Politics is the art of moderation; all politicians learn that the hard way. Unfortunately, Imran Khan is a celebrity who has an all or nothing policy. He has no understanding of or desire to learn moderation. If he did he would have understood that there is a difference between criticizing the establishment and openly provoking it.
The violence that Imran Khan’s followers indulged in recently has not only resulted in arrests of workers and party leaders but it will have longer term consequences for both Imran Khan and his political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf. The unusually aggressive reaction from the military in response to the vandalism of its facilities, bolstered by the unanimous condemnation from government leaders, suggests that the PTI may soon face a serious existential challenge.
Instead of immediately condemning the violence, PTI leadership desisted from doing so till it was too late. As an editorial in Dawn notes, “Violence is a sign of desperation. It rarely yields long-term benefits. Considering the quantum of lives lost, injuries suffered, and arrests made since the PTI went on the warpath last year, its ‘narrative’ has already proven rather costly to the party itself.”
Imran Khan may believe he is above the reach of the state but as the Editorial notes, “arrest and incarceration have been, rather unfortunately, almost a rite of passage for Pakistani politicians. It was foolish of the PTI to assume that it could avoid the treatment meted out to other political leaders who were equally, if not more, popular in their heyday. Maturity would have demanded that the PTI leaders braved the challenge individually, as a personal sacrifice for their political cause, and not let their well-wishers get in harm’s way.”
As analyst Mohammad Taqi noted in a recent column, “what the Pakistan army needs to understand is that decades of direct rule and political engineering has dire consequences for the country’s polity. The virulent constitutional, legal, political and geopolitical mutations that it has introduced over the past 65 years, are not easy to purge, especially when it has actively worked to cripple every institution of the state. The only other time the GHQ was breached was when the jihadists who had spun out of the army’s orbit attacked it. This time the junta’s Imran Khan project has gone incredibly awry. But it doesn’t seem like any lessons were learnt then or will be now.”
The Dawn Editorial warns the establishment that the “overwhelming power they currently enjoy should not blind them to the fact that they have essentially issued a declaration of war against a large segment of the Pakistani citizenry. Grave mistakes and miscalculations have been made by both sides. Both must show flexibility and review their terms of engagement.”