Asif Haroon Raja
Creation of Pakistan
The founding members of Pakistan led by Quaid-e-Azam took part in the freedom movement to free the Muslims of India from the oppressive yoke of the British and the Hindus and to establish a homeland for them where they could live as an independent nation and practice Islam freely.
The movement was based on Two-Nation Theory. To the great joys of the Indian Muslims, Pakistan appeared on the world map on August 14, 1947 and shattered the Hindu-British conspiracy of keeping India united.
Ideals of Quaid-e-Azam
The Quaid had aspired to transform the new state into an Islamic welfare state on the model of Misaq-e-Madina with equitable justice, equal opportunities for social growth and equitable distribution of wealth, and free of external influences.
He had cautioned them to stay away from provincialism, nepotism, hoarding, corruption and fanaticism. He had emphasized upon hard work, character building, honesty, unity, faith, discipline, honor and dignity.
Mini-mind leaders replaced the Quaid
After his untimely death, his successors pushed his dreams on the backburner and went the wrong way. Successive regimes and the elite class stuck to the British systems and lifestyle. They remained tied to the colonial mindset and behaved like Brown Sahibs and Begum Sahibas while dealing with the downtrodden and remained detached from them. Waderas, Sardars, Maliks and Choudhris were governed by a feudal mindset.
Till 1956, Pakistan functioned under the British India Parliamentary Act 1935, and adopted each and every system of governance, administration and laws inherited from the British. Same was the case with the military which adopted the British training, technical & administrative systems and doctrines.
Till Gen Ziaul Haq’s takeover in July 1977, the mess life was the same as was during the British rule, hard drinks and eating with the fork in the left hand were not considered un-Islamic. Islam lovers were looked down upon as uncouth and un-officer like.
Drill cautions were in English and whole training of officers was and still is in English language. Those attending courses at Sandhurst in UK & Fort Leavenworth in USA had an edge over others to reach the higher pedestal.
US-centric foreign policy
Under the guise of security threats from India and Afghanistan, our early leaders clutched the finger of the US and obeyed their dictates in return for monetary assistance and military hardware. This approach made the rulers addicted to western way of life and to the foreign aid and subservient to the wishes of the US and the West, making Pakistan a dependent country.
As a result of putting all its eggs in the basket of the US, Pakistan had to tailor its foreign policy suiting the USA and in the process compromised its sovereignty, dignity and honor.
Dependence on loans from the IMF and the World Bank increased manifold once the two mainstream political parties, the PPP and PML-N, took turns from 1988 onwards. Their leaders filled their coffers with ill-gotten wealth, discarded merit and moral values, and promoted nepotism and dynastic politics. As a result of their heartless plunder and misuse of the state resources, Pakistan’s economy has remained in the woods.
Policy of appeasement
Since beggars can’t be choosers, the rulers had to adopt a policy of appeasement to keep Washington in good humor. They had to perforce bear the repeated betrayals of the US and its highly discriminatory policies.
Appeasement in the form of ‘doing more’ crossed all limits after 9/11. No leader uttered a word in protest when it suffered a human loss of 80,000 people and financial loss of $ 150 billion while fighting the US imposed longest war on terror.
No civil or military leader could dare to object to the US interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs or the haughty behavior of the US officials. They couldn’t pick up courage to say that the so-called friends and allies were in reality behind cross-border terrorism. Fear psychosis governed their policy of appeasement.
They begged for aid but never sought compensation and war reparations from the USA. They somehow got obsessed with the idea that Pakistan’s survival could be jeopardized without the US patronage and its support.
The privileged class never objected to the overly pro-US tilt since they are also beneficiaries of the US largesse. None realized that the ones begging for aid are never respected and the aid givers feel no compunction in treating them like slaves. Master-servant relationship has remained in vogue since 1954.
This being the accepted trend, to expect a relationship with the US on equal footing is unrealistic. This rhetoric is meant to throw wool into the eyes of the public and to hide their own timidity.
Leaders and led out of sync
Contrary to the misperceptions and compulsions of the ruling regimes and the upper class who view the US favorably, the great majority in Pakistan hate the US and yearn to get rid of its perverse influence and meddlesome role.
