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Monday, July 15, 2024

What Makes PTI’s Uprising Unique?

Election expert gives a brief account of political movements that happened in the country's history. He notes that since 1965, the country went through eleven nationwide political movements which were primarily secular in their rhetoric and had just one objective – to overthrow the incumbent. He concludes that the chronology of Pakistan's political history shows that every political movement had some support from the military establishment except for the current political uprising of PTI.

“Forming united front to fight foe or rival is an integral part of any war, including political battles.” Sun Tzu (544-496 BC) – the author of one of the most ‘influential works of military strategy that has affected both Western and East Asian philosophy and military thinking’ – “The Art of War” believes ‘making and keeping of alliances and willingness to retreat and to submit (temporarily) to powerful foes are important tactics of war strategy.’

And this is true to almost all political battles, including the most recent movement of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), which successfully overthrew through a dubious process – a duly elected and largest political party government of Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf. It appears from circumstantial evidence that Mr. Nawaz Sharif, Mr. Asif Zardari, and Maulana Sahib had formed, bit by bit, a huge alliance over the last few years. While Mr. Imran Khan let the allies fall in the lap of his foes. His foes didn’t let even a leaf of PTI’s tree go to the ground. Not only that, but also Mr. Khan created new foes. Mr. Khan is not alone. If history is any indicator, many who tried to cleanse the system of rotten wood often failed but lived in history.

This essay attempts to explain the difference between the PTI’s current uprising and the past political movements.

Read more: A look at Pakistan’s political turmoil

Unlike Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Algeria, and Haiti, Pakistan and India came into being through a peaceful and democratic struggle as violence was not part of the freedom movement. While Mahatma Gandhi is praised for achieving independence by using non-violent means, Mr. Jinnah is hailed for using negotiating skills and constitutional means. That set the course for future politicians and social movements in the two countries. However, both countries failed to address the grievances of their deprived regions democratically, which resulted in violent uprisings for freedom. Yet, mainstream politics is largely believed to be democratic in nature. Consider the case of Pakistan.

Roughly since 1965, the country went through eleven nationwide political movements. Every movement was primarily secular in its rhetoric and had just one objective – to overthrow the incumbent. There was only one period when the country didn’t experience any countrywide political movement. Interestingly, it was Pakistan Peoples’ Party government during 2008-2013. It appears from the chronology of Pakistan’s political history that except for the current political uprising of PTI, every political movement had some support from the military establishment. In other words, these movements were hybrid in nature. Out of eleven political movements, nine were run by united fronts. Four of the eleven movements didn’t want to mobilize the people at all because leaders of the movements didn’t want to build stakes for ordinary folks in the system. Most leaders wanted to deepen their relationship with the establishment. As a result, the politics of Pakistan has turned from class interest to individual interest. The isolation of PTI could only be addressed by forming an alliance with working people, women, minorities, and middle-income groups. For details, read the table below:


Major Characteristics of Nationwide Political Movements


Sr.No Regime/Govt Goal/Objectives



1 Ayub Khan’s military dictatorship.


To overthrow military dictatorship.

· United fronts formed. Students, lawyers, journalists and workers’ uprising.

· Rallies, processions & public gatherings.

· Nationalist struggle. Insurgency in Baluchistan.

Martial law imposed.

First ever general elections held.

Provinces restored.

Pakistan divided in two.

East Pakistan became Bangladesh.

2 Z.A. Bhutto


To hold free & fair elections.

· PNA- a nine party alliance formed. Protests marches, wheel jam & mass arrests. Insurgency in Baluchistan.

· Military establishment’s support sought. Foreign hand suspected.

Martial law was imposed. Mr. Bhutto was arrested, tried and later hanged.

PNA parties joined military government.

3 General Zia’ Martial Law


To free Mr. Bhutto from imprisonment.

To restore civilian rule.

· PPP launched nationwide movement against Military rule.

· International appeals were launched for Bhutto’s release.

· In 1983 about 16 parties including those who had suffered badly (like Awami Tehreek of Palijo) under Mr. Bhutto’s rule formed MRD.

· MRD movement was perhaps the longest and the most widespread resistance movement in Pakistan’s history at the time.

· Thousands of PPP & leftist workers were arrested/tortured.

· In 1979 Mr. Bhutto was hanged. The PPP uprising was brutally crushed.

· The MRD movement was crushed too. Thousands of workers and leaders went into self-exile.

· Washington & western powers continued supporting the most brutal & Islamist dictatorship.

Zia was forced to release political prisoners.

Party less general elections held in 1985, which exposed the systemic weaknesses, which encouraged Zia’s rivals to kill him in 88.

General election was held and power was transferred to majority party though reluctantly.

4 Ms. Benazir Bhutto


To sack the PPP govt.

To hold new elections.

To end corruption.

· ISI, army chief and the President facilitated anti PPP parties and groups to form united front – the IJI against PPP govt.

· Horse trading for No Confidence Motion.

