After months of labouring under the illusion that his word is law, Imran Khan withdrew his demand that Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif resign at a rally in Rahimyar Khan on Sunday. Imran admitted that the PM was no closer to resigning today than he was before the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI’s) agitation started. This did not however keep him from continuing to make outlandish demands or amend his pattern of slander, threats, half-truths and improbable ‘facts’ when announcing his decision. Imran said he would accept an inquiry by a Supreme Court (SC) commission to investigate rigging in the 2013 elections so long as it included members of Military Intelligence (MI) and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) (one more in a long series of attempts to drag the military into politics). Pursuant to the Commissions of Inquiry Act 1956, the federal government is the only authority to appoint a commission, the members of which are decided by the government and can include any person it deems fit. The SC does not have the power to form inquiry commissions. The SC late last month rejected the PTI’s petition that the 2013 elections be annulled on the grounds of rigging, because of a lack of evidence.
Though the record shows otherwise, Imran Khan said that the government was responsible for bringing negotiations to a standstill and ran his now usual gamut of accusations of corruption, malfeasance and vested interests. Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid responded by saying that the government had never closed the door to talks but that Khan should cease making baseless allegations against the PM that might hurt the country. Imran condescendingly described the SC as “independent but not impartial” even while demanding the formation of a commission and refused to accept former Chief Justice (CJ) Tassaduq Hussain Jillani as the new Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) because he ‘does not trust him’. Whether this is a reflection of Khan’s poor ability to judge character or simply because as CJ, Justice Jillani did not favour his cause during the agitation is debatable. Certainly Justice Jillani distinguished himself during his brief tenure with notable rulings on the rights of minorities and women, while largely ignoring the political fracas at D-Chowk. It is little wonder then that Imran rejected his nomination. Khan said the commission must be formed by November 30 or his planned protest in Islamabad “would not necessarily be peaceful”.
It seems that Imran Khan is heading from disturbed to dangerously sociopathic. After the sit-in, far from isolating the PM, Imran found himself isolated by every political party represented in parliament by his attempt to de-legitimise parliament as a whole with appeals to popular sovereignty, which fell flat in the face of his limited popularity. His rallies have been well attended but meaningless yet he still felt he has the power to demand the PM agree to resign if the proposed inquiry found evidence of rigging. He failed to specify whether he meant localised instances of rigging of the type that has occurred in several Pakistani elections, or organised and institutionalised rigging. Given his past statements the expectation is the latter, but it would not be the first time that he has reversed his stance at a moment’s notice. Without the oxygen of publicity for his nightly soap-opera, his agitation is effectively over and the PTI has been looking for a face-saving exit ever since this became apparent. Yesterday PTI Vice-President Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the protests had achieved their task of raising awareness. For obvious reasons the party is trying to spin its embarrassing failure into an apparent victory by claiming this was their goal all along. The planned November 30 protest appeared from the beginning as a last roll of the dice to force concessions from the government, but in making threats of violence Imran is again overplaying his hand. If his last demonstration was ‘peaceful’ it is disturbing to imagine what a violent agitation might look like. His threat of violence raises the question of whether he can be considered a responsible leader, let alone one to whom the country’s fortunes could be entrusted.