Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri’s sit-ins in Islamabad are now an exercise in extended boredom – Ayaz Amir



There’s something like too much of a good thing. Have the twin bozos of the Reverend Qadri and Imran Khan – for this is the title their over-stretched antics are earning for them – not heard of the law of diminishing returns? Do they understand anything of what boredom means, of what fatigue implies? The best play in the world palls if it goes on for too long. And God knows this is not the best play in the world.

There is a critical moment in everything, in love as in war. Or how the Bard puts it: of there being a tide in the affairs of men, etc. For whatever reason – and we may search for the reason long and hard in the archives of half-cocked conspiracies – the tide has ebbed for the assault on Islamabad. Any leader who claims for himself the mantle of leadership should know when the decisive moment has passed, owing this as much to himself as to his followers.

The twin shows in Islamabad are now more than anything else an exercise in extended boredom. Imran Khan had precious little to say even in the beginning. He has nothing whatsoever to say now. He has been blessed with many gifts by his good fairies but the power of speaking, alas, is not amongst them.

The Reverend is an outstanding orator. But as the days pass and he goes through his evening speaking routine it is all too obvious that he is on increasingly thin ground and he too has very little to say. And he has started gesticulating more and raising both his arms, which is his habit, more than is normal with him.

The Allama is an intelligent and sharp man, smarter than most other men in the political arena today. He has much going for him but having gained much in stature why is he now bent on reducing it?

Every military fool who has read nothing else is familiar with the adage ‘don’t reinforce failure’. Imran and Qadri are now reinforcing failure and the way they are going about it, with their repetitive speeches, they are coming across as fools in their own right. And such fools that they make the Sharifs look good.

What has also helped the Sharif cause is that Pervaiz Rasheed while not wholly quiet – it would take a miracle for him to be that – is not as voluble as before. And Saad Rafique is not shooting from the hip and Khawaja Asif is not letting fly his verbal rockets which like Porus’ proverbial elephants were always more destructive for his own side. But low ministerial volume apart, the twin bozos now qualify as the government’s hidden assets.

D Square, our version of Tahrir Square, was first an emblem of hope, at least for the optimists who yearned for some sort of creative disorder, even if it meant smudging that sacred document called the constitution. Then as the days lengthened into weeks and the weeks into something longer, the hope became a distraction. Now it is a downright nuisance. But trust Imran and Qadri not to see it. Trust them not to see what is obvious to most other people.

If azadi means Imran’s speeches we can keep azadi in a locked-up cupboard for some more time. And if the Reverend’s ranting – the last time I listened it sounded very much like ranting, a professor trying extra hard to make a point – is revolution, doubts are bound to be raised about the usefulness of revolution.

Why can’t our two geniuses get this into their minds? Recognising failure is not a failure of leadership. If anything, it is a mark of leadership, to be so strong in your conviction that you can say in plain words that we played for high stakes but because of circumstances not in our control we have lost. Nonetheless, we have gained valuable experience. Having passed through fire we are the tougher for it, our steel more tempered, our courage more assured, our determination no less than before. We have come to recognise our strengths and weaknesses…let us redouble our strength and remove our weaknesses. Let us prepare ourselves for the trials that yet await us.

If they turn their minds to the next elections, if they start preparing for them now, they – along with their Sunni Ittehad and Wahdatul Muslimeen allies – can become a power in the land, or at least in Punjab. Will that be a small achievement? Which other party has such dedicated workers? The MQM certainly which has a mass base in Karachi and Hyderabad and a tight-knit organisation. The Jamaat-e-Islami but on a much smaller scale. That’s all. On such a foundation a strong political alliance can be built.

There’s a political vacuum in the country, the PML-N leadership protecting their vast political and commercial interests in Punjab and the PPP leadership protecting their equally vast political and commercial interests in Sindh. Where will the alternative come from? This is the chance for Qadri and Imran (provided the Reverend doesn’t skip off to Canada). They were hoping for a shortcut. That hasn’t occurred. Now lies the challenge for the long haul. Are they up to it?

Qadri and Imran were able to attract only limited crowds on Constitution Avenue, nothing on the scale of the Arab Spring. But what of that? Is it a small thing that PAT and PTI crowds have proved their toughness and endurance, especially PAT workers whose discipline and organisation have to be admired? The least these workers and partisans deserve is honesty. Whether Qadri and Imran were clear about their aims, whether they had thought through the venture upon which they were embarking, whether they were the authors of their purpose or there were other tutors…these will remain items for debate and discussion. But one thing is clear that the venture has failed.

Whether it was built on false assumptions is beside the point. The principal thing is that it has failed. The PML-N government has not been toppled. Nawaz Sharif is still prime minister while the Reverend and the Captain are out there giving their increasingly lacklustre speeches. No excuses are needed for calling off the dharnas, no excuse of floods or anything else – none of this nonsense about an exit strategy – just a statement of aims and objectives and then a frank admission of failure.

Fidel Castro launched on attack on the Moncada army barracks near Santiago in 1953. The attack was a failure and Castro was arrested. In court he declared, “History will absolve me”. The Cuban revolution succeeded in 1959 when the revolutionary forces led by Castro toppled Batista from power. Hugo Chavez launched a military adventure when he was a serving colonel in the Venezuelan army. He was arrested and spent time in prison. He later founded a political movement at whose head he came to power when elected president of Venezuela.

Far be it from me to suggest any resemblance, even the slightest, between our jokers and those heroes. (To keep things in perspective it should be noted that while Chavez stands in the minor or rear ranks of revolutionaries, the great Fidel stands tall in the first ranks.) Those historical parallels are drawn only to make the point that a setback is not the end of the road. (In Lawrence College in my time we used to have academic champions for whom it was not unusual to spend three or four years in one class. With them it was a favourite motto: “Failures are the grand pillars of success.”)

By the way, what does one say of a country the central square of whose capital is called D Square? If such is our imagination then perhaps it is entirely appropriate that we have morons for leaders and bozos dressed up in the robes of revolution.