Thoughts on political imbroglio in Pakistan

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Part – 1

Asif Haroon Raja

Rundown on dramatic regime change

The PTI pitched against PML-N triumphed in the July 2018 elections, breaking the two-party monopoly. Pathetic performance of the two mainstream parties, sustained propaganda of PTI’s media cell, politics of agitation by the PTI activists, the judicial prejudiced approach, assistance provided by hidden hands, charisma of Imran Khan (IK), and his tall promises during the election campaign made the victory possible, but with a very narrow margin.

Since the PTI couldn’t achieve a simple majority in the Centre and in Punjab, it was forced to indulge in unethical horse trading and to tie a knot with blackmailing allies. Electables from other parties also became a drag. No homework was done and team selection was poor. Accountability of the opponents was accorded higher priority over economics, but no results could be achieved. These factors hindered PTI’s performance.

In spite of issues of governance and economics, the government sailed smoothly. IK was confident that the PDM posed no threat to him since it was divided, the people didn’t come out on the streets to protest against price hike, and he had full backing of the military establishment. The one-page mantra was enthusiastically sung by each and every PTI leader.

The protective cloak spread over the ruling regime by Gen Qamar Bajwa (QJB) and Lt Gen Faiz Hameed further intensified the antagonism of the PML-N leaders, convincing them that QJB had a hand in the disqualification and internment of Nawaz Sharif.

With his back safe, IK kept hounding and victimizing the top leaders of the PML-N, PPP and JUI-F with the help of NAB aggressively and derisively called them thieves, looters and Maulana diesel. IK showed no empathy to them, and kept repeating that he will not give NRO to them. The DG ISI Lt Gen Faiz with whom he had developed a close rapport was his backbone.

He was confident that the establishment that had brought him to power in July 2018 would fail all the conspiracies of the PDM and also keep his allies tied to his party. He was also very hopeful that sooner than later the forte of PML-N in Punjab would crack up and about 30 dissidents would join the PTI.

Governed by egotism, IK preferred disengagement and arrogance over engagement and affability, and in the process fractured relations with the opposition, the bureaucrats, judiciary and ECP, and later with the establishment and the USA.

On the external front, other than the tiff with India, he had no issue with any country. His rating had gone high as a result of a successful air duel with India in February 2019. Both the Taliban regime in Kabul, and the US were obliged to Pakistan for its big role in the conclusion of Doha peace agreement in Feb 2020, safe exit of foreign troops from Afghanistan in August 2021, and evacuation of 27000 foreigners. However, ungrateful Joe Biden was inwardly unhappy with IK on account of his continued support to the Taliban regime, his Islamic mindset and his refusal to play the US game.

Simmering friction

Behind the curtain of one-page mantra, there were areas of friction between IK and QJB but those never came to light. The first crack in the mantra occurred when the DG ISPR announced the posting order of five Lt Generals on October 6, 2021, in which the name of DG ISI Lt Gen Faiz Hameed was included. He had completed his two-year tenure and was due for his posting to command a Corps. Lt Gen Naveed Anjum was to replace him. That was the time when the PDM was getting a bit nasty after giving a call for the long march to Islamabad (Isbd).

When IK obdurately resisted the posting out of Faiz and QJB didn’t wilt, the former gave two additional names and interviewed them. It embarrassed Anjum, delayed the cycle of postings and vitiated the harmony.

Neutrality

Although the spat apparently subsided after IK stepped back, however, the relationship became tense. The new DG ISI Anjum and QJB decided to adopt a neutral posture, which was one way of showing displeasure over the episode. This change in posture implied that from that time onwards, the opposition leaders would not be harassed and the allies would not be kept in line through coercive tactics.

Neutrality, which was castigated by IK stating that only the animals chose this path, changed the political ballgame. Somehow the damage couldn’t be repaired as was later on admitted by Fawad Choudhry.

Neutrality of the establishment galvanized the spirits of the depressed PDM leaders and they started to smile and disseminated their narrative of ‘record breaking inflation and price hike’ vigorously.

Due to the lack of performance of the government, the people groaning under the weight of ever increasing prices became more receptive to their narrative. Resultantly, the popularity of IK began to decline.

Maulana Fazlur Rahman (MFR) who for the first time was out of the parliament, was in favor of mass resignations and was most impatient to oust the ruling regime and hold early elections. The PPP was against resignations and wanted PTI to complete its tenure. PML-N was in two minds due to differing strategies of the two Sharif brothers. The US diplomats played a role in uniting the divided PDM and making them agree to opt for no-confidence-motion (NCM).