Having gone through the trials and tribulations, they clearly see the dual faced and biased attitude of the US and the harms it has caused to them and their country. Due to contrasting perceptions, the leaders and the led in Pakistan have remained out of sync. The disadvantaged resent the advantaged class.
Apart from anti-Americanism, other major cribs of the people are that the ruling regimes are insensitive, selfish, corrupt, anti-poor and hypocrites. These impressions got ingrained into their minds after comparing their affluent lifestyle and their callous showoff of wealth and power with their own wretched conditions.
It is shocking for them to see that there is no change in their lives from pre-partition days, nor in the insolent attitude of the rich class who treat them harshly but are submissive before the US and Europe. Slavish submissiveness to the US diktat has frustrated the people.
It is in the backdrop of callousness of the elite class and the rulers towards them and subservience of the leaders towards the USA that they saw in Imran Khan (IK) a glimmer of hope who had the guts to stand up to the American arrogance and bullying attitude.
Role of the military
Out of 75 years of Pakistan’s political history, the military has ruled for nearly 33 years and for the rest of the period, it has been ruling indirectly. FM Ayub Khan nurtured ZA Bhutto, Gen Yahya Khan played into the hands of ZA Bhutto and Sheikh Mujib, Gen Ziaul Haq groomed Nawaz Sharif (NS) and Gen Musharraf extended his rule with the help of King’s Party and by giving NRO.
Rise of the PTI
It was due to the growing resentment of the people against the two dynasties ruling the country since 1988 that the military establishment thought of making a new experiment with the emerging party PTI under IK in 2011.
They saw in him all the traits of a successful leader who was honest, had charisma and dash, was determined and had a missionary zeal to accomplish his goals. He rose to prominence after his mammoth public meetings at Lahore and in Karachi in October 2011.
Outcome of July 2018 elections
The one-seater PTI steered by IK and guided by invisible hands increased its political strength in the 2013 elections to 35 National Assembly (NA) seats, and it bagged the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). In the Centre and in Punjab, it was the 3rd largest party. In the 2018 elections, helped by the establishment, the PTI increased its tally to 115 NA seats and emerged as the single largest winning party, and gained a majority in KP.
Its victory was, however, dampened since it couldn’t win even a simple majority in the Centre and in Punjab. As such it had to grudgingly resort to horse-trading and to bank upon the support of the allies to form governments in the Centre and in Punjab.
This milestone of defeating the two major parties was achieved by the PTI owing to the singular efforts of IK. His emphasis on justice on doorsteps, elimination of corruption, sympathy for the unemployed and the homeless, and above all his objections against war on terror appealed to the senses of the common people.
What fascinated them was his vitriolic attacks on the top leadership of the PML-N, PPP and JUI-F and his resolve to put all the corrupt political leaders in jails and to bring back the looted wealth.
While PPP which had turned into a regional party in 2013 elections managed to retain its bastion of Sindh, the PML-N was the biggest loser since its head NS was disqualified from the seat of PM in July 2017, removed from the chair of president of his party, and jailed for ten years. His party not only lost the elections, but it also lost its forte of Punjab.
Since then the PML-N leaders are grieving that the establishment had stolen their victory to hand over power to the selected. Their cribbing had weight since the establishment had decided to try a fresh horse with a clean record.
Aims of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)
The PDM under the leadership of Maulana Fazlur Rahman, comprising 13 parties was formed in 2019 with a view to force the PTI regime to hold early elections. The PDM leaders wanted to unseat IK not because of the dwindling economy and price hike, but because of the tightening noose of accountability around their necks.
IK didn’t agree to forgive their sins as Gen Musharraf had done, and was hell-bent to take the mega corruption and money laundering cases pursued by the NAB to their logical conclusion.
Finding all their escape routes getting blocked, the PDM stepped up their efforts in 2021 towards the achievement of their one-point agenda of getting rid of IK. They drew strength from the lack of performance of the ruling regime, failing to fulfill any of the rosy promises made by IK, and increase in the menace of corruption.
