Imran Khan’s arrest isn’t going to change anything for the better. That’s the sum of it all. Will we ever see a return to pre-2018 conditions, economically or politically? Never. There is no reset button.
The PTI must be credited with raising political awareness, generating a social media strategy that opened the floodgates of communication (notwithstanding all the accompanying propaganda) and enabling if not empowering an electorate to move from inertia to effect. This was the ultimate ‘dream team’ – the khakis with a handsome face – and while it was a poorly formulated strategy, fuelled more by illusions than substance, it worked. Somewhat.
On the other hand, the PDM – with perhaps the exception of the PPP – strategically played their cards to their benefit, but failed to recognise the transformations that had taken place between 2018 and 2022. It continues to fail in delivering good governance because it replaced the hybrid regime with the same dinosaurs from the 1990s and 2010s.
But since April 2022, the country has become a festering pot of emotions. Unprecedented escalation fuelled by anger over the loss of a dream (‘Naya Pakistan’), the denial of its restoration (via elections), the illusion of fighting for a noble cause (at Zaman Park) which culminated in the riots yesterday: the final nail in the coffin seen as a betrayal (in the form of Khan’s arrest).
Until now it had been contention (instead of contentious politics, as we haven’t seen politics since 2018) simmering under the guise of a not-so-carefully crafted strategy that was implemented without any contingency.
There are several alarming things in the current situation. One, the khakis are imploding from within. Weak or strong, dissent is dissent. What did they expect? The well-oiled martial machinery was bound to creak under the guise of innovation known as the ‘hybrid regime’, and that is precisely what happened. You cannot expect old systems to work in a day and age when those employed by them are of a different generation and mindset.
Add to this the dissent within the PTI, which started with their ill-fated plan of romancing the PMLQ, and you have members who have long waited for their chance at leadership only too happy to see the end of project Imran Khan. These PTI stalwarts fail to recognise that support for their party is largely due to the man at the helm, without whom even their electability is now suspect.
That people took to the streets after Khan’s arrest was expected. The burning and destruction is all that the Pakistani people seem capable of because, let’s face it, the courts don’t offer much hope.
But to attack a corps commander’s home? This is a serious escalation and, again, it is fuelled by the illusion of taking power and dismantling systems of oppression. This is the PTI effect. And this is where the trouble lies.
Patterns of violent behaviour, especially physical violence , mob attacks and destruction, are nothing new to Pakistan. It is the mindset behind these acts that should be the central concern for Pakistani society. Religious parties in the past have resorted to such tactics, because they believed the Pakistani way of life was not compatible with what their beliefs and ideologies are.
With the PTI supporters doing this, it goes beyond acceptance and compatibility. This is a young nation that believed in a dream, and to see it shatter is going to have long term implications, especially in terms of what trajectory the country is going to take.
The mentality has shifted: a politically active civil society has risen. With no functioning state institutions, the risk of civil society battling it out on the streets is very much a possibility. Will it help? No. The value of life doesn’t quite matter here in Pakistan. If it did, we wouldn’t silently watch another school being burnt down, triggering the horrors of APS victims.
And then there is the party itself. The lack of communication in the form of a press conference is the clearest indication that the party is ‘lost’ without its leader, and that the party still hasn’t figured out how to deal with the situation. Do they step up for Khan? Do they salvage what they can?
Asad Umar, the PTI secretary general, was arrested today (Wednesday) afternoon, and Hussain Jahania is the latest PTI leader “taken into custody” after Imran Khan’s arrest. Asad Umar issued a statement about PTI not being associated with the violent protesters, which was the weakest stance that the party could have taken; and it did not do much to ingratiate him with the powers that be, as we can see.
Khan’s arrest was where the PTI ought to have stepped up as a unified force, but it did not. Influential elements of the PTI are seeing this either as a moment of glory, or a fight for survival. This indicates a shift in support for the man whose name is the ‘I’ in PTI, and more so for the party. But then the obvious question is: can there even be a party without Imran Khan?
Whether the PTI faces a ban or a change in leadership, the khakis have run their course. From seeing the DG ISI speak to the media in a car crash of a press conference, to the military’s chain of command weakening, to seeing the corps commander’s residences get attacked and vandalised, it is apparent the establishment is now at its weakest. Politically, this runs the risk of ending in the ugliest way. Blood has already been shed. It would behoove the khakis to ensure they clean up the mess – arguably of their own making – in the most civil manner possible.
This was bound to happen but we are miles into a massive change in decades. There is a risk of another overt or covert operation but the game plan has been written in such a way that nobody can be a clear winner apart from the people.
سنا ہے اپنے لوگوں سے
کچھ ایسا ویسا ہو جاۓ گا
ایسا ویسا تو ہو بھی چکا
کئ بار چمن کے موسم میں
اندھور گھٹائیں چھائ تھیں
کئ بار مگر پھر کرنیں در آئ تھیں
یہ ایسا ویسا رہے گا نہیں
کونپل سے کہو تم اپنے سینے میں
جو امید لئے آئ ہو
سبزے کی خوشحالی کی
اس نے تو دمکنا ہے آخر
آج نہیں تو کل
گر ایسا ویسا ہو جاۓ تو