Tsunami and floods

After erratic political behavior, Pakistan has been hit by erratic weather

Tsunami and floods
“There are two tragedies in life,” said George Bernard Shaw. “One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.”

This priceless quote explains the paradox of Imran Khan, the chairman of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, who has nothing new to add to the monotonous sermons that he delivers on prime time TV. The resignation mantra has lost its charm. The third umpire has refused to raise the finger. And he has led himself into a vicious commitment trap, finding no way out.

The most absurd announcement he has made since his Freedom March began on August 14 was declaring a civil disobedience movement. Except for a few ambitious commuters who refused to pay toll tax, hardly anyone gave it a serious thought. The massive business empire of the PTI secretary general, Jehangir Tareen, kept on paying the taxes. Information Minister Pervez Rashid claimed that Mr Khan himself paid the electricity bill of his Bani Gala residence.

The PTI is another example of arrogant autocracy in Pakistan, just like PML-Nawaz, the People’s Party, and the MQM. The chairman can only be ousted if a two-thirds majority of the party’s national council votes against him. But it requires a simple majority to kick out any other official.

[quote]Imran Khan enjoys absolute power in the party[/quote]

Mr Khan enjoys an absolute veto power in the party. He demonstrated it when the PTI dialogue committee gave its words to the government that protestors would not march along with Dr Tahirul Qadri towards the Prime Minister’s House. Mr Khan vetoed the decision, reportedly, after listening to a message brought to him by Sheikh Rashid. It cost Mr Khan his party president, Javed Hashmi.

It doesn’t take to be a micro-expression expert to be able to read the faces of PTI negotiators. With stern and pouty faces, they hold back a lot of information. For weeks they have been telling the nation that the talks were moving in the right direction. What they they do not explain is how Mr Khan will approve the final deal without getting his key demand – the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – fulfilled.

Sources privy to the dialogue say the PTI shortlisted some 70 National Assembly constituencies to be investigated for rigging. Background interviews with senior PTI leaders revealed they were tired and impatient, finding ways to get out of the existing morass. Some of them tried to persuade Mr Khan to agree to the formation of a judicial commission with the condition that the assemblies would cease to exist if rigging allegations were proven. Mr Khan refused to budge. A senior PTI leader who is known for having access to the military establishment argues that the game is still on.

Mr Khan cannot swallow the reality that the game is over as far as getting rid of Sharif is concerned. However, the stubbornness he demonstrates would deprive him and the nation of probably the best opportunity so far to reform the system.

In the initial days of the so-called Azadi March, the PTI camp was rather confident that the days of the Nawaz government were numbered. They would not have objected if the army had installed an interim setup to investigate the rigging allegations and conduct re-elections. That did not happen.

The MQM and Jamaat-e-Islami – two traditional associates of the establishment – read the sings well and refused to be an active part of the campaign to oust the PML-N government. Other political parties, represented in the Parliament, knew they would face a witch-hunt and political victimization in the end. They got united and pushed the PTI into a close alley of isolation.

A villager surveys his house damaged by the flood in a suburb of Jhang
A villager surveys his house damaged by the flood in a suburb of Jhang

Mixing personal sentiments with political rivalries always costs politicians dearly. The People’s Party and the PML-N have learned that lessons. What Mr Khan failed to understand was that the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, Sheikh Rashid, and Dr Tahirul Qadri had personal scores to settle with the Sharifs. Mr Khan’s struggle was originally ideological, but has subtly been converted into personal animosity with the prime minister. Neither he nor his comrades would be able to justify the strange demand of replacing the prime minister with any of his colleagues during the rigging investigation.

After Javed Hashmi’s resignation, Mr Khan had categorically directed his party MNAs to announce their resignation on the floor of the National Assembly. The next day, only 19 PTI MNAs attended the session. Led by Shah Mehmood Qureshi, none of them announced their resignation the way Mr Hashmi did.

Electoral rigging has been a hallmark of polls in Pakistan. Except the 1970 general elections, conducted under the auspices of a military dictator, the credibility of all subsequent elections was questioned. Mr Khan himself supported Gen Musharraf in the 2001 presidential referendum, massively manipulated in the dictator’s favor.

In 2002, Gen Musharraf’s handpicked PML-Q won the general elections. The entire civil and military machinery was used to ensure the PML-Q’s victory. Even the then-director general of Punjab Rangers was accused of playing a key role in neutralizing the PML-N in the province. After the 2002 elections, Gen Ehtasham Zamir of the ISI was accused of cobbling together a pro-Musharraf alliance with like-minded politicians. The so-called son of Rawalpindi, Sheikh Rashid, never missed an opportunity to please the master.

[quote]Punjab has not had such high rainfall since 1957[/quote]

Before 2008, when General Musharraf realized his alliance with the PML-Q would not guarantee him another stint in power, he tried to bargain with the People’s Party. Chaudhry Shujaat once told this scribe that a list of 30 PML-Q senior leaders was prepared who must lose the 2008 elections. The name of Chaudhry Shujaat was included in the list. He once embarrassed the general accusing him of backstabbing. Dr Tahirul Qadri is a different case altogether.

The shows put up by Mr Khan and Dr Qadri outside Parliament House are gradually losing crowd. Meanwhile, deadly floods hit Kashmir, Punjab and Sindh. The prime minister advised the demonstrators to help the flood-hit people and end the protest. Both the self-professed redeemers laughed it off.

A family travels on a tonga in a flooded Lahore on September 4
A family travels on a tonga in a flooded Lahore on September 4

As if the erratic political behavior was not enough, mother nature tested the Pakistani nation with erratic weather. Until late last month, the Met Office was predicting less than normal rainfall. Everything changed in the first week of September. Torrential rains coupled with abnormal release of water from the Indian-occupied Kashmir wreaked havoc in Pakistan. The credibility of the Met Office hit another low.

Dr Qamar Zaman, a senior meteorologist, claimed Punjab had not received such high rainfall and floods since 1957. More than 220 people had been announced dead until the filing of this report. Around one million people were affected.

Ahmed Kamal, a spokesman of the National Disaster Management Authority, admitted the federal and provincial governments did not comply with the authority’s recommendations to minimize the loss of lives and property.

The flash floods have at least diverted media attention from the sit-ins in Islamabad.

Shahzad Raza is an Islamabad-based journalist

Twitter: @Shahzadrez