Seventy years down the road Pakistan seems to have reached a defining moment in history. In the year 2008 we had seen as a nation culmination of a long drawn struggle for democracy headed by martyred Benazir Bhutto. With the advent of a democratic government in the year it was taken for granted that the country has been finally set on to democratic path. One had thought that enough lessons would have been learnt and Charter of Democracy signed by Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif would set pace for the complete empowerment of the people by establishing the masses as the sole arbiter of power over the Establishment.
It was a dream that did not last long. In the last decade we have had many pluses first being the fact that an elected government completed its tenure and there was peaceful and well-co-ordinated transfer of power to the next elected representatives. And it was no mean achievement that for the first time in our history there was no political prisoner. Notwithstanding all that, its most outstanding achievement of course was 18th Amendment that changed the very authoritative centralised complex of Pakistan into a genuine federation with equal autonomous rights for the provinces. And this has come to be the Achilles heel for the Establishment.
We are back to square one—semblance of Gen Zia’s regime. We seems to have martial law in the garb of a civilian government, political leaders are being arrested right, left and centre, human rights activists are being hunted and added to the long list of missing persons, lawlessness has become the order of the day with law enforcers blatantly rendering the country into a police state. In the fast emerging situation signs of an impending storm are visible; currently it is a simmering moving fast forward toward an implosion hell bent in pushing the country beyond the edge of precipice.
Having being pushed into a corner the Opposition seemingly was left with no option but to tighten its belts to have the things sorted out. As if arrests of sitting KP MNAs Mohsin Dawar, Ali Wazir and Manzoor Pishteen—known crusader for rights—were not enough that IK regime had to arrest former President and currently MNA Asif Ali Zardari and MPA Hamza Shahbaz. Though apparently desperate measures, PTI regime does not understand that it has given a boost to the idea of massive opposition movement and public agitation in this summer of discontent (to borrow Arif Nizami’s words). And why not.? Could there be an ideal situation than this when the government has surrendered its economic writ to the IMF scavengers headed by Finance Adviser Hafeez Shaikh, to measures that have catapulted prices of essential goods and edibles to heights hitherto unknown in Pakistan’s history of mismanagement. Just these steps alone have made inflation beyond the grasp of the government with dollar having hit the highest high.
Until a few days back opposition parties were planning a strategy to launch a peaceful movement to stop IK’s governmental renegades from destroying further the country as bulls in the china shop when PPPP Chairman and MNA Asif Zardari’s arrest was added as fuel to the judicial fire that was already spreading in anger at the Establishment and IK regime for taking on Justice Faez Isa who enjoys the reputation of a most outstanding and upright judge who does not believe in kowtowing to the dictatorial whims of the Establishment that wants him out by hook or by crook.
In the obtaining situation my friend of many moons and a heavy weight journalist M. Ziauddin in his piece of advice to the government in his op-ed ‘Uncertain Times Ahead’ in Website Surkhiyan, believes “ at this stage that a compromise will have to be worked out between the establishment and the opposition to continue working the system with the minimum of loss of face on both sides”. Indeed, as he further says: ‘There is no tradition in Pakistan of going on the streets protesting against price hikes, no matter how high the hike. Pakistan has suffered inflation rates as high as 25-30% during the period between the second half of the 1980s and the entire decade of the 1990s with no street protests. The only time the people of Pakistan went out protesting against price increase of a paltry 25 paisa (of sugar) was in 1968-69 leading to the ouster of President Ayub Khan. This had paved the way for General Yahya Khan’s Martial Law.’
Ziauddin mentions about the PNA-street protests against Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto jointly sponsored by General Zia and CIA as more of a manifestation of a deliberately managed public resentment against alleged rigging of the general elections, rather than the result of any anger against the state of the economy which was not all that bad. The third military take-over had taken place because of heightening misunderstanding between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and COAS General Musharraf over the latter’s Kargil misadventure and not because of any street protests against the deteriorating state of the economy which was in those days, a genuine issue.
