PTI unclear goals

Source: Published in Politics on Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What were once amorphous demands have turned into ominous threats. And yet, even now, there is little clarity about what Imran Khan’s real goal is: electoral reforms or something more?

The confusion extends to the senior leadership of the PTI itself, with some members talking about reforms, others talking about elections and all suggesting that the final demands would be left up to Mr Khan himself. What is clear though is that the PTI is determined to push the government a fair distance — and perhaps all the way over the edge too.

Troubling as the PML-N’s conduct has been in some instances and while recognising that as the incumbent power, there is greater responsibility resting on the shoulders of the PML-N leadership, the PTI cannot quite escape blame for the growing sense of crisis and perhaps even threats to the system.

The most significant problem from a democratic perspective is not that Mr Khan wants to hold another large rally or that he is arguing that the May 2013 elections were not as free and fair as the best democratic standards demand.

The most significant problem is that Mr Khan seems unconcerned about the impact of his agitation on fundamental national political stability and the space his growing threats of street agitation is creating for anti-democratic forces in the country. It is really a question of degree. To what extent is political discontent possible before the original fault line in Pakistani politics — democracy or something else — is re-exposed?

It is not enough for Mr Khan to simply claim that he and his supporters will never allow the democratic system to be cast aside — when decisions to cast aside the democratic system have been made in the past, there is no civilian political entity that can simply reverse the decision. Once the trigger is pulled, after the circumstances have been created, it is all but impossible to put the anti-democracy bullet back in the chamber.

Yet, it is not just the possibility of the ultimate anti-democratic measure, threatened by Mr Khan, that the entire civilian political spectrum has to worry about. Already, in subtle though difficult-to-deny ways, the civil-military imbalance has tipped further in favour of the military. Part of this is clearly the government’s fault, given its panicky responses to the PTI’s rally planned for Aug 14. No one outside the government considers the invocation of Article 245 of the Constitution to be a wise political move.

But in the always critically important sphere of civil-military relations, Mr Khan and the PTI’s actions have already, even if not deliberately, increased the pressure on the government to somehow pacify the army-led security establishment and do nothing on the policy front that would rankle. Surely, a government so much on the defensive can do little to further the transition to democracy.

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