Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan evoked mixed responses from colleagues this week when he said Pakistanis would “celebrate and distribute sweets” if the military took over, unlike in Turkey.
While some accused Khan of inviting military intervention at a time when he should be strengthening the country’s fragile democracy, others welcomed it, saying they were sick of how politicians have been ruling Pakistan for the past decade.
“What we are seeing is that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spent nearly two months in Britain at state expense, former president Asif Ali Zardari is camped in Dubai and many politicians come to power only to enrich themselves, not to strengthen democracy,” said Naddem Roomi, a businessman.
Like many in the business community, Roomi is a supporter of former military dictator Pervez Musharraf, whose tenure he describes as the “golden era for Pakistan’s economy”.
The chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Khan hit a raw nerve when he told his audience: “People will celebrate a military takeover in Pakistan. The democracy here is threatened by Nawaz Sharif’s monarchy, not military.”
He was addressing a political demonstration at Islam Garh in Pakistan occupied-Kashmir ahead of elections in the region on July 21.
The 63-year-old said the Turkish people took to the roads and streets against Friday’s attempted coup because their president served his people.
“Erdogan served his people, paid off their country’s debts, and constructed hospitals. That is why people supported him against the military.
“We demand Nawaz to let us know where he got the money from to have offshore assets, but he does not answer us.”
Pakistan has been under military rule for almost half of its history. The 2013 general election marked the first time an elected government completed its full tenure of five years and handed over power to another elected administration.
This peaceful transition of power raised hopes about the strengthening of democracy under the government headed by Sharif, who became premier for a record third time. However, Sharif’s government has floundered, unable to tackle a raft of problems ranging from terrorism to power outages.
The Mossack Fonseca leaks gave the opposition another opportunity to target his PML-N government as it emerged that Sharif’s children owned offshore assets worth millions of dollars.
On the other hand, the Pakistan Army, under its chief Gen Raheel Sharif, has continued to enhance its image in the eyes of the public. On Monday, the son of the Sindh high court chief justice was freed from his kidnappers in an army-led operation. His father told media, “It is the only the army that I want to thank.”
These actions have resonated with the people of Pakistan, who now view the army as the answer to the country’s problems, especially after its operation in the tribal areas that led to a substantial decline in terrorist activity.
“It’s a cycle that continues to run in Pakistan,” said columnist Zarrar Khuhro, who added that politicians could break this cycle by providing good governance “but they never do”.