· No attempt was made to mobilize public for the movement.


The PPP govt was dismissed.

New elections were held in 1990.

Though PPP’s vote bank declined by just 1%, its seats in NA dropped from 94 to 44.

Corruption cases filed against Mr. Zardari & PPP leaders.

5 Mr. Nawaz Sharif


To overthrow the IJI -PMLN govt.

To hold new elections.

To end corruption.

· There was little or no mobilization of party workers or masses.

· PPP formed alliance with a couple of parties.

· Collaboration with establishment.

Mr. Sharif was removed.

New elections were held.

Ms. Bhutto formed the govt.

Corruption cases were initiated against PMLN leaders.




Ms. Benazir Bhutto


To overthrow of govt.

To hold new elections.

To end corruption.

· United front of seven parties formed.

· Full support of establishment.

· No social mobilization.

Ms. Bhutto’s govt was sacked.

New elections held.

IJI formed govt.





Mr. Nawaz Sharif


To end PMLN govt and repeal the 15th Constitutional amendment.

To hold elections.

To end of corruption.

· All major and small parties including left leaning groups, lawyers, NGOs, media etc. joined hands to uproot the govt.

· No serious attempt was made for mobilization of masses.

· Reportedly military establishment was approached by top politicians for the removal of Mr. Sharif.

Nawaz Sharif was dismissed, arrested, and sent abroad as result of a brokered deal.

No tears shed.

Sadly, civil society almost welcomed his removal.




General Musharraf


To reinstate sacked judges.

· All Parties Democratic Movement consisted of almost all major & small parties, left leaning nationalist groups, lawyers and civil society. It lasted for more than a year.

· Reportedly it had the “blessing” of generals and ISI too.

PPP formed the government in the center and Sindh.

PMLN formed govt in Punjab.

Musharraf was forced to resign.

10 Asif Ali Zardari


No nationwide movement was launched.

9 PML-N in center & Punjab.


PPP in Sindh, PTI in KP.


Demand for judicial inquiry of rigging in GE 2013.

End corruption & arrest corrupt leaders.

· No broader alliance formed.

· 14 months long sit-in in Islamabad.

· PTI built massive pressure in the wake of 2016 leaks of Panama papers .

Supreme Court conducts Inquiry but finds no proof of substantive rigging.

Nawaz Sharif was sentenced by the Supreme Court & dismissed from power.




PTI led coalition

(August 2018 – April 22)


To overthrow the PTI govt.



· United front (PDM) of known tainted politicians of PMLN, PPP, JUI & 12 other parties formed.

· Support of sections of Bar Associations.

· Long marches.

· Protest rallies.

· Horse trading.

· Intrigues in collaboration with establishment.

In early April 22, the goal was achieved, but country descends into chaos as unprecedented economic, political & constitutional crises engulfs the country.



PML-N-PPP-JUI coalition

(April 2022 – ongoing)


To pressure for early election.

To overthrow PDM govt & disqualification of corrupt politicians.

· Unlike traditional political movements, PTI’s current ‘uprising’ has no support of any major party, social movements, and establishment.

· Some support of a section of lawyers’ bodies and media houses.

· Despite has built a massive support base across the country and triggered a momentum for general elections and against the govt.

· Quasi-civil disobedience.

· Long march & city wise rallies.

· Constitutional means by filing petitions.

· Resigned from National Assembly.

· Social media campaign.

None so far. However, most probably general elections to be held in Oct/Nov 22.



The table clearly shows that almost every political movement had a narrow goal – simply to capture power for the sake of power. Repetition is the mother of learning, and when the purpose is just to satisfy greed, you can’t learn from any repetition. No wonder every civilian ruler excelled at how to isolate himself within a couple of years of his rule. Military dictators, though they had all the resources and might to frustrate the resistance, also made themselves vulnerable quickly. Consequently, unlike their counterparts in the Philippines, North Korea, Chile, and Indonesia, our dictators isolated themselves quickly. The only difference between the two (civilian rulers and military dictators of Pakistan) is that sacked military generals never dared to come back, while civilians did but only to face their earlier fate.

Read more: Why the nation needs to cool down the political temperature in Pakistan?

As it is widely believed that the military establishment has always played some role in overthrowing the civilian governments, two interrelated questions arise. Did military generals of the time also play any role in the overthrow of the military dictator (their chief)? And second, did the military establishment play any part in support of the political movements? Circumstantial evidence shows that very often, there had been some form of collaboration between a set of civilian elite and military elite against the sitting governments. If this is true, it means every nationwide political movement was, in fact, a hybrid movement. And each hybrid movement should have given birth to a hybrid government. One major indicator of this fact is tenure extension to army chiefs in the wake of successful overthrows. Consider extension of General Kayani and General Bajwa.