The health of the economy couldn’t be improved due to unprecedented tough conditions imposed by the IMF, the blackmailing attitude of the FATF and Covid-19 which affected the economies of the whole world.
Once the people started to complain about record breaking inflation, price hike and devaluation of the Rupee, the PDM leaders added ‘incompetency and inefficiency’ to their narrative of ‘selected and selectors’.
Dawn of 2022 saw the popularity of IK declining and PTI financial managers seemed unable to stem the decline in macroeconomics. Rupee value and economy kept waning while foreign exchange reserves, foreign/local debts, inflation, and prices kept shooting up.
Improvements overshadowed by price spiral
The PTI government handled the Covid-19 challenge adeptly and earned kudos from the world, it increased the volume of exports and reduced the current account deficit, and also expedited work on seven dams. However, its inability to control the price spiral overshadowed its achievements. Due to lack of parliamentary majority and policy of non-cooperation with the opposition, no major reform could be undertaken.
PDM didn’t pose a threat
In spite of the lack of governance and financial mismanagement of the ruling regime, the PDM posed no threat due to its internal divisions. There were differences of opinions between the PML-N and the PPP whether to opt for mass resignations from national/provincial assemblies, or to go for vote-of-no-confidence (VoNC).
There were differences within the PML-N as well; elder brother and her daughter wanting a hawkish approach towards both PTI and the establishment, and the younger brother preferring a dovish approach.
These variances went in favor of the PTI. The other big advantage enjoyed by the PTI was the full back-up support of the establishment
Neutrality of the establishment
Problem started when differences arose between IK and Gen Qamar Bajwa over the posting out of DG ISI in July 2021, over Punjab and KP chief ministers Buzdar-Mehmood, and PM’s chief secretary Azam Khan, IK’s lambasting of Gen Musharraf, his lack of diplomatic skills in dealing with the US, Arab Gulf States and China, and his refusal to adopt a policy of accommodation with the opposition.
When IK refused to listen to saner advice from the establishment, and didn’t perform on ground, the establishment decided to become neutral. This mid-stream change of posture went entirely in favor of the PDM and in disfavor of the PTI.
The US interference
Matters took a dramatic turn in March 2022 when the US meddled into internal politics of Pakistan by threatening to change the regime. The Biden administration was impelled to intervene due to IK’s policy of defiance starting from ‘Absolutely Not’, his visit to Moscow, abstaining from voting in the UN, refusing to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and forging closer ties with Russia.
Biden couldn’t afford non-cooperation at that critical juncture since it could give ideas to other US allies to become defiant. Sri Lanka had also abstained from voting. The US hurried to unite the divided PDM, purchase the dissident legislators of the PTI and provided funds to Zardari to make the VoNC successful.
Victim of foreign conspiracy
The shoddy manner in which the new regime took over power on April 9 gave a ready-made narrative to the fallen party to beat its detractors with. Unlike previous regime changes whose ouster through military coups or presidential acts were celebrated by the people and the opposition parties distributed sweets, this time the reverse happened.
The public is sympathizing with the ousted party and censuring the ones who are holding the reins of power. They and the neutrals are dubbed as traitors. IK whose popularity was on the decline and would have further dipped by mid-2023, has made a turnabout and it is ascending. He has once again become the most popular leader as can be seen from the mammoth public gatherings in various cities he is addressing.
Takeover of new government
Shahbaz Sharif (SS) has taken over at a time when Pak economy is at the brink of collapse. He and other PDM members vied for ouster of the PTI regime but had no plans in hand how they would steer the sinking ship out of the choppy waters.
Herculean efforts are required to salvage the crisis situation, but he and his team are giving glum looks. SS has lost his old flame and he urged other partners as well as the NSC to share the responsibility collectively once he took tough decisions to meet the demands of the IMF.
He will be able to present the budget in June and move the economic wheels only if the IMF as well as other friendly countries extend loans up to $ 12 billion. Petrol bomb has been dropped to soften the IMF. Loans will be a temporary remedy to remove the headache but wouldn’t cure the chronic illness. His biggest challenge is, how to deal with IK led PTI which has pledged to create mayhem if the government doesn’t agree to hold elections within 90 days.
