Is Imran Khan the biggest threat to democracy in Pakistan?

On the website of the leading Pakistani daily Dawn, two (of the four) articles in the section dedicated to editorials are as follows: 'PTI's bizarre proposals' and 'The mask of anarchy'.

The first, presumably written by the edit page staff of the paper, underlines the absurdity of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf's demands placed before the Nawaz Sharif government. Last week, the protest march, led by Imran Khan had stormed Islamabad's red zone, proceeded towards the country's parliament with next to no resistance from the government.

While, it was read as a victory for the protesters demanding Nawaz Sharif resign immediately the events that followed revealed that Sharif had played well. Because in the course of the next few days, the events unfolded in a way to make Imran Khan look increasingly vacuous, while Sharif held fort, quietly. From threatening to storming Sharif's house, Imran Khan came down to demanding a temporary resignation, where he asked Sharif to step aside for a month so that the judicial commission's enquiry into the alleged rigging in the country's polls concluded without government pressure.

 Is Imran Khan the biggest threat to democracy in Pakistan?

Imran Khan. AFP.

Naturally, national and international media reacted with ridicule. Almost in the way India's media reacted when AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal first organised a dharna against his city's police force, then quit the government and then decided to run for the general elections this year by challenging Narendra Modi. Like Kejriwal's recent political trajectory in India, Imran Khan's gimmicky 'protest' has not been received well by the media in Pakistan and abroad.

Understandably, therefore, the editorial in Dawn punches several holes in PTI's stand on the Nawaz Sharif government by observing, "Consider that the very elections that the PTI is disputing were held under a caretaker government. Clearly then, even within the PTI’s scheme of things, if the PML-N was allegedly able to rig an election when not in office, could it not affect the outcome of a judicial inquiry when the party has governments at both the centre and in the principally electorally disputed province of Punjab?"

Almost as a nod to Dawn's stand, an editorial on another Pakistan daily Express Tribune describes Imran Khan's situation as 'Lose Lose'. Talking about Khan's grand announcements, the writer Saroop Ijaz says about PTI's stir, "Everybody wants it to stop, except maybe Mr Imran Khan. One can only speculate on how those who truly care for him will be pained to see all this happening to him. It is all heading towards ending with a whimper; any banging sound will only be made by heads."

The second editorial in Dawn spells it out without mincing words: "What is the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s great revolutionary idea that will fix our broken homeland? Replacement of Nawaz Sharif with Imran Khan? Is the PTI fighting for a goal larger than the political aggrandisement of Imran Khan?"

Writer Babar Sattar observes, "If its sole purpose is to fix a perceived unproven wrong inflicted on the PTI voter in 2013, this movement by definition is a narrow partisan struggle not aimed at empowering ordinary citizens but a means to snatch power from the PML-N and hand it to the PTI."

And it's not just Pakistanis who seem to be discomfited by Imran Khan's flashy political rhetoric and confusing political message. New York Times' Declan Walsh observes in a piece on the protest that the mood at the protests is mostly carnival-esque. He writes, "On the streets, Mr. Khan’s movement has the boisterous feel of a midsummer music festival. Pop stars introduce his speeches, which are punctuated by songs during which his supporters, many of them women, burst into dance. A disc jockey known as DJ Butt is part of his entourage."

It's almost impossible to ignore the glaring similarities with the anti-corruption movement started by Anna Hazare, steeped in rousing youth support. Like that movement was almost a performed, with all its pop culture ramifications, Imran Khan's 'protest' seems theatrical, almost an elaborate attempt to confer heroism on Imran Khan, anew.

It's equally hard to ignore, how, like the anti-corruption movement that AAP's grandiose anti-establishment politicking ran out of fizz. And the latter got branded as 'anarchists' - a brand they anyway decided to flaunt with impudence. However, the petulance had its effect on the voters, reflected in the shoddy performance of the party in the general elections.

Imran Khan, might, well be headed in the direction. The Wall Street Journal notes that despite all the sound and fury, despite Khan promising at least a million protesters, the officials numbers could be anything between just 20,000 and 50,000. Definitely not more than 60,000.

Like we had noted in our live blog in the past, Khan's call to stop paying taxes and utility bills was met were severe criticism from the business communities and intellectuals of the country who pointed out that he is encouraging the citizens to serve a death blow to their own country's economy.

Also, PTI's voters in Peshawar were reportedly wary of Khan's theatrics and said that none of the promises made to them have even been taken up by Khan in the past few months. The region continues to suffer from the same old ills.

Walsh notes in The New York Times article, "Mr. Khan’s call for supporters to stop paying taxes and utility bills met with widespread derision because few Pakistanis pay income taxes, and the country is already crippled with power shortages." Much like Kejriwal's call to Delhi to stop paying bills was met with a fair amount of concern.

If the alarm bells ringing about Khan manage to shake his voters up, this protest movement might be just his undoing.

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Updated Date: Aug 27, 2014 14:11:47 IST