had become unelectable for good. The curse of that letter has moved to the next generation as Ali Asghar Khan, his capable son, failed to win election on a PTI ticket in the PTI-ruled KP province.

Today, our children cannot even pronounce the name of Asghar Khan’s party – Tehreek-e-Istiqlal – that has long been relegated to history. The treacherous awam who had ransacked sweet shops eleven years earlier on Bhutto’s ouster, and later on his hanging, elected his daughter; and Bhutto’s name can still get some ridiculous characters elected to assemblies

Unlike most of us, Imran Khan has reasons to remember this period with nostalgia. As soon as people got bored with public floggings in sports stadiums, Ziaul Haq decided to use cricket as the opiate of the masses, promoting it in a big way and so Imran Khan emerged as the most celebrated poster boy of the nation. Ziaul Haq had a liking for Imran Khan and there is no evidence that this liking was not mutual, though unlike Nawaz Sharif Imran decided not to join the cabinet.

Again, the awam refused to eat anything other than laddus and jalaibis for a week after Musharraf overthrew Nawaz Sharif. Out of respect for public sentiment, Imran Khan decided to support Musharraf’s coup d’état and his rigged referendum. The sweets turned sour only when, according to Musharraf, he refused to make Khan the prime minister of Pakistan and decided to rely on the genius of the Chaudhrys to stitch together the PML-Q.

Mairaj Mohammad Khan, in his resignation letter to Imran Khan, written on April 28, 2003, captured the situation. He writes: “The strong constituency candidates which our friends expected would join PTI, neither came voluntarily nor under pressure from the ‘hidden hands’. The miracle they expected did not take place and when it became clear that the government was in fact patronising the PML-Q, you strongly rejected this strategy of ‘collaboration’ and started attacking the Chaudhry’s (sic) of Gujrat. But it was already too late.”

During three martial laws, the ruling juntas had to make an effort to form a King’s party. Imran Khan is offering a pre-fabricated, popular Q-League to future adventurers. “No need for Chaudhrys this time, Sir Ji”. His attitude shows his lack of confidence in the popularity of his own party. Perhaps, in his heart of hearts, he fears that the surge in popularity in an election after two decades of failures could turn out to be a fluke. Perhaps, he feels that without a nudge from hidden hands, he would not have been able to make such a success and without similar support, he may not get into the PM House.

It is more obvious, however, that his desperation is rooted in the analysis that he may not be able to defeat the PML-N in the next elections unless Nawaz Sharif is ousted from government earlier and is replaced with a Bangladesh or Timbuktu model to facilitate his (Imran’s) walk to the victory stand.

Imran Khan appears to have an amazing sense of entitlement. The British gave us the railway and canals and thought they had a right to rule over us. Imran Khan has given us the World Cup and Shaukat Khanum and he thinks that it gives him a right to be our master. To rid us of who he portrays as our Pharaohs, he is willing to inflict seven plagues upon us.

Corruption is a curse and it is great to be honest. But single-minded focus on financial integrity has its limitations. Genghis Khan’s thirst for blood was not rooted in a search for gold but in his insatiable craving for power. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pol Pot and Ziaul Haq are not known for corruption. Somehow, demagogues and megalomaniacs scare me more than thieves.

The writer is a social anthropologist and development professional.

Email: zaighamkhan@yahoo.com

Twitter: @zaighamkhan

Zaigham Khan, "Who will celebrate martial law?," The News. 2016-07-25.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political parties , Politics-Pakistan , Political history , Corruption , Terrorism , Politicians , PM Nawaz Sharif , Imran Khan , Shah Mahmood Qureshi , Islamabad , Pakistan , PTI , PMLN , PNA