Jun 30

“Double, double toil and trouble”

Posted on Friday, June 30, 2017 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

“Double, double toil and trouble”

If ever Pakistan needed political stability, economic certainty and visionary leadership, it is now. The internal and external environment is deteriorating and unaffordable political and economic turmoil is on the cards.

The internal environment stinks of conflict between the elected civil and institutional military leaderships, between the civil and judicial organs of the state, between the political parties and judiciary and among the political parties themselves. The conflict is bewilderingly comprehensive.

Despite a change of high command in the military from an overtly aggressive leadership to a neutral one, the institution is still bristling with hostility towards Nawaz Sharif, the elected prime minister, and his heir-apparent daughter, Maryam, and seems bent on getting rid of them.

But the battleground has shifted from the inspired dharnas on the streets of Islamabad to the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court and the Joint Investigation Team set up by it. The JIT has become hugely controversial, partly because of its own indiscreet bias and over-zealous behavior and partly because of a conscious strategy by the ruling party to undermine its credibility. Hardly a day goes by when the parties to the investigation – the three judges of the SC, the JIT and the ruling party and prime minister, do not trade bitter complaints against each other. Since the PMLN is already in the dock for a variety of sins of omissions and commissions, only the JIT and judges need fear a serious dent in their credibility at the outcome of the investigation and trial.

The JIT/judiciary are also at daggers drawn with various institutions of the state that are accused of obstructing their investigation. The judges have served notice to the chairmen of SECP, NAB and FBR while the IB has been warned to stop harassing the investigators. This confrontation between the judiciary and core civilian institutions of the state is no less inflammatory and destabilizing than the continuing civil-military conflict.

The political parties are also at serious odds with the judiciary. If Nawaz Sharif is obstructing the judicial investigation into the money trail of his personal wealth, Imran Khan is obstructing the Election Commission of Pakistan from inquiring into the money trail of his personal and party funds.

In this background, the deteriorating external environment is cause for concern. The porous border with Afghanistan is a continuing cause of terrorism in both countries. Anti-Pakistan Taliban holed out in Afghanistan and anti-Afghan Taliban holed out in Pakistan are shedding blood in both countries – the recent terrorist attacks that devastated Parachinar and Quetta no less than the one earlier in Kabul can all be attributed to state policies pursued by the intelligence agencies of both countries. American facilitation to resolve Pak-Afghan issues has failed, prompting the Chinese to step into the fray because of their huge investments planned in the region. But the political leaderships of both countries are paralysed by their internal problems and the chances of any quick successful outcome are slim.

Pakistan’s relations with India are hostage to the usual actors and factors. But PM Narendra Modi and his national security adviser A K Doval are in a belligerent anti-Pakistan mood while the Pakistan military establishment is not inclined to give the government any leeway in conducting any unconditional dialogue with New Delhi. So we may expect the border to remain hot, with attendant proxy warring by both sides.

Pakistan’s relations with the US could worsen. President Donald Trump is rolling out the red carpet for Narendra Modi even as the US Congress has introduced a bi-partisan bill to cut or reduce military assistance to Pakistan by withdrawing its status as a Major Non-Nato Ally because it has “failed to fight terrorism that has claimed American blood”. Apart from significant Coalition Support funds, this status enables Pakistan to receive priority delivery of defense equipment and a loan guarantee program for private banks that finance American arms sales to Pakistan. There are reports that the Trump administration is contemplating a tougher stance towards Pakistan while cozying up to India. The World Bank has sniffed the mood in Washington and accordingly issued a warning to the finance minister, Ishaq Dar, that he has missed important fiscal targets and must not expect leniency from donors.

Meanwhile, as general elections draw near, the political parties are at each other’s throats with renewed vengeance. The PTI has poached at least seven stalwarts from the PPP, including Babar Awan, while the PPP has nudged its former interior minister, Rehman Malik (who once investigated the money laundering trail of the Sharifs), to depose before the JIT against Nawaz Sharif.

What is unprecedented in this developing scenario is the central role of the judiciary in confronting and challenging state institutions and the country’s popular civilian actors. In the current situation, however, with elections due next year, it is a moot point whether the judiciary is right to get so deeply involved in criminal investigations which only promise more controversy and turmoil ahead.

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