May 20


Posted on Friday, May 20, 2016 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo

After a month of offensive-defense tactics, the PMLN has finally succeeded in defusing the Panamaleaks bomb. The government is not looking as bad and the opposition not as good as when the crisis erupted. There are three main reasons for this twist in the tale.

First, the government has swiftly pre-empted every opposition move to put it on the mat. In this way it has bought time to create the space in which to confront the challenge. When the opposition demanded a judicial commission the government proposed one with retired judges. When the opposition rejected retired judges, the government requested the Chief Justice of Pakistan to appoint serving judges. When the opposition demanded that the services of FBR and FIA be put at the disposal of the proposed commission, the government readily agreed. When the opposition rejected the government’s Terms of Reference (TOR), the government agreed to sit and hammer out a consensus. When the opposition demanded that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should answer the opposition’s seven-point questionnaire, Mr Sharif came to parliament and duly presented his answer. When the opposition demanded parliamentary time to rebut the prime minister’s response, the government agreed. When the opposition walked out of parliament without confronting the prime minister, the government cajoled it back to parliament the next day and set up a government-opposition committee to design consensus TORs and laws for the proposed commission. Now we can sit back and watch the two sides slug it out before a final agreement is reached.

Second, the disunity in the opposition has served the government’s purpose. The PTI wants to throw out both Nawaz Sharif and the PMLN government asap. At best it wants a military intervention that brings it into power via a back door. At worst it wants new general elections immediately. Therefore it is amenable to conspiracy and violent protest to achieve its objectives. The PPP, too, would love to see the back of Nawaz Sharif so that the PMLN is rendered relatively headless, thereby enhancing the PPP’s prospects in the next general elections. But it will have no truck with any sort of military intervention and it is in no mood for early elections. The MQM will wait and see which way the wind blows while the JUI and the Baloch parties will side with Nawaz Sharif. This puts the PTI out on a limb and compels it to follow rather than lead the opposition, thereby diluting the possibility of overnight radical change in Islamabad.

Third, Nawaz Sharif’s chief protagonist, Imran Khan, has fallen from the pedestal that he graced whilst thundering against corrupt off-shore company wallahs. It is now established that his was the original sin in setting up an offshore company in 1980 for “evading British taxes”. The fact that he didn’t inform the Election Commission in 2013 of its existence compounds the moral offence into a criminal one. Worse, it transpires that several of his financial backers and political lieutenants, like Jehangir Tareen and Aleem Khan, are also guilty of the moral offence of association with off-shore companies and accounts. This has taken the wind out of Khan’s sails and put him on the defensive. Indeed, any commission of inquiry is bound to investigate his accounts no less than those of Nawaz Sharif.

What eventually comes of Pananaleaks will depend on the TOR agreed upon between the government and opposition, what sort of law is promulgated and what sort of commission is set up. This should take at least a couple of months to materialise if an irrevocable breaking point is not reached earlier. The TOR is likely to reflect a broad consensus in which not just off-shore company wallahs but also a host of tax evaders, money launderers, loan-defaulters and loan write-off wallahs will be brought into the net. Certainly this is going to be the government’s strategy to hit at the opposition benches that may escape the net of off-shore companies. Its sole purpose will be to claim the high moral ground of putting an end to all forms of corruption while making it impossible for any commission of inquiry to come to any decisive and quick findings due to the complex nature of every money trail under investigation. One stumbling block at the outset will be the nature of the law attracted to the proposed commission. The government is likely to prefer it to be adversarial, like the law of the land, in which one is innocent until proven guilty, so that convictions are rare and unhurried. But the PTI will seek an inquisitorial commission like NAB so that the onus of innocence is on the accused and justice is swift and summary.

The government and its allies are united while the opposition is split. Even within the PPP, there are good cops and bad cops. Unless the PMLN blunders into another pit of ignominy or outrage, which provokes the third umpire, the likelihood is that it will weather the Panamaleaks storm like it did the dharna of yore.

May 16

Aapas Ki Baat -16 May 2016

Posted on Monday, May 16, 2016 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo

May 13

Turbulence or Crash?

