Pakistan: Political Crisis, Fixation of Responsibility

"Pakistan would be “forgiven” if the no-confidence motion succeeds against Imran Khan,” Donald Lu, US Asst Secretary of State

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By Sajjad Shaukat for Pak VT

The political crisis which started in Pakistan after the ouster of the former Prime Minister Imran Khan-chairman of the PTI through vote of no-confidence motion, passed in the National Assembly (NA) on April 9, 2022 by the then joint opposition-an alliance of the PDM, following the order of the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP).

President of PML-N Shehbaz Sharif, including other lawmakers of the PDM had hailed the apex court’s rejection of deputy speaker’s ruling of April 3, 2022 when he had dismissed the voting on the no-trust move, as he termed it “unconstitutional”, saying that it was supported by a foreign power and violated Article 5 of the Constitution which states that loyalty to the state is the duty of every citizen.

Lawmakers of both the rival entities accused each other of violating the constitution and of committing high treason.

Addressing the House, former foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on April 9: “We will put forth proof…foreign conspiracy to topple the PTI-led government…We want the evidence to be examined before the vote is taken…Horse trading…the question is whether this was constitutional?”

PDM members of the assembly were insisting upon the deputy speaker to start voting on the no-trust move, while those of the PTI wanted to conclude final decision of the House about the foreign conspiracy.

PTI lawmakers remarked that under Article 69 of the Constitution, NA speaker’s ruling has immunity and the SCP can not intervene in the internal affairs of the NA. PTI lawmaker Shireen Mazari called the apex court’s verdict a “judicial coup”.

However, extraordinary developments of midnight of April 9 and April 10, 2022 surprised the nation. In this regard, filing of an emergency petition by Advocate Adnan Iqbal in the Islamabad High Court, seeking to restrain then Prime Minister Imran Khan from de-notifying Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa is notable.

The staff of the Supreme Court had also been directed to arrive at midnight. Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial arrived at the apex court. According to the sources, the Supreme Court might initiate contempt of court proceedings against the National Assembly speaker for not implementing its order of holding voting on no-trust motion against PM Imran Khan within the stipulated time.

Foreign and Pakistan’s sources suggest that Islamabad had been put on high alert and the Army had been deployed. The Pakistan Parliament House had been sealed and a “Red Zone” had been declared by police ahead of the no-trust vote against Prime Minister Imran Khan. Prison vans and extra security had been deployed in the area.

High alert had also been declared at all airports, especially the Islamabad International Airport. The FIA [Federal Investigation Agency] immigration officers were directed to strictly enforce the No Objection Certificate ban on government officials and officers going abroad. The patrolling of Airport Security Force commandos also increased. It is unclear that who issued these orders or who was behind these moves, while Imran Khan was still Prime Minister. In this respect, external media directly, and without naming, some of Pakistan’s media anchors pointed fingers towards army chief Gen. Bajwa.

BBC on April 10, 2022 indicated: “Imran Khan has been ousted as Pakistan’s prime minister after a vote of no confidence in parliament. But what led to his downfall?…When Imran Khan was elected prime minister in 2018…had the covert backing of what in Pakistan is referred to as the establishment or the military. The army has either directly or indirectly controlled the country for most of its existence, and critics labelled Imran Khan’s government a hybrid regime”.

Rejecting various false reports of the foreign media, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) on April 10, 2022 termed a report by the BBC Urdu “fake” that also claimed an unpleasant meeting between PTI Chairman Imran Khan and army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa hours before Imran’s ouster through a no-trust vote. BBC claimed that the former premier had removed Gen. Bajwa as the army chief. PM Khan also rejected this baseless rumour.

But, fact remains that leaders of the then united opposition parties-PDM were calling the ex-Premier Khan as the “selected prime minister”, while saying that the PTI government was installed by the “establishment” through rigging in the elections of 2018. In other words, these entities were using these terms—“selected government” and “establishment” to blame Pakistan Army or army chief in this respect.

Meanwhile, NA selected Shehbaz Sharif as the new prime minister after the PTI MNAs boycotted the election and resigned from the lower house.

The ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan decided to go to the public for a fresh mandate, demanding early elections, and announced to launch a mass movement against the PDM regime after Eidul Fitr.

In Khan’s call, the PTI on April 10 and April 16, 2022 staged countrywide protests against the US-led “imported government”.