War of narratives and sabre rattling
The PTI succeeded in selling its narrative to the public which is based on ‘foreign conspiracy and imported government of looters and traitors’. He played the victim card shrewdly by emphasizing that he had been removed from power since he wanted to frame an independent foreign policy free of the US influence so as to make Pakistan truly free and independent.
The people loved him on account of his bold defiance to the US bellicosity which none had ever exhibited. They heckled and harassed the defectors and all those who were part of the conspiracy. The people are not accepting the new set-up whom they see as rotten eggs.
Being a crowd puller, he attracted huge crowds in his public meetings in various cities from April 12 till May 22. The high-pitched fervor and emotionalism on display since April 10th was rarely seen before. His fading charisma has revived and his inanities during his 3 ½ years rule forgotten and forgiven and he is riding on a high crest of popularity.
Bolstered by the massive size of the rallies and the gusto of his supporters, IK gave further fillip to his narrative by terming his fightback as a war of independence. He vehemently castigated his opponents, the ECP, the judiciary and the army chief whom he mockingly called ‘neutral’, a ‘facilitator’, a ‘handler’ of the conspiracy. After naming him Mir Jaffar in his Abbottabad speech, he changed his stance at Jhelum by saying he meant SS.
IK and other PTI senior leaders are violating the constitution, endorsing politics of agitation, hate and violence, and are inciting their followers. IK and Sheikh Rashid arrogantly crowed that it will be a bloody long march which no power on earth will be able to stop.
He gave a call to his supporters all over the country that he wanted two million marchers to storm Islamabad (Isbd) on May 25 from two directions like a hurricane and sweep away all the obstacles and the sitting government. He declared the long march as Azadi march and demanded early elections.
Judging from the extensively heightened emotions and fervor of his supporters in the public gatherings, IK had no doubt in his mind that they would overcome all the obstacles and reach D-Chowk in Isbd. He was over-confident that next time he will sweep the elections with a thumping majority.
To dampen the rising tide of PTI’s public gatherings, the PML-N, PPP and JUI-F leaders also held public meetings but those were no match to the PTI jalsas. The government couldn’t have matched PTI’s offensive without an effective narrative as appealing as that of PTI’s narrative.
Worthwhile narrative cannot be framed with two PMs (NS and SS), and two finance ministers (Dar and Misbah), and divided thoughts on early or delayed elections. Zardari ruled out elections without electoral reforms and change in NAB laws.
As a tit-for-tat, Maryum Nawaz and other PML-N leaders also resorted to similar tactics of injecting hatred into politics. A series of corruption cases are being initiated against the PTI leaders. Tosha Khana and Farah Gogi cases are being investigated hoping that it would help in tearing the mask of honesty worn by IK and in belittling him.
Unlike the last tenure of PML-N in which it was very soft towards the vandalism of the PTI, this time the coalition government with hardnose Rana Sanaullah as Interior Minister, was determined to deal with the Azadi marchers with an iron hand the way the TLP activists were brutalized by the former regime.
The crackdown started in Punjab and in Sindh a day earlier to the D-Day. Houses of PTI leaders and their supporters were raided in dark hours. The routes to Isbd were blocked with containers. On D-Day, the police made extensive use of teargas shells, rubber bullets and batons.
Drop scene of much-publicized long march
The PTI had strategized a two pronged assault on Isbd from Punjab and KP. After the loss of Punjab, it was left with only one base of operation in KP where it has a strong govt. IK had to call off the sit-in at D Chowk abruptly due to extremely stiff actions of the law enforcers and the number of marchers who were well below 30-50,000. Justification given by him is that he feared a bloody clash since many of the PTI activists were armed.
Another threat hurled
After the show of force on May 2 backfired due to strong resistance put up by the law enforcers, the PTI has once again threatened to storm Isbd with greater preparations and fervor after 6 June if the imported govt didn’t announce the election date.
This time the PTI intends to attack under the judicial cover and wants the judiciary to tie the hands of the law enforcers, failing which it would come well-equipped and better prepared. KP’s CM Mehmood has disclosed his intentions by stating that they would come with full force to Isbd.
