The political crisis has come to a head. Someone or something must give quickly and diffuse the situation. Or there will be violence, followed by an army “intervention” in one form or another.
The problem is that any sort of army intervention, soft or hard, will generate another matrix of legal and political problems if it is aimed at removing or undermining the legally elected prime minister and parliament of the day. Parliament and the prime minister have both spoken out in defense of their constitutional rights to uphold their respective status quos while the Supreme Court has reiterated its orders to the government to clear the area of the protestors. But the government is reluctant to order the “law enforcement agencies” – police, rangers and army – to enforce the SC’s order.
Indeed, a statement issued by the government following a meeting between the prime minister and the army chief has expressly focused on two core issues: the urgent need to “resolve” the crisis quickly; and the government’s resolve not to use force. However, any government that publicly disavows the use of force to protect its constitutional rights is already admitting it has lost its mandate to govern. Moreover, by admitting the urgency of a “quick” solution in the face of agitators who have threatened to resort to unconstitutional violence, the government has all but succumbed to their core demands.
This is a reflection of the government’s weakness. It stems from a critical mishandling of the Model Town incident in which the government’s position has been weakened by two new developments: the order of the Lahore High Court to register an FIR against the PM, CM and many others; and the leaked report of the Judicial Commission that casts a shadow on the conduct of the chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, thereby fueling demands for his resignation. Another such incident in Islamabad would be a nail in the political coffin of Nawaz Sharif himself.
Both Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri have been quick to exploit the government’s vulnerabilities and up the ante. They have now thumbed their nose at the Supreme Court. Dr Qadri is actually digging his grave to prove his resolve to shed blood. If they order their followers to storm parliament or the prime minister’s office or house, the soldiers who are stationed there will have to stop them. If they don’t, it would be in defiance of the orders of the SC and government. In either event, the army’s action or inaction would amount to a military “intervention” for or against the legally constituted regime. Since the military leadership has already signaled its aversion to the use of force against the demonstrators – regardless of the fact that their leaders are openly exhorting them to be ready to storm the barricades by force – it is clear what it will and will not do and what its decision will signify.
In view of these factors, the government’s erstwhile allies in and out of parliament have recommended a human “sacrifice” in an attempt to appease the protestors. This is the resignation of Shahbaz Sharif for the Model Town tragedy demanded by Tahirul Qadri. The potential resignation of Nawaz Sharif, followed by the dissolution of parliament and fresh elections, for Imran Khan’s satisfaction is also on the anvil, if the Supreme Court’s commission of inquiry eventually finds that the elections of 2013 were inextricably corrupted as alleged by Imran Khan.
Nawaz Sharif can take this advice in the expectation of living to fight another day. But sacrificing Shahbaz Sharif under pressure might amount to misplaced concreteness if it so weakens his party and government in his base Punjab province that another onslaught by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri some weeks or months down the line on some pretext or the other would knock him down with a feather. On the other hand, holding the line forcefully behind a parliament-cum-Supreme Court “shield” might risk a military intervention that could have seriously adverse consequences not just for the PMLN and the Sharif dynasty but more critically for law, constitution and national security, thereby endangering state and society.
Nawaz Sharif has accepted all the demands of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri except the demand to quit before the judicial commission gives its verdict on the fairness of the elections. Unfortunately, he has done so from a position of weakness in the face of threatening mobs instead of strength based on a swift and just redress of the demands of Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri to investigate rigging charges in certain constituencies and transparently, neutrally and swiftly fix responsibility for the wanton carnage in Model Town.
The conclusion is inescapable: If Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri are resorting to unconstitutional means to force out a prime minister, the same prime minister hasn’t mounted a true constitutional defense against their charges. The tragedy is compounded by the reluctance of the “miltablishment” to uphold the same constitutional imperative in such murky circumstances. Woe is Pakistan.