Addressing massive crowd in Peshawar on April 13 and in Karachi on April 16, 2022, the former Prime Minister Khan almost repeated his previous statements. He asked his supporters to determine whether his ouster from power was an “interference” or a “conspiracy”. Hinting towards the US, he said: “A major international conspiracy was carried out against his government and this country…I cannot allow our country to become a slave to anyone”.

Referring to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, he elaborated: “One Mir Jaffer has been imposed on us via a conspiracy…the US officials had started meeting the leaders of the then opposition parties at the American embassy…after those meetings, the US official Donald Lu met the Pakistani ambassador…had threatened him that if the no-confidence motion was not successful then it will be very difficult for Pakistan…Pakistan would be “forgiven” if the no-confidence motion succeeds”.

The PTI chairman stated that the courts were opened at 12 am on the day of the vote of no confidence, saying, “I want to ask what crime I was committing that the courts were opened at odd hours.

Showing contradictions, ex-PM Khan appreciated the army and criticised it indirectly stating: “I knew the match was fixed…I asked the Supreme Court why it did not investigate the diplomatic cypher”.

The former prime minister also asked the judiciary why they did not take suo motu action when the PTI MPs were “betraying their mandate and selling themselves” by violating article 63 of the Constitution.

And leaders of the then joint opposition parties challenged the authenticity of the ‘threat letter’—repeatedly said that the letter was a ploy of Premier Imran Khan to castigate the no-trust move.

It is mentionable that during a press conference in Peshawar on April 13, this year, former interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, while condemning the criticism of the Pakistan Army on social media, apparently acknowledged the “misunderstandings” of the PTI with the military, remarking that they should resolve it.

It is noteworthy that during the Formation Commanders’ Conference chaired by Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa on April 12, 2022, the country’s top military brass has taken notice of the recent propaganda campaign by some quarters to malign Pakistan Army and create a division between the institution and society, as a statement of the ISPR verified.

Meanwhile, the Islamabad High Court restrained the FIA from harassing PTI’s social media activists.

In a press briefing, DG of ISPR Maj-Gen. Babar Iftikhar stated on April 14, this year that the word ‘conspiracy’ was not mentioned in the communiqué issued following the meeting of the National Security Committee. But, he admitted that the demarche was issued to the foreign country [US] over the use of undiplomatic language which tantamount to interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs. Babar added that Imran Khan contacted the military leadership.

Responding to the ISPR statement, Shireen Mazari emphatically clarified that deposed Prime Minister Khan had not called the military leadership for help to break the “political deadlock”…instead “the military sought the meeting through then defence minister [Pervaiz] Khattak…Imran Khan refused option of resigning…DG ISPR stated that Imran Khan’s Russia trip was undertaken after approval from all”.

In fact as part of an independent foreign policy, PM Khan had been openly speaking against the US and its Western major allies, accusing his political opponents of being ‘slaves of America’.

His criticism of the decision of former President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to join American war on terror, use of drones to target the country’s northwestern tribal regions, clarifying that Pakistan’s soil would not be used for foreign country’s mission, his recent visit to Moscow despite advice by Jake Sullivan-American President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, not to visit Russia at a time when the Russian troops were invading Ukraine and refusal to European Union (EU) countries for pressurizing Pakistan to vote against Russia during the recently held special session of the UN General Assembly in connection with the Russia-Ukraine war, saying if they considered Islamabad their “slave”, particularly irritated Washington.

Notably, in a statement, spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova endorsed on April 5, 2022 that the United States was committing “another attempt of shameless interference” in the internal affairs of Pakistan to punish a “disobedient Imran Khan for not supporting the US position on Ukraine…the Americans and their Western associates began to exert rude pressure on the Prime Minister Imran Khan to cancel the visit of Moscow… the US orchestrated a plan to topple his government”.

Besides, Khan’s other acts such as favour of China and Russia—their stance for stability in the region, support to collective efforts of Beijing, Moscow and Iran to assist the regime of Afghan Taliban, and provision of basic needs of life to Afghan people  by China and Pakistan, strong stand on Kashmir—pointed out Indian military lockdown and state terrorism in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), while indicating inaction of the US-led West’s major powers against New Delhi annoyed America.

Nevertheless, various contradictory clarifications by the ISPR and PTI are being used by pro and anti-PTI supporters and media persons to vindicate their respective narratives.