IK fell from the USA’s grace

The situation took a further turn when the US, which had suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Taliban, was confronted by Russia in Ukraine. Since the US and NATO couldn’t physically come to the rescue of President Zolensky regime in Kiev, it applied economic and diplomatic coercive techniques to force Putin to pull back his forces. Series of harsh sanctions were imposed, and all its allies were cautioned to be on its side and to condemn the Russian invasion.

IK fell from the USA’s grace when his visit to Moscow in February coincided with the Russian invasion. Matters worsened when Pakistan abstained from voting in the UN and IK didn’t condemn Russia. Infuriated Biden regime decided to remove him from power through a regime change. To this end, the undersecretary Donald Lu conveyed the threat to Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington Asad Majeed which he transmitted to the foreign office in Isbd on March 7 through a telegram. MFR’s urgency for a regime change was overtaken by the US.

Letter-gate scandal

IK has not explained as to why this important letter was not discussed in the right quarters from March 8 to March 29. One reason could be that he was hopeful of winning back the loyalties of his party dissidents. It is now being said that the Foreign Minister and the NSA paid no heed to it and informed the PM late. The other story is that the defence attaché in Washington who was also present in the Asad-Donald meeting had sent his report to ISI and MI Dte two days before March 7.

The sensitivity and gravity of the said letter-gate dawned upon the ruling regime when ten of its MNAs jumped the fence on March 18, its allies started hobnobbing with the PDM leaders and NCM was admitted on March 25. After failing to get the dissidents disqualified by the ECP under Article 63 of the Constitution and not getting a positive response from the Supreme Court (SC) to forbid the turncoats from voting due on April 3, it became obvious that the dice had upturned in favor of the opposition. IK tardily decided to go to the people and play the conspiracy card single-handedly.

Foreign Conspiracy

Hurried steps were taken to establish a nexus between the US and local actors. Evidence of meetings of PDM leaders with the US officials in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi was collected. A campaign was launched against the floor crossers propagating that Rs 600 crores of Rupees and $ 500 million from the US had been doled out to them and the fence sitters. The first disclosure of the letter was made by IK on March 27 in a big public gathering in Isbd.

The matter was discussed in the National Security Council (NSC) on March 30 followed by another meeting of the Parliamentary Security Committee on March 31. The participants agreed that the language of the letter was undiplomatic. A demarche was given to the US charge d’ affairs in Isbd, and also in Washington, which happened for the first time.

Purpose of this exercise was to shame the conspirators, to put fear into the hearts of the dissidents, and build a narrative to win the sympathies of the public that IK was being punished on account of pursuing an independent foreign policy, and thus build a case to scuttle the NCM.

On the plea of conspiracy under Article 5 of the Constitution, the deputy Speaker Suri rejected the NCM on April 3 and called off the National Assembly meeting without vote counting. The opposition managed to get a reprieve from the SC and the April 3 proceedings were resuscitated on April 9.

Day of high drama

April 9 was a day of nerve jangling drama with emotions of the two camps running high. The Speaker Qaiser tested the tolerance of the opposition through delaying tactics. He knew that the PTI had lost the number game and the legal and constitutional battles, and it was futile to reinforce failure. He couldn’t have avoided voting since the SC had given the date and cutout time of voting. If he didn’t comply with the court orders before 2400 hours, he could be proceeded against under the charge of contempt of court. Either he was instigating the opponents to resort to violence and give a reason to him to suspend the meeting, or he wanted to cause nervous breakdown to the dissidents, compelling them to revert to the treasury benches. The intentional delay with mala fide motives was in violation of Article 95 of the Constitution.

The atmosphere became pregnant with gossip. A petitioner wanted to submit a petition to prevent imposition of martial law in the wake of floating rumors. The news that a notification had been sent by the PM to the Ministry of Defence to sack Gen QJB and the latter not certifying it, and that at about 2330 hours, the COAS and the DG ISI landed in the PM House in a helicopter to hold a meeting with the PM, and that he was manhandled were cooked up stories. It was due to these developments that the doors of the SC and of the IHC opened up after 2300 hours.

At that belated stage, the Speaker after meeting the PM stated that the PM had handed him the US letter which can be read by any member in his chamber. He ended the proceedings melodramatically minutes before 2400 hours by resigning from his seat and inviting former Speaker of PML-N Ayaz Sadiq to complete the proceedings. The latter conducted the voting in which the opposition bagged 174 votes.

Net effect

For the first time in Pakistan’s history an elected PM was voted out of power through NCM. It was also for the first time that a PM was removed through constitutional means. IK’s impulsive ouster upheld the track record that no PM could complete five years tenure.

