Nov 10

Full circle

Posted on Friday, November 10, 2017 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Full circle

The Miltablishment’s agenda for “democracy” is now clear – divide and rule. Why should it work now when it hasn’t in the past?

Asif Zardari has been baited to stop him from joining hands with Nawaz Sharif. In consequence, Farhatullah Babar and Raza Rabbani, who represent the righteous ideological face of the PPP, have been neutered by Mr Zardari’s volte face on the issue of accountability. Mr Babar has protested his party’s position to exclude judges and generals from the purview of the proposed new law. “I am embarrassed and humiliated. This is akin to the surrender of East Pakistan”, he lamented.

Mr Zardari’s “surrender” comes after 18 months in fearful exile following his diatribe against the generals in 2015 for linking his government’s corruption to terrorism in Sindh. Chastened, he is aghast at Nawaz Sharif’s “anti-state” statements.

Mr Zardari has also spurned Nawaz Sharif’s offerings to make a united cause against the generals and judges. He has had to forget how both conspired to hound him in the Presidency and oust his prime minister for defending him.

The Miltablishment’s sudden decision in the dead of night to cobble an electoral alliance between the MQM-P and PSP came in the wake of reports that Mr Zardari was on a fishing expedition to hook some disgruntled or unsteady MQM-P parliamentarians to the PPP’s side. All that remains is to install General (retd) Pervez Musharraf as the “rehbar” of the new muhajir alliance to recapture urban Sindh and keep Mr Zardari on a tight leash.

The Miltablishment is also urging six religious parties to band together once again under the banner of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (dissolved in 2007) so that the religious vote is united in chipping away at the mainstream parties. This is quite apart from the recent launching of two militant religious groups as political parties in the NA-120 by-election aimed at eroding the margin of the PMLN’s victory.

The rejection of the “delimitation” proposals based on provisional results of the 2017 census by the MQM-P, PSP, JI, PTI and PPP is part of this strategy. If this isn’t done in time, the Election Commission will be forced to postpone elections until the final census results are available. This could provide the justification for longer term “interim caretaker governments” based on apolitical technocrats ready to do the bidding of the Miltablishment against the PMLN.

The SC’s insistence on wrapping up the conviction of Nawaz Sharif quickly is also, objectively speaking, a move in the same direction. If Nawaz Sharif is knocked out for good, the chances are the PMLN will be whittled down by desertions and unable to win a majority in the next elections. A perusal of the SC’s full judgment in the “Iqama” case against Mr Sharif highlights the depth of political animosity built into this confrontation. The judgment, according to one respected editorial, “questions the ex-PM’s character, intentions and competence.” Its “tone and tenor will likely leave legal purists uncomfortable, with the harsh language and condemnation often veering away from strictly legal interpretations”. This was seemingly provoked by Mr Sharif’s GT-Road utterances against the judges and has now served to strengthen his resolve and sharpen his language against them. A NAB accountability court overseen by one of the angry five judges who convicted Mr Sharif has now rejected his petition to club all three references against him, a decision that will harass him from court to court and create obstacles in his mass-contact campaign to plead his case before the court of the people.

The hostility of the Miltablishment against Nawaz Sharif is also aimed at creating a rift between him and Shahbaz Shahbaz. This will objectively weaken the PMLN, just as support for Imran Khan is aimed at propping him up as a strong counterweight to Mr Sharif.

In some critical ways we seem to have come full circle to the military interventions of 1977 and 1999. The first led to the creation of the MQM as a knife in the heart of the PPP in Sindh and the rise of Nawaz Sharif as a bulwark against Benazir Bhutto in Punjab. The second led to the ouster of both Bhutto and Nawaz, creating the PMLQ and MMA, and strengthening the MQM. The third intervention now underway brings forth the spectre of an anti-mainstream party front of old Miltablishment allies, aided and abetted by a new pro-Miltablishment player in the shape of the PTI. On all three occasions, the judiciary has been an integral part of the engineered political framework.

To be sure, the public acknowledges the corruption of both Zardari and Nawaz. Nevertheless, it still prefers to vote for them over the stooges and props of the Miltablishment who are also tainted in one way or another. This compels the search for “democratic solutions” within an old circle and leads nowhere. That is why it is best to follow the world model and let the system evolve freely from political rags to institutional riches in the imperfect ways of constitutionalism and electoral democracy.