Independence Day: D-day for democracy?

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Too late for a negotiated settlement?

 

 

Pakistan’s 67th Independence Day is round the corner. But instead of being celebrated as an auspicious day when the country was created, it is being portrayed as the D-day for booting out a democratic government though street agitation.

Unless efforts of senior politicians succeed in some form of a last minute negotiated settlement, the pincer movement of Imran Khan’s PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) and of the Canadian cleric Tahirul Qadri spells the death knell for the PML-N government.

The Sharifs are adamant to use the vast arsenal of administrative machinery at their disposal to thwart the planned sit-ins while at the same time extending an olive branch to the PTI though political intermediaries. PPP’s co chairperson Asif Ali Zardari to Jamaat-e-Islami’s amir Maulana Sirajul Haq have got into the act to ‘save democracy’.

The government’s narrative is simple: It has been elected for five years and hence the demand for it to quit forthwith has no basis. Imran Khan and his stalwarts, on the other hand, initially demanding verification of thumbprints in four constituencies including the one in which the PTI chief lost in Lahore to the Speaker of the National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, now brand the entire 2013 elections as fraudulent. They do not want to settle for anything less than mid-term elections under a new dispensation.

Nawaz Sharif has suddenly turned a new leaf for the better. A prime minister who had earned the unsavoury reputation of being withdrawn and aloof is finally reaching out to the opposition. He has virtually met everyone who matters in the parliament –sans Imran Khan of course- in the past few days.

The Sharifs are adamant to use the vast arsenal of administrative machinery at their disposal to thwart the planned sit-ins while at the same time extending an olive branch to the PTI though political intermediaries.

He is regularly attending parliament and has even condescended to take it on board by addressing it. Younger brother Shahbaz Sharif is granting television interviews for a change. In a recent interview, after huffing and puffing that those agitating against the government are somehow sabotaging the government’s pro-people economic agenda, he did however agree to go the PTI chief’s house if need be.

Unfortunately the broad spectrum of the PML-N leadership, the Sharifs included, are missing the wood for the trees. They are perhaps not unaware of the fact that in a parliamentary system being elected does not give a government the license to rule for five years – no questions asked.

The PTI is hitting at the very legitimacy of the government by belatedly being unwilling to accept their mandate. The Khan’s arsenal is the street power that he can muster to disrupt and paralyse the state machinery. The onus is now on the rulers to convince the critics that their mandate is unassailable and above board.

The bipartisan Special Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms would have been a good forum to amicably resolve the impasse. However the PML-N government, under the weight of its own insecurities, squandered this opportunity. It desisted from supporting Senator Raza Rabbani as the committee’s chairperson and instead elected Ishaq Dar, the virtual deputy prime minister.

Rabbani being supported by PTI was an ideal choice. He was the one who spearheaded the eighteenth amendment of the constitution that gave birth to the so-called independent but toothless election commission. He was the best man to fix it through consensus.

In the meanwhile everyone is waiting with bated breath for August 14. Apart from the ubiquitous talk shows on news channels, even at social occasions the most common topic for discussion is the chances of survival of the government in the coming weeks.

It is indeed ironic that Sharifs commanding more than two-thirds majority in the national assembly and being ostensibly buttressed by the PPP, JUI (F) and the ANP, are running helter skelter for survival. Imran’s ‘Azadi March’ is yet to be supported by JI, his ally in KP.

Instead its amir Sirajul Haq is trying to play the role of an honest broker. Similarly, the MQM seems averse to upsetting the apple cart, and is hence paying lip service to democracy.

Only in theory the PTI seems isolated in its demand of sending the government packing. No one seems to be in a mood for midterm elections. Yet!

However, depending on the mood of the ubiquitous establishment all this could quickly change. The Pakistani military is at war with the Taliban, dealing with an existential threat.

If it sees perennial chaos it will step in directly or indirectly, despite protestations to the contrary. This is perhaps what Imran Khan and his cohorts are hoping to achieve through agitation.

By invoking Article 245 the government itself has given the army a foot in the door. For the time being however the military leadership is maintaining an ominous silence. Not being averse to intervening in the past it could very well step in, to reform the system, as Imran desires.

The PTI is hitting at the very legitimacy of the government by belatedly being unwilling to accept their mandate. The Khan’s arsenal is the street power that he can muster to disrupt and paralyse the state machinery.

After all, Thailand’s military ended months of turmoil in May by overthrowing the elected government of Yingluck Shinawarta. The ousted prime minister’s party would win again in an election.

But to obviate the possibility the interim governing body formed by the military, the National Legislative Assembly, is in the process of “reforming the constitution”. Perhaps Imran would welcome such an intervention in order to permanently blackball some of his erstwhile and potential opponents.

Bonapartists who hated the PPP and distrust Sharifs even more have tinkered with such ideas in the past. In 1997 President Farooq Leghari, in cahoots with Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, and with a little help from the then ISI chief, almost succeeded in getting rid of Nawaz Sharif only after a year into his so-called ‘heavy mandate’.

At the time the COAS General Jehangir Karamat saved the day for the PML-N government by saying no to a belligerent Leghari. But instead of being grateful to JK, Sharif sacked him just a few weeks before his retirement. The rest is history.

It is yet to be seen who bails out Sharif this time landing himself again in a political cul-de-sac of sorts. It will be a sad day for Pakistan if the military is sucked in the political equation by design or by default.

The timing of summoning the NSC (National Security Council) is ominous. Ostensibly the meeting will discuss ongoing Zarb-e-Azb. But perhaps security issues relating to the ‘Azadi March’ will also come under discussion with the top brass present.

This might be good for optics. Nonetheless in the end analysis the prime minister instead of relying upon administrative measures and use of naked state machinery — with its appended unpredictable consequences — will have to take bold political initiatives to extricate himself from the present impasse.

He has to reign in his hawks and move quickly and decisively. The Khan can perhaps be convinced that extended chaos in the country will make his goal of being prime minister even more elusive. But perhaps it is already too late for a negotiated solution to the crisis.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Very good analysis of an ugly situation, created more by the incompetence of those in power, than the opposition's design. Sharif must understand that it is the wrath of a desperate nation, who cannot endure the economic hardships and price escalation any more. He has to choose either to tax the rich, everybody traders, retailers, big business, agriculture, real estate etc through direct taxation, in order to have fiscal space to give subsidy to the poor and middle class for utilities such as electricity and basic food items be exempted from sales tax etc, otherwise face more massive protests in the coming days, even after he manages to come out of the current impasse viz a viz IK and this highly controversial Canadian maverick.

  2. Nawaz Sharif and his brothers long time MISRULE mainly sustained by Daulat Dhons and Dhandli is finally coming to an end thank heavens replaced by sanity and the true "RULE OF LAW". Let us all welcome this forthcoming change in an orderly way. Pakistan Zindabad

  3. Referring to a man of Allama Tahir Ul Qadri's stature " Canadian cleric Tahirul Qadri" is rather insulting and reflects pettiness of a small mind and typical Punjabi sense of being 'sole proprietor' of Pakistan & Pakistanis. Shame!

    • Mr Tahirul Qadri should be thankful in regards to what he is called by his peers. Running away from his own long march during previous government leave only one name to mind, Coward.

  4. Happy Independence Day to All Pakistan.it is shame for imran khan and tahirul qadri agent of Canadian making tribal on independence day.both are stupid person.they are showing to world that we d,nt have unity.

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