We have already seen the intense polarization in the country and the hatred that appears to exist between the major parties. The fact that the formerly ruling PTI and its chief opponent the PML-N are simply not on talking terms does not augur well for democratic politics in the country
Democracy seeks a level of dialogue and discussion on various issues. We also question precisely what the political parties are doing. For the PTI, Imran Khan is delivering speech after speech which makes us feel less and less secure. His barely disguised attacks on parties and institutions to continue the narrative of the US conspiracy, are all terrifying. He has also threatened further warnings ahead.
Meanwhile, the PML-N considered it necessary to hold meetings in London rather than using services such as Zoom, Viber, WhatsApp. Instead, a party of at least 12 PML-N leaders had to be flown to the UK capital for discussions with the head of the party. We also do not know what has emerged from this discussion, and sometimes one is left to wonder if anyone is running the party at all, with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif proceeding at an extremely slow pace while the Punjab government remains in a situation where no one is sure what is to happen there in the future.
One of the chief dangers is that this level of dissent between the parties could lead to violence. We have already seen this happen in Sialkot where the local Christian community protested the holding of the PTI’s planned rally at the ground of a Christian school, which was apparently always used in the past for religious events and similar affairs.
Since then, the PTI has blamed Khawaja Asif for deliberately lighting the fires. But of course, the PTI could easily have put out the fire before it even became one, by simply seeking permission to hold the rally at the ground, and checking on the policy of the owners of the space.
We have also seen the kind of scuffles which took place in and outside the Punjab Assembly between MPAs and their supporters and in Islamabad, we have seen former NA deputy speaker Qasim Soori attacked at a restaurant. All this points to the severe divide and a new level of political hatred, which could become extremely dangerous in the future.
Imagine an election which takes place in this environment. In the first place, there could be fights and acrimony at many places where parties hold rallies and later at voting stations once we reach this point. The question of EVMs and the disagreement over them is even more likely to lead to disquiet. And then we have the possible post-election scenario. Is it likely that Imran Khan will accept a defeat if one is inflicted on him? He will instead point fingers as he has in the past. We cannot say for now if this would also be true of the PML-N and its allies.
The fact that the army has been dragged into controversial places where it would prefer not to go adds to the general sense of unease. This should not be happening and political leaders must learn that in the presence of a constitution, all parties need to remain within its sphere. The fact that the army wants an end to military intervention in matters of politics is a step that must be welcomed.
Without this landscape of calm and a willingness to accept the result of a fair election monitored by the Election Commission of Pakistan, things will become even more difficult. We should look at the example of Sri Lanka to look at the chaos into which we could fall.
The fact that surveys have shown that it is most often the age group between 18 and 30 that takes part in mob attacks gives out another sign of danger. We simply do not want clashes and violence, to destroy yet another election in the country and lead us into a still worse place than the one we already inhabit. It is the duty of all political leaders in all parties to ensure this – for the sake of the safety of the country and the people. After all, the security of Pakistan, as has been said again and again, is paramount – and security for the people should be the first step in this.
To enable this to happen, it is time for a dialogue within and outside parliament between the political parties to determine some code of conduct over how matters are to be conducted and what is acceptable and what is not. There are too many disturbing signs that we will run into more and more problems, with Imran Khan’s rhetoric becoming more and more disturbing as we go along the path he has chosen. We do not know what will happen at this dharna in Islamabad if it does indeed take place.
While Khan has said that the marchers will walk at night, we ask what will happen during the daytime when the scorching heat of the sun will affect many of those on the walk. But there can be little doubt that the rally will be a large one.
Other rallies staged by other parties will also be large. And while those parties have put aside differences to come together and ensured some kind of unity, it is quite clear that the PTI has no intention of joining them and will opt to follow its own conspiracy theories and its own agenda of anarchy.
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org