Pakistan Divided as Imran Khan Launches 'Civil Disobedience Movement'
Imran Khan addressing a rally
ISLAMABAD: Author and columnist Ayesha Siddiqa “dedicated” a post on her Facebook Page to Pakistan leader Imran Khan, much to the amusement of her ‘friends’ on the social networking site. Translated from the Roman to English the anecdote basically narrated the story of a leopard smoking hash when a mouse came and stopped him, saying why are you spoiling your life, come with me, let us enjoy a walk through the jungle; the cheetah accompanied him and as they were walking they came across an elephant drinking alcohol. The mouse admonished him and the elephant also joined them on their walk. They then came across a monkey taking heroin, and when the mouse tried to stop him the monkey slapped him hard across his face. When the other animals asked why he had done this he replied, “kal bhi kameena bhang pi ke mujhe 3 ghante ghumata raha.” (yesterday this crook, under the influence of bhang, made me walk around for three hours”).
Siddiqa’s response reflects one major section of Pakistan that has refused to take Imran Khan seriously, and despite his improved electoral performance sees him as a light weight in the political world. His ‘tsunami’ to hit Islamabad has generated these quips as well as a certain impatience with his street politics. The Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaaf (PTI) leader has laid siege to Islamabad along with a swelling crowd of supporters demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He has followed this now with a call for a “civil disobedience movement’ and urged the people not to pay their taxes, and electricity and gas bills.
"I have called for the civil disobedience movement for you, not for myself. We will not pay taxes, electricity or gas bills," Khan told his supporters while giving a speech which he described as the most important of his political career.
"I thought that if this rally heads towards the Prime Minister House then they will clash with the police,” he said adding that he did not want violence and people to be killed or injured.
"There is only one way now, we will kick off a civil disobedience campaign," Khan said to raucous applause from thousands of his supporters in support of his efforts to oust Sharif.
The ruling party of Pakistan, PML-N had won 190 of the 342 seats in the elections while PTI got 34 seats that placed him as the third largest bloc in the legislature. Khan has always maintained that his party would have done far better, and was the victim of mass rigging by Sharif and his supporters.
Interestingly while a section of the media wrote of a massive support for Khan on the streets, others were equally insistent that his was a flop show. Independent reports suggest that a thin crowd greeted him when he arrived at Islamabad but this has grown into an enthusiastic audience of thousands over the days. Encouraged by the response, mostly from young Pakistanis, Khan has warned the government that he cannot hold back his supporters from entering the “Red Zone” and needs a quick response.
Lashing out at Sharif for amassing wealth and for non-governance Khan told the rally,
"I assure you that when I finish my speech, and if you do what I ask you to, then no one can stop a 'naya' Pakistan from being made."
Khan’s agitation on the roads is not usual for Pakistan. The fact that he has managed to enthuse the crowds is being seen by dispassionate observers in Lahore and Islamabad as one, a sign of his popularity that has not faded since the elections clearly; and two, anger with the current government that he has been able to capitalise on. The birds eye view from India does suggest an influence of the pre-partition civil disobedience movement under Gandhi, as well as the more recent agitation launched in Delhi by the Aam Aadmi Party where it asked the residents not to pay their electricity and water bills.
The Pakistan government has remained silent through the agitation, although the fact that a large part of the crowd has come from Lahore and adjoining areas for the protest should be worrying the Sharif brothers. The military has officially kept a public distance from this but in a country where democratic protest is not known to happen independently, voices from within the establishment have started crediting former ISI chief General Ahmad Shuja Pasha for masterminding the dissent.