A Mexican standoff in Pakistan
By: Khaled Almaeena
A Mexican standoff is taking place in Pakistan. Opposition politician Imran Khan, who recently called off talks with the elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as well as populist cleric Tahir ul-Qadri are parked in front of Parliament in Islamabad, both demanding that Sharif quit.
A range of accusations have been hurled at Sharif who won a landslide victory in the general elections of May 2013 which were given a clean chit by independent international observers judging them to be free and credible.
Both Khan and Qadri accuse Sharif of rigging the elections and of nepotism and corruption. They have declared that they will not back down until the prime minister steps down. Imran Khan has been the more vocal of the two figures against Sharif. In emotional appeals mixed with cajoling and threats, he has raised the level of opposition by alluding to more extreme measures if any demonstrators are attacked by the police. Khan specifically targeted the new police chief of Islamabad, saying his supporters should not be cracked down upon.
Pakistan cannot afford such turmoil, especially with the dangerous situations that pose a threat to the country’s borders
While this drama is going on, Nawaz Sharif must be weighing his options and response. After all, he is the democratically elected head of the government! It is not an easy state of affairs with rallies being planned across the country, a law and order situation to be dealt with, MQM killers on the loose in Karachi, problems in Baluchistan and a host of external difficulties. Sharif stands alone in the face of a predicament that would tax the nerves of the strongest of men. He has to overcome any fears or indecision and come up with wise solutions and sensible measures to safeguard Pakistan.
A Western classic played out in Pakistan
At present, he seems like Marshal Will Kane played by Gary Cooper in the 1952 Western classic High Noon facing his opposition alone in a confrontation that may have a decisive impact on the future of the nation.
On the other side, both Imran Khan and Tahir ul-Qadri are waiting as a third party. Meanwhile, the Pakistani army watches anxiously. Many Pakistanis believe that the army is reluctant to step in. It is already embroiled in fighting terror and guarding the country’s borders. With so much at stake, the economy on a downward trend and with chaos and the fear of uncertainty across the country, the best interests of Pakistan lie in a meaningful dialogue.
Imran Khan’s party should behave like a responsible opposition. Nawaz Sharif should look into the genuine grievances of the people, instill reforms, assure transparency and weed out corrupt officials. In my view Tahir ul-Qadri is a demagogue.
Pakistan cannot afford such turmoil, especially with the dangerous situations that pose a threat to the country’s borders. The Pakistani people have suffered and endured calamities for decades. What they need is some respite, a reasonable Imran Khan and an accommodating Nawaz Sharif both of whom love their country and can offer much more to serve their nation.
Let us hope and pray that they will rise to the occasion by putting their country’s interests above all.
Khaled Almaeena is a veteran Saudi journalist, commentator, businessman and the editor-at-large of the Saudi Gazette. Almaeena has held a broad range of positions in Saudi media for over thirty years, including CEO of a PR firm, Saudi Television news anchor, talk show host, radio announcer, lecturer and journalist. As a journalist, Almaeena has represented Saudi media at Arab summits in Baghdad, Morocco and elsewhere. In 1990, he was one of four journalists to cover the historic resumption of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Russia. He also traveled to China as part of this diplomatic mission. Almaeena’s political and social columns appear regularly in Gulf News, Asharq al-Aswat, al-Eqtisadiah, Arab News, Times of Oman, Asian Age and The China Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena