Pakistan’s democratic dilemma at the edge of a political precipice

The ongoing conflict in Pakistan between Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s coalition government has escalated to new heights, the political chasm widened even further, and social fragmentation against public hostility in state institutions. . It also increased the likelihood of anarchy and civil war. While the government is considering all legal options to declare the PTI as a terrorist organization, Khan has decided to launch a historic massive rally against the government and its suspected handlers from the military establishment. This situation came to light just as Sharif and Khan had indicated, on March 16, that they were willing to resolve their differences through peaceful negotiations. Unfortunately, while waiting for the other side to initiate the process, groups on both sides opposed to reconciliation disrupted the situation by taking desperate measures, destroying any hope of progress make political.

A rapprochement between Sharif and Khan is urgently needed for the sake of Pakistan’s stability, but there are some individuals in the two leaders’ inner circles who do not want to come together. Instead, the detractors are willing to make a fatal gamble that could lead to the self-destruction of Sharif as well as Khan. In the event that something happens to the latter, a successor to the leader of his party has already been chosen. While such news is unfavorable to Khan’s staunch supporters, it has given hope to some within the PTI that they could take him out of politics to capture the fruits of his charisma and popularity for themselves. On the other hand, Maryam Nawaz, the vice-president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, has backed down and put Khan and his purported supporters in the judicial and military establishment over-ambitious. Main. Minister Sharif in a precarious position.

In the context of this political background, why would Khan and Sharif want to come together? To answer this, it is necessary to look at how these tensions are creating unprecedented consequences for both.

For Khan, the recent clashes have only added to his plight: As he continues to fuel public anger to pressure the government, the judiciary and the army to ensure early elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, his approach may be controversial. produce unfavorable results and exhaust it sooner or later. Khan probably realizes that if his party’s supporters resort to serious violence, he will not only lose the chance to contest elections with the political popularity of his faction, but will also be declared an outcast. In such a situation, Khan will be the ultimate loser. Although he has repeatedly tried to impose political control on the state by extracting some kind of moral legitimacy from the angry and politically charged public, he probably craves legal legitimacy, which institutions cannot states are granted only through elections. Without that legal legitimacy, Khan will be expelled from the regular democratic process. Willing or unwilling, Khan does not have the capacity to run a parallel state or rule a crowd as a non-state actor. He must remain so within the system if he wants to continue leading in Pakistan, which requires an agreement that depends on compromise. Realizing this, Khan’s inner circle of smart advisors are not happy with his choice to rally people in direct confrontation with the security forces, making it political suicide. But it seems Khan is not listening to their counsel.

Like Khan, Sharif is also dealing with significant political hurdles and a lot is on the line. His party PML-N has already lost much of its political influence in Punjab, the province he previously ruled. And despite his efforts, the party does not have a coherent political plan to recapture this area. Meanwhile, the prime minister is under pressure from the top party leadership, including Maryam Nawaz, to ensure the safe return of his elder brother and former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif from London. To ensure the political revival of Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz needs to arrange a détente with Khan as much as the military establishment needs to be on his side. However, the growing tension within the PML-N has affected the head of the Pakistani government. For him, it is a huge challenge to control and lead a party whose political narrative and fundamental position have been deeply affected by internal conflicts and the growing divide between those who wish to remain on good terms with the powerful military establishment and those which requires a great break with him. Another challenge for Sharif is to avoid the support of his Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) allies and face isolation if he makes any concessions to Khan. The PDM has already distanced itself from Sharif’s proposal for reconciliation with the populist PTI party leader.

The negotiations could lead to an amnesty for Khan, but then he would have to give up his campaign for the political element of his rivals that he has so far been publicly bashing. Khan, who has promoted identity politics by successfully creating and promoting a victim persona for himself and demonizing the ruling coalition as a group of crooks, does not have a clear political manifesto to attract voters in any other way. The opportunity to gather power would be lost if the identity of this victim disappeared. Khan has certainly expressed and incited public opinion into public thought, but it is equally important to carefully consider whether his approach truly empowers or disempowers people. In the same way, any attempt by the government to use the state as a tool to advance its own personal interests and to abuse its power by using a monopoly on violence to settle personal scores undermines of the legitimacy and sovereignty of the state.

Although dissent, civil disobedience, self-defense, freedom of speech, political participation, and the proper exercise of authority are vital parts of a democratic system, their abuse arises from a democratic dilemma, which serves the democratic forces well. The current course of relations between Khan and the ruling coalition is a perfect example of a democratic dilemma in which the political elites and their followers cannot make rational choices. Pakistan’s democratic system is in jeopardy, but it remains, at least in theory, which allows some space for the resolution of political disputes. However, all the political activists who hope to lead the state one day will suffer due to the sharp radicalization of the country’s political space. History shows that lawlessness and anarchy become the new norm when people who lose faith in the state overrule its authority, and the state accepts violence in its normal interactions with the people. Pakistan has already seen incidents of vigilante mob justice. But the idea of ​​politicians falling into the hands of lawless mobs is a huge crisis.

His contemporaries are likely to emulate the trend set by Khan, of using mass rallies to push and defy state order. If he is lucky enough to be elected prime minister for the coming term, he will have to deal with similar actions on the part of his rivals. The current coalition, on the other hand, must understand that vindictive politics creates a vicious cycle that would allow its politicians to fall into their own trap. In other words, it will only be a matter of time before they experience the same fate when they lose power. Pakistan is dealing with a political domino effect: if one high-profile figure falls, all the others will follow. In such circumstances, the devastating effects of civil war on the ability of all political actors to survive cannot be underestimated. Although negotiation is seen as the only treatment for Pakistan’s growing political disorder, it is true that sometimes the treatment does more harm than good. In this race against time, whatever Shehbaz Sharif and Imran Khan hope to accomplish if the negotiations ever happen; what result they will get, is too early to predict at the moment.

Naad-e-Ali Sulehria has more than five years working with international organizations and think tanks in various capacities as a political researcher, policy consultant, peace strategist, and human rights practitioner. He is currently a Research Assistant to Dr. Marvin G. Weinbaum, Director of Pakistan and Afghanistan Studies at the Middle East Institute.

Photo by FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP via Getty Images

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