Brisbane, August 20, 2014 (Alochonaa):The 14th of August 1947 marks a very auspicious day for every Pakistani, as it is the day that Pakistan became a state and gained its independence from India. After sixty-seven years of independence, the 14th of August 2014 marks yet another sea change in the Pakistani political diaspora, as Imran Khan, leads what he terms as a mass social awakening through his Azadi (Freedom) March.
Imran Khan, a renowned cricket player, celebrity and today the messiah of the Pakistani masses has come out onto the streets of Islamabad demanding the resignation of the current Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. The Pakistani Thereek e Insaf (PTI), Khan’s political party, has been calling for an election since last year. 2013 marked the first time in the history of the fledgling state where democratic elections were held and political power transferred from one civilian government to the next. Nonetheless, as is the case in most developing states, the 2013 Pakistani elections were rigged with mass corruption and vote mishandling. Although, at the time, Mr. Khan did not challenge the role that democracy played at the election, irrespective of his loss, he accepted his win at Khyber Pakthunkhwa with dignity and humility. Nonetheless, the months following the ascension of Mian Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister of Pakistan, saw the masses slowly yet steadily demand for his resignation under the charges of corruption.
Imran Khan and his PTI party silently led this resistance, keeping in line with the rule of law and going through judicial channels to make their grievances heard. When their demands were not met, on the 22nd of April 2014, Khan, as the Chairman of PTI, stated that he and his party would lead a resistance movement against the current government on the 14th of August 2014. He termed this resistance the Azadi (Freedom) March.
The Azadi March was set to start from Lahore and go to Islamabad, where the masses would take part and protest against the corruption of the current government. It started at daybreak on the 14th of August and at the time of writing the procession has reached its destination, where masses are gathered in the streets of Islamabad, protesting and demanding the resignation of Nawaz Sharif and calling for free and fair elections. Imran Khan, when reaching the streets of Islamabad under tough torrential rain addressed his followers and asserted that: “Nawaz Sharif, you must look at this junoon (fervor), it is not going to stop until and unless your resignation comes.” In this article I do not wish to challenge or critique the motives of PTI because, as a Pakistani studying International Relations, I respect the motivations and ideologies of Imran Khan, although the methods in which he is trying to achieve his ideological awakening are, in my eyes, not the right path to take in a country such as Pakistan.
There is no mistaking the fact that the 2013 elections in Pakistan were done under mass rigging and corruption and had a huge impact on the end results. So to this extent Imran Khan is correct in asserting a call for fresh elections or having the Election Commission review the votes in a judicial plea. Khan had appropriately gone through judicial channels and had also made an administrative plea to the Election Commission in order for there to be a recall for free and fair elections. In that plea he insisted in parliament that if even in four constituencies elections were called and done fairly and still Sharif won, he would let go of his insistence for fresh elections throughout the country. This step was the first and probably the only viable indicator of Khan’s ‘love’ for the rule of law. Nonetheless, as the age old adage goes, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. This proved true for Imran Khan, as the Election Commission did not accept his plea for a judicial enquiry and/or for new elections. Thus, when Imran Khan said he would come out in the streets with the masses to protest, to the casual onlooker there seemed no other viable route to take.
Although protesting is an option in such circumstance, it is not necessarily the best option to take. When the doors of justice slammed shut in front of Imran Khan, the best option for ‘the Captain’ was to let the process of democracy (although corrupt) play out to its finale. If corruption within the country is so evident today as is alleged by Mr. Khan, then at the end of Sharif’s five year tenure, corruption would have skyrocketed, making it easier for Mr. Khan to be elected (if the prime ministership is his goal) in the future. In letting anticipation and fervour cloud one’s judgement, the uprising initiated by Khan, may turn out to be the Achilles heel for his political future.
Yes, change is manifested in societies through mass awakening, but in the current case of Pakistan there does not seem to be an awakening of any sort. Rather, I would argue that this is not an awakening of the masses but a societal agitation that has been coloured by the hues of passion to incite social anarchy and has mistakenly been called a peaceful uprising. Although, it is too early to predict if the change that Khan wants to ignite will occur at all, it can be asserted that the demagogic persona of Khan will prevail and keep the hysteria of the masses alive for the next couple of days. Most recently, Khan has insisted he will bring the masses of his followers to the ‘Red Zone’ in Islamabad, where in front of police and military barricades Khan will lead, in his own words, “the azadi (freedom) struggle against the corruption of the Sharif’s.”
Although, I applaud his bravery, the route that Mr. Khan has taken does not fit his end goal, if the end goal for that matter is truly a ‘Naya (new) Pakistan.’ So, when the passion wears down, thirst and hunger become too high to ignore and when no change is seen from a political standpoint, what will happen and where will the masses go? These are the questions that need to be answered and which I don’t think have been duly addressed by Mr. Khan himself and or his party yet. The greatest indicator for this so far was when the party elite reached Islamabad at 3.00am on the 16th of August and, after presenting their speeches, they were chauffeured back to hotels and rest houses whilst the masses were left to bear the cold night under a blanket of rain. Although, Khan insisted that he would come back at the 3.00pm the next day and would sleep in the container the following night (a promise which he remained steadfast on) future political autocracy was nevertheless visible in this act.
Another facet that has shadowed the Azadi March since its inception has been the role (or lack of role, if I may say) of the Pakistani military in this process. The Commander in Chief, General Raheel, has been watching the political upheaval quietly from the sidelines, hesitant to take any drastic action. Pakistan is not a stranger to the military intervening in politics and has gone through a number of coups in its short history. Nonetheless, the political events of the past few days have been devoid of any military interference. This is not to say that a threat of military intervention is not looming as a possibility in Pakistan at the moment, but for the time being it seems that the space is clear for Mr. Khan to continue with his so called ‘revolution’ against the current regime.
To incite a revolution one cannot simply manoevure hundreds of thousands of people under a single edifice without accumulating a tangible gain from their actions. Thus, I fear, once the headiness of nationalism is overrun within the masses, which at the present time are willing to lay their life for Imran Khan, the result will not be to everyone’s liking. Imran Khan, due to his political charisma, has always been a man of both action and rhetoric. Nonetheless, in this circumstance his actions have been much louder than his words, and without letting democracy run its due course in the country Mr. Khan’s cries for a mass revolution and awakening seem like a mere mirage for a country such as Pakistan to endure. Thus, time will tell if Pakistan is truly awakening or if the Azadi March has proved to be nothing more than a waste of time, money and resources for a cause that seems worthy on paper but, for all practical reasons, lacking in substance.
* Fatima is a Doctoral Researcher at the School of Government and International Relations, Griffith University, Australia, Brisbane. She holds a strong passion for international affairs and is pursuing her thesis on how the ideals of religion and nationalism instruct violent conflict? Her research interests revolve around security, theology, South Asian studies and law. She is also a qualified solicitor and when not busy with research, tutoring or work Fatima likes to spend time reading, engaging in political debate or watching Supernatural.
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