Civil Disobedience: Defiance of Democracy

Whether the call to civil disobedience and a half hearted decision to resign from the Assembly is a bluff by Imran Khan or is he single minded about them awaits to be seen. Regardless of the course of action that will be taken by his party in the coming hours, Khan’s strategy since the start of this imbroglio has been coercion to bring about the fulfillment of his demands. Using his people as tool to mount pressure on the government, prima facie, it comes across as if Khan has only come with the sole intention of dismantling the power structure at the helm rather than the style of governance that needs considerable attention.

While his party members rejoice on the announcement of civil disobedience, they fall short of realizing the repercussions and the precedence this might bring in a country where the road to democracy is already strewn with many hurdles.

Glorifying his call to civil disobedience movement by alluding to similar movements in history, the PTI leader, wittingly or unwittingly, has decided to lead his people into further disarray and to use them as pawn in his face-saving tactic. Civil disobedience, initially being an elusive term, implies refusal to obey certain laws or government’s demands to show discontent to government’s policy and influence legislation. In 1919, Egypt’s Wafd party led civil disobedience movement against British occupation. Under the leadership of Saad Zaghoul, civil disobedience involved people from the cross-section of the Egyptian society averse to British imperialism. Spanning for four years till 1922, the movement resulted in success with the sacrifice of almost eight-hundred lives. Similarly, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia started after the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989 in revolt to the Communist regime in the country. While the Czech were able to wrest the country from the Communist government, they could not keep the country unified after the revolution which divided into two states, now known as Slovakia and Czech Republics.

While inciting people to civil disobedience vehemently, the point that Khan has conveniently disregarded is that he does not hold a mass support of people to take an outrageous step against the present democratically elected government implicit in ‘civil disobedience’. Conversely, support from his party members is waning and wilting. The insistence to civil disobedience by Khan in such a situation clearly indicates bullying to revamp the power structure in his favor. This brings the second worrisome aspect of civil disobedience. Although, civil disobedience is characterized as non violent based on boycotting, nonpayment of taxes, etc. However, concerning the directions in which the present situation might spiral, one just has to factor in the crowd phenomenon in a country with too many examples of protests turning into riots.

Looking beyond the immediate outcomes, it could be a severe setback to the democratic process in long term. It sets a gross precedence whereby any political party based on its political strength can gather people and incite them to write off state institutions. Demonstration and protests constitute as essentials of human and political rights and are widely acceptable symbols of democracy. The present demonstration turned fiasco by the two parties puts a question mark to this right of people in the country. Considering the short history of freedom of expression in the country, it risks invitations to curb display of discontent against the government. Along this, in future, this will confound the state about how to distinguish and address the genuine expression of popular will in mass protests. Also, it would be a blow to people’s trust in political leadership of the country as people would fear exploitation for a leader’s own assertion of sovereignty and supremacy over the constitution and legislation. Thus, critically speaking, Khan’s call to civil disobedience raises many questions regarding viability of democratic norms in the country in future.  

Although it is disconcerting to see the turmoil being created by the two leaders in the countries, my feelings are a mixture of anger and pity for Khan. For unlike Qadri, since the twilight of his political career, Khan had a clear vision of eliminating malfeasance and corruption in the country through independent judiciary and has shown eighteen years of struggle; he expanded and disciplined his party which proved to be a third largest party of the country in the last year’s election. However presently, it gives the impression that Khan has chosen to eclipse his efforts and accomplishments with a current series of political faux pas.