In politics, decisions have consequences. Rana Sanaullah learned this lesson following Model Town tragedy in June when Pakistan Awami Tehreek protestors and Punjab police clashed and needlessly resulted in 14 deaths and hundreds injured. With 14th August on the horizon, Nawaz Sharif must be struggling with this lesson as well, trying to find some way to defuse a potentially explosive situation.
If any good can come from Model Town, it should be the lesson that the best strategy for dealing with political protests is to allow them to take place, allow the people to vent their frustrations, and let the energy of the crowd burn itself out on its own without giving it new fuel. This was the strategy of former President Asif Zardari who successfully steered his government through several dangerous storms during his tenure by offering dialogue with opposition and avoiding open confrontations.
Nawaz Sharif is not the only politician who should be thinking about consequences and precedents, though. Imran Khan may feel like he is finally on the cusp of power, but his decisions, too, will have consequences and set (or cement) precedents.
It is important to remember that Imran Khan was introduced into politics by Gen Ziaul Haq – another ‘politician’ who believed that he was Pakistan’s saviour and therefore anything was justified that he determined as necessary for his own power.
Gen Zia’s decisions have had lasting consequences and set terrible precedents. His ‘winner takes all’ approach resulted in not only the spilling of innocent blood, but split the country into factions that still exist generations later. The suspicions and hatreds left in the wake of Gen Zia’s rule cannot be scrubbed away cleanly or easily, and traces can be seen in the accusations made by opposition parties till date.
But let us assume for the sake of argument that Imran Khan’s fabled ‘Tsunami’ finally appears and his supporters manage to unseat the government and carry Imran Khan into Prime Minister’s house on their shoulders. Then what?
The lasting consequence will be the further cementing of the precedent that governing takes a back seat to intrigue and street politics. Opposition politicians will have their beliefs confirmed that they stand to gain more from blocking national progress than from cooperation. Just as elections have started to gain a hold, street politics will rise up with a vengeance. If Imran Khan believes that he can use negativity, accusations, conspiracies, and street agitation against a democratically elected government and not face the same himself, he is even more delusional than he appears.
Thankfully, there is an alternative. Imran Khan could amass his supporters and march them through the streets to a location where he takes the stage and reads out a detailed list of reforms. Nawaz Sharif could then come out on the stage and take the list and announce a new committee to draft legislation to prevent poll rigging while instructing police and security officials to distribute fresh water and food to the protesters. These respected politicians would then demonstrate in the eyes of the people what governing is all about: A meeting of minds, cooperation, and working under the belief that the good of the nation is more important than the good of the political party.
Whether Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif believe that they, or Pakistan, is most important remains to be seen.