Posted on Friday, May 13, 2016 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief General Raheel Sharif have met after a month of sulking in their respective corners. This calls for comment because it was routine for them to be pictured together every week on one assignment or the other at home or abroad to demonstrate civil-military unity on important national security issues. Therefore tongues are now wagging about acute tensions between them that could shake up the political superstructure.

The first source of tension between them was Mr Sharif’s decision to prosecute General (retd) Pervez Musharraf for treason. The army as an institution cannot countenance a former chief in the dock under any circumstances. On top of that, General Sharif owes General Musharraf for advancing his career. The twists and turns in the case have frustrated both sides and led to misunderstandings.

The second source of tension was Mr Sharif’s decision in Spring 2014 to opt for endless rounds of futile talks with the Pakistani Taliban when General Sharif was primed to go into Waziristan all guns blazing. That gave the Taliban an opportunity to slip away and regroup, making General Sharif’s task more difficult when the green light for Zarb-e-Azb finally came in June 2014 following a string of Taliban attacks on security installations and personnel across the country.

The third source of tension sprang from the ISI’s role, two years ago, in directing Imran Khan’s dharna at D Chowk in Islamabad aimed at overthrowing Mr Sharif. Although General Sharif was not fully on board the agency’s covert operation and refrained from taking any precipitous step, Mr Sharif’s trust and confidence in his army chief was definitely eroded.

The fourth source of tension arose from Mr Sharif’s desire to mend fences with India so that he can extract a political and economic “peace dividend”. But the military is institutionally opposed to any such strategic move. Therefore it was irked when Mr Sharif attended Narendra Modi’s swearing in ceremony in 2014 and later agreed to hold secretary-level talks with India on the subject of terrorism without any quid pro quo on Kashmir. Recently, the military was annoyed when Mr Sharif ordered the registration of an FIR against the perpetrators of the Pathankot attack and when the PMLN government failed to adequately propagate, internationally, the capture of an Indian spy.

The fifth source of tension arose from the military’s intent to conduct a “clean-up operation” against terrorism in Punjab similar to the one in Karachi. But Mr Sharif is opposed to this because he doesn’t want the military to stand down his showcase “good-governance” in Punjab like it did the PPP government in Sindh.

The sixth source of tension is the military’s bid to link terrorism with corruption and run down civilian administrations. Mr Sharif is particularly annoyed by General Sharif’s statement for “across the board” accountability following Panamaleaks and the ISPR’s attempt to demonstrate that the military has initiated such accountability from “home” by sacking some generals accused of graft. The timing of this “leak” lends credibility to Mr Sharif’s suspicions that General Sharif means to show him up and do him in.

There are other issues too. The military wants a slice of the cake of building CPEC but the government is keeping it at arms length. It doesn’t like the beefing up of the Intelligence Bureau as a political counterweight to the ISI. The brass wants more funds for IDP rehabilitation in Waziristan to consolidate law and order. It is frustrated that the Foreign Office couldn’t clinch the F-16 deal in Washington. Last but not least, the prime minister isn’t happy at the ISPR’s attempt to propagate General Raheel Sharif as some sort of “messiah-in-waiting” in counter distinction to the perception of Mr Sharif as a “corrupt and incompetent” prime minister.

In view of this situation, the hot topic of the day is whether the meeting last Monday will serve to stabilise civil-military relations and enable Mr Sharif to weather the Panamaleaks storm by “neutralizing” the military’s political ambitions.

To be sure, one meeting isn’t going to melt the glacier of institutional distrust on both sides. But there are three factors in favour of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. First, the opposition is divided and no one, except for the PTI, wants a military intervention. Second, General Sharif’s “window of opportunity” will end in three months when a new army chief is announced and he becomes a lame duck. Third, any coup-making general will have to contend with seriously adverse consequences of his action. Except for the PTI, all major political parties, civil society, judiciary and the powerful media will unite against a military dictatorship that inevitably curtails their freedom. The international community will sanction Pakistan and India and Afghanistan will destabilize the country. Soon thereafter, the coup-maker will realize he is riding a tiger that will maul him like his adventurous predecessors.

Given the pros and cons, therefore, we should expect turbulence but no crash in the hot summer months ahead.

May 11

Aapas Ki Baat -11 May 2016

Posted on Wednesday, May 11, 2016 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo

May 10

Aapas Ki Baat -10 May 2016

Posted on Tuesday, May 10, 2016 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo