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Beyond attacking, Imran Khan has no plan

The army must be careful not to extend its dislike of Nawaz Sharif to a full-blown undermining of Pakistan’s constitutional democracy. It should rein Imran Khan in.

comment Updated: Sep 01, 2014 23:05 IST
Hindustan Times

The world watches in disbelief as Imran Khan and Canada-based cleric Tahir ul-Qadri continue their mindless confrontation of the Nawaz Sharif government in Islamabad.

A few thousand supporters of these leaders have camped in Islamabad, refusing to go unless Mr Sharif resigns, on grounds that his party, PML(N), committed fraud in the 2013 elections.

Mr Khan has resolutely disregarded the pleas of prominent liberal commentators, including on Pakistan’s vibrant social media, and pressed ahead with his tactics of bringing down an elected government by deploying his supporters in a few streets of the capital city.

His maximalist demands for Mr Sharif’s resignation have deprived Mr Khan of a face-saving formula.

He has thus decided to precipitate a confrontation, hoping the authorities would overreact and make Mr Sharif’s position untenable. That ploy was on view on Sunday when protestors tried to storm the PM’s residence, prompting a crackdown that left three people dead and over 200 injured.

The police also singled out journalists for rough treatment — many of whom required medical attention — adding to the pressure on Mr Sharif, just as Mr Khan would like it.

The drama continued on Monday as protestors barged into the Pakistan Television (PTV) building, causing it to go off air for a while, till the Pakistan army secured the building.

These events again underline the irrational dimensions of Mr Khan’s politics.

He has his admirers owing to his cricketing feats and for his clean image amidst a corrupt power elite. But many also despair about his pro-Taliban posturing, his poor grasp of policy issues beyond populist pronouncements and his willingness to become a tool of the army whenever it wants to reassert itself vis-à-vis the civilian government.

He fired his party president for daring to suggest that protestors must not target Mr Sharif’s residence. Mr Khan has not surprisingly been called “the world’s oldest teenager, with a captive national audience”.

This situation — which would not have evolved into a crisis without GHQ’s tacit support for Mr Khan and Mr Qadri — brings Rawalpindi back into the thick of things. The outcome of Mr Sharif’s meeting with army chief Raheel Sharif wasn’t clear at the time of going to press.

The army must be careful not to extend its dislike of Mr Sharif to a full-blown undermining of Pakistan’s constitutional democracy. It should rein Mr Khan in.