Having weathered the storm, the interior minister is feeling more confident that he will frustrate their intimidating tactics and use of force. Maryam Nawaz is keeping the political temperature high and is urging the judiciary to stay out of the political tussle. 150 FIRS have been registered against the top leaders and activists of the PTI in various police stations on charges of arson.
Penchant for early elections
Early elections are being advocated by all and sundry as the only solution to the volatile political situation. In their view, if early elections are not held there will be a big clash and things would get out of control and might lead to a civil war.
This argument would have been weighty, had the situation not been abnormal and political polarization not touched the zenith, and the economy had some life to sustain the expenses of elections and its fallout effects.
It is feasible if electoral reforms had been done and the two most trusted institutions of the military establishment and the judiciary not been compromised by the politicians. The ECP is not trusted by the PTI. So who will ensure free and fair elections, and who will ensure that this time both sides will gracefully accept the results??
No one is looking at the bigger game of the US which has all along been trying to roll back Pakistan’s nuclear/missile programs. Route to Pakistan’s nuclear program is through its custodians and not the politicians. For them, the chief concern is to weaken the trunk of the army.
To this end, the Indo-US-UK-Israel nexus have been hatching never-ending conspiracies and have used the tool of subversion extensively to poison the minds of the people against the army. They have failed but have not given up their agenda.
It is for the first time that they have succeeded in creating some cracks within the fort of the army and the veterans. For the first time a segment within the serving and retired army officers are trusting IK and mistrusting the army chief which is onerous.
Prudence and not violence is the need of the day
In the wake of extensively charged up emotions and hate-filled environments, there is a dire need to tamp down the political rhetoric and to let sanity prevail.
Since neither side is prepared to lower their tempers and are bracing for a showdown, which could be bloody as hinted by IK, and the social media as well as the spoilers are sprinkling fuel to intensify hatred and to push the country towards chaos, anarchy and possible civil war, a third party will have to step in fast to act as a referee and to douse the fire.
Unfortunately, the two premier institutions – the army and the judiciary – that have always come forward as saviors in testing times stand compromised.
The three pillars of the state – the military, the judiciary and the media – joined by intellectuals, academicians and prominent figures of civil society will have to play a role to put sense into the mind of egoist IK who has thrown tolerance, prudence and sagacity out of the window and is inciting the youth to resort to violence.
His hate-filled rhetoric is dangerous, and his utopian narrative of “slavery or independence” is captivating but do not help in putting the crippled economy back on the rails. Disunited house is easy prey for the adversaries, while a united front would keep them at bay.
Ways and means will have to be found to stop the poison being injected into our minds by the West and India, which has colored our perceptions and affected our rational thinking.
Pakistan urgently needs reforms, political stability and economic uplift and not delusional so-called Azadi which is a route to destabilization.
Like a Loya Jirga in Afghanistan, there is an urgent need for a national dialogue in which all stakeholders should sit down under one roof. They should first decide as to which system is more suitable and practical and is closer to the aspirations of the people.
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]
Brig. General Asif Haroon Raja a Member Board of Advisors Opinion Maker is Staff College and Armed Forces WarCoursequalified holds MSc war studies degree; a second generation officer, he fought the epic battle of Hilli in northwest East Bengal during 1971 war, in which Maj M. Akram received Nishan-e-Haider posthumously.
He served as Directing Staff Command & Staff College, Defence Attaché Egypt, and Sudan and Dean of Corps of Military Attaches in Cairo. He commanded the heaviest brigade in Kashmir. He is lingual and speaks English, Pashto and Punjabi fluently.
He is author of books titled ‘Battle of Hilli’, ‘1948, 1965 & 1971 Kashmir Battles and Freedom Struggle’, ‘Muhammad bin Qasim to Gen Musharraf’, Roots of 1971 Tragedy’; has written a number of motivational pamphlets. Draft of his next book ‘Tangled Knot of Kashmir’ is ready.
He is a defense analyst and columnist and writes articles on security, defense and political matters for numerous international/national publications.