he three jalsas of the PDM at Gujranwala, Karachi and Quetta have been a resounding success. They were attended by large crowds. Parties across the ideological spectrum participated. There were no cracks in their joint narrative for “vote ko izzat do”. This is a demand not just for free and fair elections immediately but also for guarantees of Miltablishment non-interference in governance, the sole preserve of the elected representatives of the people.
The demand is justified. Time and again, elections have been stolen by the Miltablishment to seat and unseat politicians, parties and governments in its good or bad books. But the practice became problematic when the Miltablishment turned on its own good boys because they refused to toe the line on some issue or the other. Therefore, over time, even the good boys have become bad boys, the PPP, PMLN, JUI, etc. being prime examples of pro-Miltablishment good boys becoming bad boys. In a last ditch effort, the Miltablishment stole the 2018 elections to hoist Imran Khan to office. But the good boy’s bad policies have come a cropper and put the Miltablishment on the spot. The more he fails, the more the Miltablishment is blamed for propping him up. The more he hounds the opposition instead of concentrating on economic delivery, the more the opposition trains its gunsights on the Miltablishment. Unfortunately, the Miltablishment’s institutional case has been seriously eroded by the personal ambitions of its leading lights. Now the chickens have come home to roost.
Good boy-turned-bad boy Nawaz Sharif has struck a chord with Pakistanis by accusing Miltablishment head boy, COAS General Qamar Bajwa, and head spy DGISI Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, for being responsible for the mess in the country. In a country where periodic Miltablishment power grabs can only be discussed after the event, where martial laws are invalidated by the courts only after they are over, where coup-making and election-rigging generals are never brought to book, naming names and pointing fingers at generals in power has been strictly no-no. But now it’s the talk of the town.
Some explain Nawaz Sharif’s outburst as a “suicidal” gesture borne of rage and frustration progressively brought upon by three successive dismissals (1993, 1999, 2017) at the hands of the Miltablishment. Others insist that he has been egged on by disgruntled elements within the Miltablishment who have serious issues with the way in which their institutional interests are being compromised. One service extension has robbed a clutch of colleagues of the most coveted post in the Miltablishment and another linked appointment in the offing two years hence will put paid to dozens of others for years to come. And then there are those handmaidens of every prime minister and general in office who are happy to flog the “Indian agent” or “foreign hand” theories to discredit their opponents.
Regardless of the motive behind Nawaz Sharif’s outburst, the way forward has now become dark and ominous. Previously, there was one target. Now there are three. Previously, the opposition’s strategy revolved upon pressurizing the two to oust the one. Now, it’s not clear at all how the three are to be eased out. Nor is it clear that, even if such came to pass for one reason or another, the Miltablishment is ready to throw in the towel as the all-powerful political player in the country.
In the next three months, the struggle for power will feel like a roller coaster ride. The Miltablishment leaders in the spotlight will try to deflect it by a combination of inducements, promises, threats and arrests. The PPP is the weakest link in the PDM chain because, unlike the others, it has a provincial government to lose if the gambit fails. But as long as the PMLN remains united under Nawaz Sharif and the JUI can resist bribes – which seems to be the case so far – a fatal finale is in store. If it leads to a long march to besiege Islamabad, violence is inevitable with unscripted consequences. Otherwise, mass resignations from the Senate, Provincial and National Assembly are certainly on the cards, leaving the country without a national parliament (which comprises both houses). A lack of quorum in the Senate, where the opposition has a majority, renders it dysfunctional while Senate re-elections presuppose by-elections in the provincial assemblies to complete the roster. Dragging the Supreme Court into this political quagmire will either deepen the crisis or blot it forever without resolving it. If the Gilgit-Baltistan elections in November are rigged, the PDM will get a fillip.
The developing political crisis of democracy is seriously marred by a failing economy due to dreadful mismanagement by the PTI government coupled with the negative consequences of Covid-19. Neither is about to improve. The situation on our borders east and west is precipitous. Dharnas, strikes, long marches, terrorism, foreign intervention can only make matters worse. The sooner the Miltablishment corrects course by playing fairly with the opposition, the sooner we can all be good boys.