The government is in trouble. The House of Sharif is in trouble. But is democracy as we know it really in trouble?
Imran Khan has thrown down the gauntlet. In the blistering heat of Bahawalpur, he breathed fire on to the Sharifs and the system that catapulted them into the corridors of power. Drenched in sweat, Khan thundered and roared and went on the attack. A million-strong tsunami will now march on to Islamabad on Independence Day ready to scale the walls and breach the mighty defences of the House Sharif. The final showdown — it seems — is imminent.
Let the Game of Thrones begin.
The timing of Khan’s offensive is pegged on a simple premise: he smells blood. The Sharifs — lording over an electoral juggernaut — suddenly seem vulnerable. A series of blunders over the past year or so have weakened them, despite the impressive numbers they command in the parliament. In face of relentless attacks by Khan and others, the Sharifs are at best mounting a feeble defence.
Meanwhile the sound of distant thunder is drawing near by the day. King’s Landing in under siege.
Some of what will happen now can be predicted. Khan will keep the political temperature boiling through Ramazan with carefully calibrated verbal attacks. He and his lieutenants will distill the message of his Bahawalpur speech and splash it across TV screens and newspaper front pages throughout the month. They will also carpet bomb the credibility of the 2013 elections and the Election Commission. Expect to hear a lot about the Sharifs and their family enterprise that is now running the country as a personal fiefdom. These verbal barrages by the PTI will act as artillery fire to soften the ground before the ground offensive is unleashed on August 14.
Throughout the month, PTI will work furiously to organize the storming of the House Sharif. Every ounce of energy, resources and brainpower will be invested in planning every last detail of the offensive. Then post-Eid, the ground will begin to rumble. Swords will be sharpened, shields polished and body armour hammered into shape. Horses will be saddled and the dragons will take flight. Trumpets will sound as banners are unfurled and the last camp fires put out.
What will happen next is anyone’s guess. Instead, what matters more is whether this offensive; this final storming of the House Sharif; will amount to yet another kind of war which will end with democracy’s head on a spike?
The answer may yet surprise us. For a nation used, abused and manipulated again and again by its rulers, the dream of an ideal society lies buried under the debris of broken promises and shattered commitments. This is a nation birthed in a firestorm of heady idealism; a nation made to believe it would grow up to be a superstar. Instead it went through a traumatised childhood. Instead of being in school, this youngster was thrown on to the street to fend for itself. Bereft of education, bereft of skills and bereft of personal growth, it stumbled from one crisis to another. In the process, it stopped dreaming. And it stopped demanding its natural born rights.
When you aim low, you get even lower.
We aimed for the process of democracy, instead of demanding a rule of law and the supremacy of meritocracy. We got the process, we got the trappings and we discovered a new god: the ballot box. We built temples for it (Sindh just spent upwards of Rs3 billion to erect a shiny one), and we began worshipping it. We developed a new priestly class that occupied these temples and initiated hedonistic rituals within its plush confines.
But the emptiness remained. That ache for the perfect society where law is equal for everyone; where social justice reigns and equal opportunity prevails — the ache for such a society kept pulsating deep within. If other nations can build such a society, why can’t we?
Why indeed. And this question; nay, this yearning goes to the heart of the struggle we are witnessing. Imran Khan’s offensive on Islamabad could be a naked power grab; or it could be something more. The storming of the House Sharif could lead to the kind of chaos we have seen so often in the past; a chaos which culminates with the thump, thump, thump of heavy boots. Or it could lead to a certain cleansing of the system that is just not delivering stuff that dreams are made of. Dreams are dreams, not reality, but they project contours of a reality that is always within reach. Yes we need an electoral system that cannot be manipulated. Yes we need a police that genuinely cares for the people instead of brutalising them. Yes we need the high priests of our cherished Democratic temples to be accountable before the law like you and me. Yes we want merit to prevail over nepotism and talent to overrule kinship. Yes we want every single Pakistani child in school and every single citizen to get justice. Yes indeed we want, we demand, and we deserve a society that is second to none in material and spiritual progress.
Will Imran Khan’s August 14 offensive achieve all this? Certainly not. But if he can force the House Sharif to take on the right direction, then democracy is not in mortal danger. In fact, it may just be what the doctor ordered.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2014.