While the judiciary was blamed for introducing doctrine of necessity and for its judicial inequities in dispensing justice, for the first time the impartiality of the establishment was put in doubt. It is now being said that the establishment is also part of the problem. Credibility of the NSC and of the ECP have also been made controversial.

Hatred in politics has reached an alarming level and is spreading like a wildfire. It has entered homes and divided the families and has infected the disciplined rank and file of the armed forces and the veterans as well. If public gatherings and social media are a yardstick to measure popularity, it seems that the majority see IK as a Messiah who can make Pakistan independent and self-reliant in true sense.

With an empty national kitty, absence of a neutral and trustworthy referee, the explosive situation has become ripe for our external enemies to fish in troubled waters and achieve their hidden objectives.

To be concluded

The writer is retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defence, security & political analyst, international columnist, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, takes part in TV talk shows, and delivers talks. [email protected]   

 

Thoughts on political imbroglio in Pakistan

Part – 2

Asif Haroon Raja

For Pakistan state to collapse, it is basically the Pakistan Army, which has to collapse. For better or worse, I do not see that happening”. Christine Fair  

Points to ponder over

The widely held hearsay that the military establishment whether in power or out of power called all the shots is true and not a conjecture.

The establishment helped the PTI to enervate the PML-N leadership through the judiciary in 2017-18, paved the way for its success in the July 2018 elections, and then watched the harrying and hunting of the PML-N leaders by the courts and the NAB from 2018 to 2021, hoping that it would help the ruling PTI fill up its numerical deficiencies in the Centre and in Punjab by inducting PML-N legislators. It didn’t take into consideration that if the third-party experiment failed, there would be no national party with roots in all the federating units available to fill the political void.

Not reconciling to its defeat, the PML-N is of the view that the July 2018 elections were managed by the establishment and it was due to this perception that IK was nicknamed ‘selected’, and the establishment labelled as ‘selectors’ and ‘aliens’. If the establishment was prepared to earn a bad name, why did it opt for controlled management, and why couldn’t it go a step further to garner two-thirds majority for the PTI? This weakness led to the premature downfall of the PTI regime.

The establishment betted on a clean and agile horse with no skeletons in his cupboard, hoping that their ‘selected’ would outsmart and outpace all other competing horses carrying heavy baggage. Midway, they realized that he had become a lame duck, and they were being castigated for their poor choice and it would be suicidal to keep backing the losing horse.

Is there any remorse that disqualification and incarceration of Nawaz Sharif under managed court proceedings merely to give a try to the third party experiment was unwise and imprudent? If it had to make a new experiment, the right time was 2013 elections and not 2018 since the PML-N’s performance was much better than the PPP.

Was it wise on part of a segment of senior army officers and the veterans to develop fondness for IK in end 2011 and to help him in gaining power in 2018, in getting IK and his party addicted to the one-page mantra, and then abandoning him midcourse without plausible reasons, well knowing that there was no viable option as a replacement?

Lack of performance and not neutrality was the key factor for the early downfall of the PTI regime. However, the establishment or the judiciary could forestall its fall by stemming the foreign interference/conspiracy, or scuttling the no-trust-motion.

IK kept repeating that he will not give NRO, not because of the demand of his indicted opponents, but because of the repeated advice of the establishment.

Had the PTI been allowed to complete its tenure, its inanities would have been fully exposed! Untimely deposition gave a new lease of life to the party on ventilator, allowing IK to take the battle from the parliament to the public meetings, re-energize his fading charisma, deflect the concerns of the people from socio-economics to his slogan of ‘foreign conspiracy’, and to win back their sympathies.

The people forgot about the rosy promises made by him, record breaking inflation and the price hike, and they got overwhelmed by the magnetism of IK. They are glorifying him as a super star, and the current rulers as disciples of Satan. Great majority of the urbanites, especially the youth support IK and are on a rampage.

But for the regime change, there would have been no conspiracy card, no horse trading, and no upwelling of anti-army emotions and character assassination of the army chief. IK’s popularity wouldn’t have touched the zenith inside and outside the country. Pakistan would have been saved from a national regime of ill-reputed parliamentarians. Barring the newcomers, almost all other cabinet ministers are on bail and court cases are pending against them.

