The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has aptly summed up the mayhem and turmoil unleashed by the developments in the country in the last 72 hours. “It is difficult to measure the misfortune of the luckless people of Pakistan that their state is coming apart at the seams,” the HRCP said after the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and others in the rental power case on Tuesday. The action inside the court coincided with the massive street show just a few hundred yards away where the long march of Dr Tahirul Qadri has pitched itself in front of parliament. The firebrand Allama immediately declared victory when the Supreme Court’s order was announced.
The order created an instant flurry and the level of speculation rose to a new pitch, with people wondering about how things will unfold and how matters will be handled. Such an unusual course of events is virtually unprecedented even in our troubled history. The PPP has been locked in a huddle, also consulting with its other partners over the problem it now faces. Political parties in the opposition have been holding their own meetings, trying to get a grip over the situation and work out how to react to this new development. To further complicate matters PTI leader Imran Khan joined in with full force putting forward his own demands – backing Qadri in part – holding that the government is corrupt, that President Zardari too must go and demanding that election dates be announced immediately.
The stance of other groups is not yet quite clear – though PML-N members, speaking as individuals, have pressed for ‘democracy’ to be preserved at all costs. Later in the day there were reports originating in foreign media sources that NAB Chairman Admiral Fasih Bokhari, who had been ordered by the SC to arrest the PM, had submitted his resignation to the president. This was initially denied by Admiral Bokhari but highlighted the anxiety and panic in the top echelons of power and the executive branch of the state. What the present turn of events has done is add to the instability already prevailing in the country. As a result, the Karachi Stock Exchange has crashed to a new low. This is obviously not a happy development. It emphasises how, more than anything else, we need lasting stability and order. But how do we get there?
Amid this chaos and the failure of the government and political parties, the most likely response will be the usual chorus that there are conspiracies afoot against democracy. Yet, these developments have not taken place in a vacuum. The people have been miserable, to the extent of having to wait on the roads with the coffins of their loved ones for justice to be done while the government has been busy trying to ensure its own survival.
For now, Tahirul Qadri’s demands hang in the air. Among these is that a long-term caretaker setup be put in place and electoral reforms introduced, making the process of spolling a truly just one. Many ask why the good Allama has come up with this just before elections are due, but few would argue with his other calls for an end to corruption and for a government better able to meet its people’s needs. It was obviously frustration with the existing setup that made so many people support Qadri. The numbers may swell despite the chill of Islamabad’s nights as excitement and anticipation mount over the coming course of events.
Predictions that Qadri’s ‘long march’ would lead to ‘big events’ may come true. The issue now is just how big they will be, whether the system will survive, whether we will see a dramatic change or if things will hold out till an election can be held. The gathering in Islamabad retains its relevance. Decisions by the larger parties are also awaited. The coming hours and days will be filled with action. There is still time for the political forces to pick up the pieces, put themselves together and take solid action. More chaos will follow if that does not happen, and if critical decisions of national importance are not taken. Let those in power assess their own performance first and then blame others. A genuine national consensus is the need of the hour.