May 11 was D Day at D Chowk Islamabad. People converged there from all over on the call of the political party that formed the government in Khyber Pakhtukhwa after the elections on May 11, 2013 just one year ago. No one was sure what they were rallying for but they came to protest their many grievances — power shut downs, inflation, cost of living, lawlessness, lack of human security, uncertainty and confusion about the future and much more. They wanted someone somewhere to speak on their behalf. So they came and rallied but no one was sure what it was really about?
Was it to announce the Charter of Demands that were announced in the rally — basically a demand for electoral reforms before the next elections four long years down the road? If so the government should have no problem examining and discussing these unless they want to prolong the agony and perhaps rig the next elections. Or was it to test the waters for a revolutionary movement — as the man in Canada is reported to have announced? Was it a gross misread of the civil-military relationship in view of the antics of two government mouth pieces and a media channel reportedly favored by them? The Prime Minister went off to Iran on a long overdue visit after having cheerfully invited the rally organizer to tea to discuss the issue — an invitation promptly declined as being non-serious. The government also quietly ordered two power shut down free days before the rally — a ruse quickly seen through and trashed by the media. The government also let loose two mouth pieces — one from the Center and the other from Punjab to do the dirty work but this too did not work because both have little or no credibility and like many others operate at a low localized level. The media channel mired in controversy ramped up their campaign against the rally organizer even insinuating that he was being backed by ‘unseen forces’. More confusing were the numerous rallies held on the same evening by a religious oriented party and the Canadian man led party who addressed from his home by video link.
So what was achieved? Not much. The next rally is to be in the town of Faisalabad two weeks later and an ‘every Friday’ dharna (vigil) has been announced outside the Election Commission offices till the reforms demanded are announced. The government might prick this bubble by a rational response. The fall of the government demanded by the others is a different matter. It makes no sense especially because these are the people who have been demonstrating in the streets in support of the Army and ISI and are opposed to the government’s initiative for dialogue with the TTP on the assumption that this is also what the military wants. Already smarting under the label of being complicit with radical religious elements, the military in not likely to be in cahoots with any one working against the democratic order now in place — as the Army Chief indicated recently. So the revolution to overthrow the government and bring in a new government is not likely to make any headway anytime soon. The military has been at pains to make its present orientation clear and will not hobnob with those it might have in the past — in fact they should distance themselves and rise above the fray.
There is the possibility of all the protesting parties morphing into one movement to oust the government but beyond street power they will not be able to do much unless the government messes up the situation with irrational responses and a continuation of the perceived confrontation with the military without acknowledging what the whole country has — that the media channel was wrong in targeting an institution and its head without evidence. This fact cannot be wished away. It is far more important to see the bigger picture emerging in the region and within the country because aggressive policies based on available resources are needed to reverse negative trends that are overwhelming the state — passive reactionary policies will not work. The military and the government need to work together on these policies and it is up to the political leadership to ensure this credibly.