IK riding on the pinnacle of popularity wave is demanding early elections and is buoyant that his party will achieve landslide victory. The ad-hoc regime in power on the other hand wants to delay elections as much as possible under the plea of electoral reforms, delimitation of revised constituencies by the ECP and stabilizing the sinking economy. It wants to buy time to deflate IK’s popularity through a smear campaign and by initiating corruption charges against the former regime. It is banking upon the decision of the ECP on foreign funding case on April 27-29.

In the next political battle, the proven thieves and looters but equipped with some experienced hands and capacity to deliver would face a party whose leader is clean but other party leaders are not only corrupt but also lack good governance and management skills. Outcome of the battle between the PTI and PML-N will depend upon the performance of the incumbent regime.

With the existing polluted electoral system, the possibility of holding fair and free elections would be next to impossible. The losers will not accept the results and the tug of war will recommence with greater vengeance.

It will be naïve to hope for early elections within 90 days. Leaving the revised constituencies un-demarcated wasn’t the fault of the ECP but of the former regime. Delimitation cannot be completed before Oct 2022, and after its approval by this government, the interim setup will conduct elections within three months.

With compromised institutions, and ill-reputed politicians and bureaucrats, no tangible progress is possible, whether the next regime will be of PML-N or the PTI. It will suffer a similar fate with zero results. Pakistan will continue to lurch from one crisis to another and the foreign conspirators will continue to play the game of snake and ladders with our mini mind leaders.

The only way out is to carry out electoral, judicial, bureaucratic, police, economic and education reforms. These cannot be done by a single political party or a weak coalition. The incumbent regime comprising politicians from different parties, backgrounds and ideologies, with some branded as anti-Pakistan, looters, money launderers and criminals, not much can be expected. The case is akin to the adage, “too many cooks will spoil the broth”.

If the incumbent regime tries to delay elections, the PTI will again repeat its old tactics of long march after its public meeting in Multan on May 10 by staging a sit-in at Islamabad and disturbing law and order in provincial capital cities in an attempt to paralyze the state machinery. If so, will it be possible for the law enforcement agencies to block the sea of people, particularly when the sentiments of the law enforcers including the armed forces are mixed?

After its fall, the PTI has launched its first battle against the ECP to forestall its decision on foreign funding case and to force it to arrange early elections.

Taking into consideration the intensifying political polarization, growing hatred, exceptionally high emotions of the people, quarrels within families and friends, mounting tendency to lend ears to rumors and fake stories spread by social media which is escalating intolerance, and voices of sanity getting subdued under the humdrum of party affiliations and hero worshipping, the stage is getting set for chaos and anarchy. The explosive situation has become ripe for Pakistan’s adversaries to exploit to their advantage and to plunge the nation into a civil war.

The debauched and self-serving lawmakers sitting in the corridors of power do not have the moral capacity to curtail rising popularity of IK, subdue public anger and to save the country from the looming gale?

If the establishment maintains its posture of neutrality, will it afford to remain aloof as a bystander when the law and order breaks down and the people take law into their own hands?

The foremost need is to cool down the passions which are rising with every passing day and let sanity prevail. However, news of an electoral alliance between the PML-N and TLP in return for the latter helping to counter the street power of the PTI doesn’t bode well.

SS’s speed and efficiency would be hindered by the myriad of problems, selfish coalition partners, near empty national kitty and confrontational politics of the PTI. He can at best keep jumping sprightly from one branch of tree to the other. If he is serious in producing results, possible ways are to drastically cut down state expenditures, curtail development works, enforce austerity and frugality, ban import of luxury items, make it compulsory for the current federal cabinet of proven looters to declare their assets, bank accounts, tax returns and business details and thus put a check upon them.

Would the conciliatory comments of Gen QJB and change in regime ease tensions with the US and alter the interventionist and bossy policies of Washington? The answer is a big NO.

The only possible change could be that the US, IMF and the EU might become a bit softer, and the FATF removes Pakistan from the grey list. Generosity of the US will of course not be cost free. Is Old Pakistan foreign policy or New Pakistan policy beneficial for the country and the people?

Would falling back into the infatuating lap of the US change the objectives of the Indo-US-Israel nexus against Pakistan? Do we still consider the trio harmless and friends of Pakistan?

In spite of harsh comments by Gen QJB, Vladimir Putin instead of reacting, showed grace by congratulating the new PM. Would he still provide oil and grains at a cheap price, and resolve gas shortages which he promised to IK?

Drawing strength from the positive vibes from China, rejuvenation of CPEC at a faster pace is the only way to recover our economy and to make Pakistan self-reliant.

Concluded

The writer is retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defence, security & political analyst, international columnist, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, takes part in TV talk shows, and delivers talks. [email protected]   

SOURCEVeterans Today

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