Anti-Sharif protests

September 03, 2014 - 1:49:15 am

Nawaz Sharif’s opponents must work through democratic institutions to oust him.

The political crisis in Pakistan is worsening as both sides harden their positions. The anti-Nawaz Sharif anger is stoked by two leaders: Imran Khan, a prominent cricketer turned politician, who wants new elections, and Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, a cleric of the Sufi sect, who is pushing for the creation of a unity government. Thousands of their followers are on the streets demanding the resignation of the prime minister. Sharif has vowed not to succumb to what he calls the ‘terror tactics’ of his enemies, while the ‘enemies’ are equally determined to throw out a ‘corrupt and fraudulently elected premier’. The country is witnessing high-voltage drama. On Monday, hundreds of anti-Sharif protesters stormed and briefly interrupted transmissions of the state-run Pakistani Television (PTV) news channel.

The world is watching the developments in the country with a sense of déjà vu. Pakistan has enough problems to grapple with: a Taliban insurgency which is tough to tackle, a failing economy, tension with India which has been on the rise despite the recent bonhomie and an army which is waiting at the door to barge in. The country needs true unity and a stable government to address these issues and the current political crisis has thwarted any hopes of stability and progress.

But is the anti-Sharif protest justified? While the opinion is divided inside Pakistan, the international community has its doubts. Pakistan is a democracy, though with its flaws, and in a democracy, elected governments aren’t usually thrown out through violent methods. Sharif’s critics have every right to protest the government’s policies, but forcing the government out is anti-democratic. It would only help to destabilise the country, deepen the fissures in the society and strengthen the military by giving them an opportunity to act as a peacebroker or intervene to restore order, which would only help to weaken democracy.

It’s true that Sherif’s tenure has been marked with serious problems, like an increase in sectarian tensions and a rise of cronyism. But he came to power through an election 15 months ago. That election is said to be rigged and flawed. But fifteen months have passed and it’s surprising that Sherif’s opponents didn’t take to the streets then to demand a revote or cancellation of the results.

Sherif’s opponents need to operate within the democratic boundaries. If the current government is an absolute failure, the people will have an opportunity during the next election to punish them, and give the opposition a chance. 

Also, there are serious doubts about the intentions of the army. The army has proclaimed that it is neutral in this crisis, but going by its acrimonious relationship with Sherif, many are thinking differently, and rightly so•