A Tale Of Two Speeches: Dangerous Confrontation Ahead
Two speeches delivered during the last few days made my skin cold. I was afraid to contemplate the implications and consequences of these speeches. How gravely these two speeches—delivered by three times former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the other by incumbent Prime Minister Imran Khan—can impact the political landscape and already precarious security situation in the country made me feel that our political class doesn’t have the sense of purpose that define the basic character of the political elite in established democracies.
These two speeches indicate firstly the lack of restraint that is part of personalities of our political leaders, reflective of the absence of well-established and widely-accepted traditions as part of our political culture. Secondly, these speeches also reflect a sense of alienation that has become ingrained in the personality of some of our political leaders due to prosecutions and persecution they had faced at the hands of state machinery in the recent past.
Prime Minister Khan’s speech delivered at the convention center in Islamabad is a classical example of lack of restraint: True that Imran Khan’s party constituency required him to deliver a belligerent address, after a hard-hitting speech by Nawaz Sharif via video link from London at the opposition’s Gujranwala rally.
Nawaz Sharif attacked military top brass and accused them of bringing down his government and installing Imran Khan as prime minister instead. He vowed to hold them accountable. So the demands of his aggressive party constituency required Imran Khan to be equally belligerent towards Sharifs. The point to note here is that Imran Khan is not simply a party head now he is prime minister of the country with all the executive power of the state in his hands and the responsibility of keeping the state of Pakistan intact, safe and stable lay squarely on his shoulders.
Showing aggression and belligerence in response to aggressive speech of a private citizen of Pakistan is not what is expected from an incumbent Prime Minister.
The speech of Nawaz Sharif, on the other hand, is a classical example of words coming out of the mouth of a political leader who feels a deep sense of alienation with the political arrangement existing in the country. He is not ready to show any restraint in connection with tacitly approved tradition of Pakistani officialdom not to divulge any secret communications or conversations that he might have had with his military commanders and spy chief while he was still in office.
This not only makes him overly dangerous from officialdom’s perspective—the first thing that comes to mind is that he as prime minister must had been privy to more sensitive information, which he might disclose in this mental state of alienation in the coming days. It also makes him into a person who could provoke a kind of unrest in country’s heartland at the social and political level.
These two speeches have, in fact, set the tone for the confrontation that might gradually come to dominate the political life in our society in the days to come—a confrontation that will certainly not be conducive for the efforts to consolidate parliamentary democracy in the country. While Nawaz Sharif’s speech and its content can potentially create a destabilizing social, political and security situation in the country’s heartland, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech is loaded with comments that can destroy the very basis of parliamentary form of government in our society.
He threatened opposition with more coercive measures. Parliamentary democracy requires as its base or foundation a relatively stable society, where basic issues of conflict have been resolved—for instance there should be no conflict over when the state should use force against violators of law, there should be no possibility of use of force against political dissent, so on and so forth.
The apprehension that these two speeches will lead to confrontation and tensions in the society could become the basis for further fear that parliamentary democracy might be under threat in these circumstances. If 11 parties alliance continues with its agitation and if it this agitation turns violent there is every possibility that we will reach a situation where the whole political system will land into an existential crisis. Prime Minister Khan’s speech, in fact, added fuel to the fire when he suggested that opposition should be dealt with an iron hand. Did he mean use of force against the opposition parties? This could really destabilize the situation.
While Nawaz Sharif said that he would make the establishment accountable for “their misdeeds”, Imran Khan indicated that he would no more be lenient towards opposition political figures. This is a recipe for disaster for the system. Army Generals (whether anybody likes it or not) are among the creators and guarantors of the present political system that exists in our society. What would this system look like if these generals were publicly humiliated? Using force against opposition parties—with deep popular support base in central Punjab—would be equally disastrous for the system. Using force to destroy the organizational base of the opposition parties to avenge what Nawaz Sharif has said about the generals, might be the end of the system as we know it.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.