As such Ziauddin advices the government not to have sleepless nights and not to panic that it would soon be confronted with mass agitation on the streets following the recent budget tsunami all round hikes in ‘the prices of essentials and withdrawal of subsidies impacting the lives of lower middle and poorer classes of society need not lose their sleep because as per tradition our people don’t take to streets to protest price increases.’
Ziauddin also believes that the combined opposition would be too scared to bring people out on the streets ‘on any pretext, genuine or non-genuine because that, they know, would lead to the wrapping up of the system itself as the Establishment would not like to hold an election so soon fearing that despite engineering and wheeling dealings it would not succeed to stop the combined opposition from winning the elections.’ It is rightly feared that massive street challenge to the Establishment and its proxy in PTI could in their desperation cause democratic roll back and usher in the scourge of fourth martial law or if not, military take-over, Supreme Court sanctioned postponement of an election for at least three-years, to re-experiment and retry General Pervez Musharraf’s seven point post take over agenda under an interim regime of technocrats or an attempt could be made to bring in again four times failed presidential system.
According to Ziauddin the safest option available to the combined opposition under the circumstances, would be to let the PTI government complete its five-year tenure but in a way as if every passing day was its last day in power. This can be achieved by the opposition by skilfully employing its numerical strength in the National Assembly and Senate. Regretfully Ziauddin does not take into consideration Imran Khan’s personal capacity to dig his own grave. Brought in by the Establishment as the only option to block PMLN and PPP with a populist anti-corruption agenda, it is fast turning out to be a sour dream for the men on horse back.
Prime Minister Khan is of fond attending summits, making long, high-sounding speeches and then embarrassing the nation by his repeated protocol blunders such as what he did in Saudi Arabia, leaving the King alone to listen to the translator interpreting IK’s farewell words. This goof up had a serious repercussion in the Royal Kingdom when all ministerial meetings were cancelled in anger. Latest being his yet another protocol blunder at SCO summit in Bishkek when all heads of states were supposed to remain standing to respect/greet each other till last guest arrived. Khan Sahib was found to be lost in world of his own kept sitting despite twice reminded to be up. Perhaps too much work and night shifts at home have made his knees weak.
Many analysts including Ziauddin apprehend an imminent collapse of the government, its desertion by the fair weather politicians many of them being IK’s coalition band wagoners as well as the seasonal South Punjab birds who are most likely to join hands with a faction-in-the-making headed by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi much more of a seasoned politician than IK and others in PTI. It is believed, PTI’s group of carpet beggars would be prepared to sacrifice him to save the government. Considered view is that a government minus IK would also suit the Opposition to extend any support to force IK out because of his intransigence without cutting short government’s electoral tenure.
The post-budget scenario spells fire and fury all around. Budget will be passed but due to opposition’s severe constrictions in the parliament, its delivery will either be Caesarean or abnormal. The knight in arms of the opposition being veterans in the Parliament, they will make it near impossible passage of the budget. The strength of the combined opposition in the National Assembly that includes many budget veterans will give hell to the treasury leaving Finance Adviser Hafeez Sheikh lucky to be left in the cold since he is not elected and perhaps has a return ticket to either Washington or to our next door neighbour where his business interest flourish un-noticed.
According to Ziauddin and some other journalists two speeches by the PM just hours before the presentation of the Economic Survey and then his speech around mid-night following the presentation of his Party’s first budget, sounded more like person in total panic and scared to death. ‘Both the speeches seemed directed at his disillusioned and disappointed voters who he perhaps believes, have gradually lost faith in his ability to bring in the promised ‘Tabdili’ or to turn Pakistan into Islamic Social Welfare State on the lines of Madina ki Riaysat(MkR). These two speeches also appear to be a desperate attempt of a loser to mend the cracks appearing in his party with cosmetic patchwork.