What makes the ongoing PTI’s movement different from the previous ones is its solo flight. Almost all the previous political movements consisted of united fronts of almost all opposition parties, including non-parliamentary parties and those who didn’t believe even in elections. For instance, Awami Tehreek of Rasool Bux Palijo and Mazdoor Kisan Party of Major Ishaq, Afzal Bangash, and Fatehyab Ali Khan and their followers actively participated against the regimes of Ayub Khan, Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf. The trade unions and journalists associations also joined them. Their participation in the movements acted as the most effective catalyst in the overthrow of three dictators.

PTI’s current solo ‘uprising’ appears to be organic, the most popular, and widespread in the history of Pakistan. Though some op-ed writers tend to compare it with Bhutto’s rise in the late 1960s, PTI’s resistance is unique in many ways. For instance, Ayub Khan had exhausted himself and had become isolated when Bhutto launched his party. Also, before Bhutto’s rise, nationalist and progressive parties, labor unions, students, and journalists had already caused a dent in Ayub’s regime. In East Pakistan (Bangladesh), Mujeebur Rehman of the Awami League and Maulana Bhashani had also weakened Ayub’s regime. According to some estimates, about 15 million people had participated in the anti-Ayub movement. Army generals too wanted Ayub Khan to retire. Tacit civil-military collaboration seems to be in action. On the other hand, the current uprising of PTI is against enormous odds and has no support from the establishment. Rather in Hamza Alavi’s words, the tainted regime also has the support of the international bourgeoisie.

Almost ten years later, the country experienced another uprising in March 1977. A nine-party alliance – Pakistan National Alliance – managed to overthrow Mr. Bhutto from power with the help of military generals. No wonder leaders of PNA would join Zia’s government. But soon, the same parties, plus the party (PPP), which they had overthrown just a few years back, would form a Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) in 1983. The movement was brutally crushed, but it forced General Zia-ul-Haq to hold general elections. But it also made him so vulnerable so as to be killed in midair while traveling by a military plane. Who killed him?

Read more: Pakistan in awe of Imran Khan’s powerful Peshawar rally

Between 1988 and 1999, four governments were dismissed, and each time the opposition parties collaborated with the military. With a two-third majority in the new parliament, Nawaz Sharif had thought to become Ameer-ul-Momneen through controversial legislation – the 15th Constitutional Amendment. Everybody who opposed it faced harassment, including NGOs, journalists, writers, and media. The repression gelled everyone to a common goal. When Generals removed Mr. Sharif from power in 1999, most of the political leaders and civil society activists had a sigh of relief.

In March 2007, General Musharraf sacked the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Within a couple of days, civil society, journalists, and lawyers occupied Constitutional Avenue. I was one of the regular participants in protest demos for the restoration of judges. There were no containers and no tear gas shelling. The movement spread all over the country, and within a few months, the All Parties Democratic Movement was formed. Reportedly, General Kayani played an important role in making the movement succeed. Zardari would later return the favor.

The Pakistan Democratic Movement allegedly has the support of the establishment and judiciary.

As stated above, PTI is single-handedly fighting a coalition government of 12 highly experienced and skillfully cunning political parties, partisan media, enraged bureaucracy, biased ECP, and annoyed establishment. At this moment, PTI’s movement appears to be the only non-hybrid political movement in the history of Pakistan.

Read more: Revamping of Pakistan’s political system

In my view, this is a blessing, should PTI keep its distance from the support of the establishment this would be a major breakthrough from the past. PTI must end its isolation, and this could be done by reaching out to organic civil society such as labor unions and special interest associations. Consider alliance of unions of factory workers, associations of sweepers, nurses, teachers, drivers, hawkers, peasants, barbers, small shopkeepers, minority groups, and social networks.

Their support is also necessary to equalize the influence of powerful, wealthy groups of the party. They have an interest – in promoting group interests rather than loyalty to the party. Also, since 1988, leaders of main political parties, instead of making alliances with marginalized groups, created separate wings (such as labor, youth, and women wings), which have, in fact, destroyed the social movements but also corrupted them. This eroded the social base of so-called mainstream parties, which ultimately has not only deepened the dependency of political leaders on the establishment but also destroyed the moral fabric of democratic governance in the country. No wonder today we have two Pakistan’s – of have-nots (99 percent) and of haves (1 percent).

No political party has ‘have-nots’ on its central executive committee, including PTI. In one of my recent articles, I argued that there is a close relationship between union density (percentage of working people having membership of unions) and the quality of democracy and governance. Almost all the Nordic countries are at the top of indices on quality of democracy and governance. Interestingly, they also have the highest union density (61 percent to 92 percent) in the world.

Read more: Political parties to takeover Islamabad

Article 3 and 38 of Pakistan’s Constitution provides sufficient space to build a non-hybrid citizen-centered and citizen-led movement, which is the only guarantee to have good governance in Pakistan.

But this will only be possible if Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf forms an alliance with organic social movements. And this is the only way forward to bring some balance between Have-Nots and HAVEs. Remember Sun Tzu’s advice. Also, our political history teaches us this – governments formed with the help of military support are extremely vulnerable. So sow organic seeds.