The Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Imran Khan announced on Sunday to move ahead with the “anti corruption march” towards the residence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Raiwind on Friday 30th September. During his speech Imran Khan said that Pakistan has two options: either to wait for 2018 elections and continue to see our institutions being destroyed or to be part of change to create a new Pakistan.
The venue of the said march has been the subject of intense debates as PTI invited other opposition parties such as PPP, PAT and PML-Q to be part of this grand opposition alliance, however apart from one lone Sheikh Rasheed all the other opposition parties have turned down the offer. The unanimous concern is that the Raiwind March will set a bad political precedent, i.e. to protest in front of the private residence of the sitting Premier.
Thus, it seems the journey is going to be a solo flight as the key ally that PTI was banking on was PAT’s Chief Tahir-ul-Qadri who suddenly left for London on 15th September. However, despite the internal rift among the opposition parties, Threek-e-Insaf still remains a formidable force that has the ability to bring the masses out on the roads. This then propels one to not only take PTI’s call for the Raiwind March seriously but also grab a yellow pad and pencil to develop a pros and cons list.
While political protest remains a democratic right of every citizen to advocate for greater transparency and accountability we also need to introspect the merits and demerits of the Raiwind March very carefully. The movement started in the aftermath of the leak of 11 million documents held by the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca. The infamous Panama Leaks identified links between many political leaders around the world and secret offshore companies and accounts. Among them was also the Pakistani Prime Minister’s family including his sons Hasan Nawaz, Hussain Nawaz and his daughter Mariam Safdar, who is being touted as his political heir. While owning offshore companies is perfectly legal, what has raised eye brows regarding the involvement of the Prime Minister’s family is the accusations regarding the use of these clandestine assets for tax evasion, money laundering and hence corruption.
Unfortunately the government’s response to this crisis has been immature by leveling counter accusations and trying to drag this issue till it loses steam. Soon after the leaks PM Nawaz Sharif in a televised speech promised to form a judicial commission to ascertain the allegations but to date the parliamentary committee is yet to finalize the terms of reference for the judicial commission hence, pushing the opposition to resort to public rallies.
The Raiwind March can lead to further political turmoil if the situation is not handled cautiously. The PML-N supporters and government need to ensure patience and restraint as this march unlike the dharna of 2014 will not impact the day to day functions of governance, and so it is in the best interest of the state to facilitate the march. Any incident of violence will further complicate matters and will inevitably give fuel to agitation.
On the other hand PTI also needs to play its cards wisely and use the Raiwind March to garner public support and develop a consensus among the opposition parties – no matter how reluctant – to mount pressure on the government to form an impartial Judicial Commission that investigates these allegations before the 2018 general elections.
The democratic institutions in Pakistan are still fragile and any increase in political turmoil will only make them weaker. Accordingly, while any foul move from either side may serve short term political goals it will have severe ramifications for democracy at large in Pakistan. Ultimately the political parties need to engage in a politically mature dialogue that addresses the grievances and paves way for strengthening the Parliament.