Differences between what political pundits call as would be Prime Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the leadership have already shaken the party at its roots, if any. Imported Governor of Punjab who wants to be Foreign Minister is at it also. SMQ is daggers drawn with old rival popularly known as IK’s permanent ATM machine– Jehangir Khan Tareen. Tareen’s disqualification by the Supreme Court from holding any elected or non-elected position in the government seemed to be a warning to IK.
Notwithstanding Tareen’s disqualification he is said to be still running the affairs of the party and is closest to IK while Quraishi had openly conveyed to IK that JKT is legally banned and should not attend party and official meetings. I am sure it must be annoying for IK to hear from various quarters as to who his successor would be. He must have also noticed the prime ministerial looks of SMQ. The other fight within PTI people don’t often mention is between Minister for Science and technology and Information’s heavy weight Dr Fardous Ashiq Awan, fondly called Maasee Mosaibatey.
Whatever—the most serious issue facing the country now is the Presidential reference against Supreme Court Justice Qazi Faez Isa. At the time of writing this it was to be heard by the Supreme Judicial Council. One does not know what course it shall take, however, if it goes against the Judge, it would amount to putting the last nail in independent judiciary’s coffin. It was reassuring to hear from Chief Justice Mr Justice Asif Saeed Khosa in Cambridge University the other day, that justice would be done in Justice Isa’s case and that ‘no government has the power to remove a judge.’ One wished to believe the Honourable Chief Justice, however, had he taken serious note of the vicious character-assassination campaign against Justice Isa—it would have made things look much better and unbiased. Establishment and IK regime have already crucified Isa without a trial!
Former President Zardari is back in prison where he spent eleven years during the governments of Nawaz Sharif and General Musharraf’s. On many occasions he got offers to walk out of prison as a free bird provided he could commit perjury against world’s first Muslim prime minister, twice elected and on top of everything- his wife and mother to his three children. ISI’s Major General Ehtesham Zameer was a constant visitor to him in prison with GPM’s offer for Prime Ministership to him if he agreed to ditch Benazir Bhutto. He was told that just his one signature would free him from his life of discomfort, writhing back pain, diabetes and heart problem when he had not committed any crime. Late veteran journalist Majeed Nizami sahib who was hard to win over complimented, Zardari calling him a Mard-e- Hur for not buckling down in to torture, intimidation and incarceration.
Like Justice Qazi Fez Isa is now under volleys of attack aimed at tarnishing his unimpeachable reputation, Zardari too was singled out by General ZIa and after him his heirs to keep him under pressure by levelling charges of him being ten percent to 100 percent. Both PMLN’s Senator Saifur Rehman and General Pervez Musharraf spent billions of rupees hiring foreign legal experts and detectives to establish plethora of their charges against Zardari. And finally after a decade of persecution Zardari got acquitted in all the false cases. Since his adversaries are wary of his politicking skills, their dread for him has made them tighten their stranglehold by fabricating fresh cases so that he does not check mate their low grade politics by skilfully out manoeuvring them.
Odds faced by the people who do not see eye to eye with the Establishment are very challenging. They are victims of character assassination at the hands of an army of well trained team of Goebbels, barking dogs in the media and experts in social media engineering targeting Zardari spewing their hatred for him and his guts. On the other hand, people who like him for ethnic or other reasons, would not deter from expressing their anger against what they allege Punjab’s victimisation of Sindh much like erstwhile East Pakistan and Balochistan.
The current reign of terror under the garb of accountability has brought Pakistan to a defining moment, to a point of no return to declare enough is enough. My friend Ziauddin wants a compromise to be worked out between the Establishment and the Opposition to continue working the system with a minimum loss of face on both sides. With PTM rights movement gaining ground in KP and Fata, irredentists becoming more violent in Balochistan, Sindh being screwed by Lahori imperialism to a state of utmost frustration that sows seeds of separation—sooner than later Ziauddin’s formula for sustaining the democratic system would run out of its steam and there would be no stopping of Dama Dum Must Qalanadar reminding us of the break up of the Soviet Union despite it having the biggest army in the world, a nuclear arsenal second to none and a KGB with no equal.