Analysis, Featured, South Asia

Imran Khan’s Circus Comes to an End

After 7 months of much fanfare Imran Khan, former Cricketer turned politician brought an end to his ‘Dharna’ (protest) or ‘Azadi (Freedom) march,’ and re-joined the Pakistan parliament. Speaking to reporters after emerging from a huddle with the party’s core policy makers on April 6, Imran Khan said, “We have decided to attend the joint session of Parliament on Monday. The Yemen issue is very important… I will attend myself and present my party’s point of view.”

Imran had begun his protests against the government on Pakistan Independence Day back on August 14, 2014. Imran Khan’s demands were the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif due to the allegation of vote rigging in the elections of May 2013, where Sharif won with a landslide victory. Re-elections in the alleged seats where vote rigging took place and eventually Imran Khan’s demands evolved to include reform of the electoral system as a whole. As soon as Imran Khan announced his plans, Dr Tahir ul-Qadri announced his party the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) would also conduct a similar protest march to Islamabad on Pakistan’s Independence Day. Both protests effectively merged together. Pakistan’s media at the time gave complete coverage to the march which started from Lahore, a city which is 300 km from Islamabad. The media contributed to making the whole march much larger than it really was. When Imran Khan reached Islamabad on 16 August 2014, he announced to his supporters and the whole of Pakistan through the country’s media that their sole demand was Nawaz Sharif must resign and new elections must be held.

These protests took place with very high anti-regime sentiment. A severe energy crisis continues today in Pakistan, with the basic price of fuel beyond the means of most people. Pakistan’s economy is in such bad shape that inflation has made the poor even poorer. The IMF and World Bank as well as America’s military and economic aid has been linked to economic reforms, which include more privatisation, whilst US aid has been directly linked to operations in Waziristan. The death and destruction due to the monsoon floods in Pakistan’s provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (KPK) added to the resentment of the people against the government and it was in this light Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri conducted their protests.

As the days turned into weeks and then months Nawaz Sharif’s position was never really under threat, whilst allegations of vote rigging was a façade. Whilst there is every possibility that vote rigging in electoral polls took place, this is normal in Pakistan and not its departure from what has always been the case in the country. Imran Khan’s claim of vote rigging could never be taken seriously. Of the 342 seats in Pakistan’s parliament Sharif’s party won 147 seats, after the results were announced a further 19 independent politicians joined his party giving the PML-N 166 seats. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won 42 seats whilst Imran Khan’s PTI won a mere 35 seats. Imran Khan’s demand of recounting, at most 10 constituencies (this number continues to change) in reality was an irrelevant demand. Sharif’s electoral victory was so large that if he subsequently lost these 10 constituencies, it would not affect the overall result of the election. On 19 August 2014, the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan addressed the nation and announced that the government was ready to recount votes of 20 constituencies, in his evening address in Islamabad to his supporters Imran Khan rejected this.

The demonstrations had all but fizzled out by October 2014, well before Tahrul Qadri called it a day at the end of October. When Imran Khan called for an end to the protests in December, when the Peshawar attack took place, the stark reality was everyone had seen though his Azadi charade. The announcement to re-join parliament was just the last act in the circus that was called the ‘Azadi’ march, similar to the grand act in a circus that brings the event to a close.

Real change was never part of Imran Khan’s agenda and never has it ever been the PTI vision. This can be seen from the demands of the march which have constantly evolved, but in origin were never for systemic change but merely change in personnel and some irrelevant processes. Despite Imran Khan’s rhetoric of a 5th Khilafah Rashida, underneath all this veneer there is nothing Imran Khan is really offering the People of Pakistan but false promises which have given life to the crippling system in Pakistan. Both Imran Khan and Tahrul Qadri constantly take to the streets when the people of Pakistan have lost complete confidence in Pakistan’s politicians, parliament, judicial process and the system as a whole. Each time both lured the public back to the system that has failed them.

There can be no doubt now that Imran Khan and his party the PTI are now another aspect of Pakistan’s corrupt system. Whilst he criticises Nawaz Sharif and the other corrupt politicians, Imran Khan merely called for replacing Nawaz Sharif (not the system) and his own party has seen a raft of Musharraf era politicians fill the ranks of PTI. Rather than (new) Pakistan Imran Khan is firmly old Pakistan. This begs the question of why he led the nation with a circus back to the parliament – which is another circus in its own right. All of this took place when the army was in full swing with its deeply unpopular Zarb-e-Azb operation in Waziristan. Imran Khan firmly distracted all attention from this with his circus – Dharna.

The media, Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan, Tahrul Qadri and the army remain in cahoots to deflect attention from the real issues of the country and in their failure to resolve them, by consuming them with daily nonsense on politicians attacking each other and making grandiose promises to bring real change. In fact Imran Khan was the head of this strategy as he made the most grandiose promises.

Imran Khan’s supporters need to understand that no matter what promises he or anyone else makes of tinkering with Pakistan’s secular, corrupt parliament and sham system, this is a recipe for maintaining the system. As the corrupt politicians dominate parliament they will always legislate to maintain the status quo and their positions and democracy is the system that allows them to have this. Until this is not uprooted and replaced others will come like Imran Khan and make similar promises of just scratching the surface of Pakistan’s rotten system, which will perpetuate the misery the people continue to suffer from.

Real change in Pakistan begins with eradicating the virus, the virus is democracy in this case. Eradicating this is where real change begins. The Ummah in Pakistan needs to take the example of their brothers and sisters in the Arab Spring who took to the streets to bring real change, anything less than this is just a false dream. Whilst Imran Khan’s supporters coined the slogan ‘Go Nawaz Go,’ should have always been ‘No Imran No.’


Written for the Central Media Office of Hizb ut Tahrir by

Adnan Khan