Let us suppose for a moment that the protestors succeed. That the twin sit-ins of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) seize ‘new’ Pakistan from the claws of the old and corrupt status quo. That they galvanise enough people where Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif has to step down, realising the only other option left for him is to go behind bars. That a ‘neutral’ commission noses out enough evidence to hold the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) responsible for massive rigging in the last election. That a commission composed of competent people with impeccable pasts introduces the long needed reforms in the electoral process. That the new elections are held under the new rules. That international organisations declare them to be largely fair and free. And that Imran Khan, wearing his long awaited sherwani, takes oath as the PM of Pakistan.
It is too much to ask, is it not? But that is not the point. We are only trying to imagine one possible situation in which Imran Khan emerges as the next PM of Pakistan. In the beginning, I am sure he will take steps to implement his manifesto: there will be a buzz about tax collection, radical ideas about agricultural reforms will be tossed about and some infrastructure projects will be initiated. Some improvement in the perception of corruption will be observed and I agree that overseas Pakistanis will pour money into the economy as well.
Six months to a year in the government with Sheikh Rasheed, Shah Mehmood and Jahangir Tareen as cabinet members, along with Asad Umer in the finance department, we are not talking about a fast paced restructuring of government organisations, are we? If you are anticipating a revolution from this team, then you must recall General Musharraf’s tenure from 2002 to 2007, or look at the efficiency of the PTI-led coalition in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the last one year. More or less, this is what you will get in the Centre too.
So, as the honeymoon period fades away, intra-party bickering will start. In addition, the PML-N supporters in the bureaucracy will also provide their patrons with details about corruption stories within the government. New scandals will break, some ministers could get caught red-handed and stories about a single minister overshadowing the whole cabinet will raise their heads as well. Sure, there are chances that Imran Khan will force them to resign, but the investigation and propaganda will favour the opposite side. Why? Because of the media. As of now, the majority of private channels do not support the PTI or PML-N. It may look that way but, to be honest, it is a business that cares exclusively about sensationalism. They want to excite the people and keep them entertained. And how can we get them to watch the never ending but riveting talk shows? By bashing the federal government and talking about their scandals, failures, weaknesses and troubles with the establishment.
I know what is on your mind. You are thinking that Imran will defend these allegations like he always has. However, remember this is Imran Khan as an opposition leader. I am not sure if Imran as the chief executive will have time to appear seven days a week on television either through a personal interview, a press conference or a public meeting. He will have bigger fish to fry then. His party in power will be the status quo, fully invested in the system that has everything at stake. It has to be wise, sensible, responsible and generous in accepting criticism in the media. The party in the opposition, like himself at the moment, does not have to follow any of these rules. It can be as furious and irresponsible in its statements as it can be.
Being the status quo then, trying to hang on to power, it will not be able to provide that obnoxious, untrue and rude rejoinder. In that environment, would Nawaz Sharif not be able to gather a few thousand people here in Islamabad to start a movement? Or do we think that Nawaz Sharif will not have enough support or charisma — even less than Maulana Tahirul Qadri — to keep the protestors out for a few months?
My next question is whether we think that he would be as kind to Imran Khan as he was to Asif Ali Zardari. Remember, there was a pact between the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the PML-N that they would respect each other’s mandate if they came into power. What lies between Imran and Sharif? A huge gap of anger and animosity. The language that has been used by the PTI has not been responded to but, once in the opposition, all bets are off. Or do we suppose that he will not be as tough on Imran Khan as the former cricketer is on him? Or will Nawaz Sharif concede to the PTI’s mandate on moral grounds?
None of these choices are true. Notwithstanding his softer opposition to the PPP-led coalition, for the trial of General Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif is ready to risk everything until today: his mandate, his chance to rule for another five years and even going to jail. This is what awaits Imran Khan too. The chairman of the PTI will become another General Musharraf for Nawaz Sharif.
In the end, how hard is to destabilise the government in Pakistan? Easy. Imran reckoned it would take him a few hours or a few days, not even weeks. He miscalculated that. But we can agree, if the leader has some public appeal, which both Imran and Nawaz Sharif have, and if the leader knows how to mobilise the public that Imran has learnt after this experience and Sharif has known for a long time, then it should not take more than a few months. We all know that it only took six months to strip General Musharraf of his powers although he clung to the presidency for another year before he resigned. Is Pakistan ready for another battle, the one that has not yet started?