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LONG HAUL

The game being played in Pakistan could easily be named ‘Cluedo’, only that the murder that is usually investigated in such a game is in the process of being committed and there is not one but several murderers. Together, they give out so many clues that they leave no one in doubt about either their identities or the crime they are committing — the murder of democracy, that is. Two of the prime suspects are obvious. One is Imran Khan, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf chief, who just concluded a long march from Lahore to Islamabad to avenge his party’s defeat in the general elections last year. Mr Khan believes that the elections were rigged but sees no way to fulfil his demand for electoral reform short of pulling down a democratically-elected government. He has threatened a civil disobedience movement against the Nawaz Sharif government, and has asked civilians to withhold taxes. Such threats are likely to go up every time he senses that the government is in a mood to placate him. The second suspect is the maverick Barelvi cleric, Tahir ul-Qadri, who concluded an independent march to the same destination as Mr Khan. Mr Qadri, who, during an equally tumultuous period before the elections, had declared the army to be the nation’s only saviour, has served a 48-hour ultimatum for Mr Sharif to step down.

The third is an unlikely suspect — the Sharif government. Having initially refused to hear out Mr Khan’s complaints, it is now falling over itself to reach out to the dissidents. It hurriedly recommended forming a judicial commission and has now announced the formation of two committees to hear out Mr Khan and Mr Qadri. But its desperation is a lesser evil. A bigger evil is its game plan of isolating its political rivals by befriending the army that is suspected of backing both the cleric and the PTI chief. Last month, the Sharif government used a little-known clause in the constitution to hand over the security of Islamabad to the army. It is also going easy on the trial against Pervez Musharraf that appears to have distressed the army. Whatever the cause behind the personal battle that is being fought on Pakistan’s streets, the cumulative effect of this is the weakening of the government and, thereby, of Pakistan’s democracy. That can be good news for the country’s megalomaniac army, not for the people of the country.