It is notable that in November 2020 when the PDM had launched a movement to topple the elected regime of PTI, addressing a PDM rally in Gujranwala via a video link from London, ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accused army chief Bajwa and ISI chief Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed of rigging elections and toppling his government to install Imran Khan in his place.

Since July 28, 2017 when the Supreme Court announced its verdict in relation to the Panama Papers case and disqualified the then PM Nawaz Sharif regarding the corruption charges, the deposed prime minister-head of the PML-N and his daughter Maryam Nawaz were, openly, criticising the Supreme Court and Army. Thus, they had been misguiding the people and were provoking them against the key institutions.

It is worth-mentioning that Pakistan’s history is full of constitutional violations. In this context, two examples are enough. Gen. Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, the then army chief of Pakistan, snatched power from the elected Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto—PPP founder chairman in a coup on July 5, 1977. Afterwards, he was executed, which has been called by many renowned persons as the judicial murder, including the former Prime Minister Imran Khan who likened himself to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was, what he claimed, hanged for attempting to give the country an independent foreign policy.

Constitution was also violated on October 12, 1999 by Gen. (R) Pervez Musharraf’s coup, while Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had issued order that as a chief executive, Gen. Musharraf could administer the government’s affairs. Thus, he legitimised his military rule.

As regards the Pakistan’s politicians, they have always claimed that they nourish democratic ideals, but, we could not establish this system on a strong footing due to irresponsible approach of our political entities, as under the cover of democracy, they prefer their selfish personal interests at the cost of national interests. Hence, democracy remains weak, working in uncertainty.

Regrettably, voters, after having elected their representatives, virtually become subjects of powerful elite group who tend to shatter all hopes of voters by neglecting their social problems and financial difficulties. Promises made during election campaign are quickly forgotten, while perks of public offices are fully enjoyed. Unfortunately, voters, owing to their extreme poverty and lack of political power, become trading pawns in the hands of politicians who regard elections as windows of business, opening to plunder national wealth through all possible means.

Concentration of wealth in few hands has created a privileged class of landowners and industrialists (The elite group) who contest elections winning the same against each other again and again. During the election campaign, they employ all means, fair or foul to defeat their opponents and capture political power.

While various malpractices such as horse-trading, nepotism, bribery and illegal obligations are very common among our politicians.

Acting upon the principles like hostility for the sake of hostility, alliances are formed to win the elections or topple the rival regime. They also misguide the general masses by forming extreme opinion among them against their opponents.

A blind dedication to ones own race, tribe, creed and community creates hatred in one entity against the other, which ends in violence. Regional and provincial political leaders also exploit these disparities which have hindered the smooth working of democracy.

At present, PTI’s workers have been distorting Army’s image in such a way that general masses have forgotten the sacrifices and services of the armed forces.

Now, some irresponsible leaders of the PTI and PDM are moving the country towards anarchy or civil war by giving priority to their personal interests over national interests. It could be judged from the Punjab Assembly (PA) which turned into a battlefield on April 16, this year just as the voting for the new chief minister was scheduled to take place—PML-Q leader and PA Speaker Pervaiz Elahi, and Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari were injured.

Even, PML-N’s senior parliamentarian Khawaja Muhammad Asif categorically said in the National Assembly on April 18, 2022 that the coalition partners in the government should move for seeking fresh mandate from masses through elections to avert a civil-war like situation in the country, by adding: “due to violent attitude of the PTI, the virus of violence has also spread to the overseas Pakistanis”.

Sources suggest that in response to PTI public mobilization, PML-N has also decided to hold rallies in major cities of Punjab immediately after Eidul Fitr. Thus, the political crisis will further aggravate, and could result in to civil war. In such a situation, the government can announce general elections or otherwise Army may be compelled to interfere as it has also to maintain integrity of the country.

As regards the fixation of responsibility, in the past and present, mistakes have been committed by almost all the political, judicial and military entities. Let us forget them.  But, it does not mean that politicians and people must particularly tarnish Army’s image as an institute. At present, besides facing external challenges—Indian war-mongering policy, Pakistan’s security agencies have been coping with a different war, as enemy employs subversive activities of various kinds which include both internal and external crises.

At this crucial juncture, the government and the opposition leaders, including all other segments of society must show selfless national unity to pull the country out of the ongoing serious crises in wake of other crises and problems, which country is already facing. This is the best way to castigate the foreign conspiracy against Pakistan.

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations

Email: [email protected]

 

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