An unwelcoming welcome awaits PM

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Will land in trouble

Many lingering problems are waiting for him and which may require some tough and painful decisions. On top of the list of the unpleasant things that are expected to welcome the PM are Panama Papers and the monsoon floods. But the emerging situation, again, may not prove to be that dismal. It can bring some unforeseen opportunities too

 

For a watcher of Pakistani politics the month of Ramzan – particularly its last ten days – felt like the proverbial lull before the storm. It was as if every concerned player was waiting for holy month to end and the prey to arrive, so that the mayhem should begin. That moment is about to arrive; with the advent of Eid and the return of the big fat – well, not so big and fat now, but still – prime minister after about two months’ hiatus.

These seemingly ‘unaccounted for’ two months made a lot of difference to Pakistani politics but in a very subtle manner; in a way that can’t be that easily discerned or explained. Some of the analysts believe that the PM’s illness was a mixture of good and bad fortunes when translated politically. But Nawaz Sharif couldn’t make the most of it as far as its positive side was concerned. He apparently is about to start reaping only the bad harvest of it once he returns to the soil.

Many lingering problems are waiting for him and which may require some tough and painful decisions. On top of the list of the unpleasant things that are expected to welcome the PM are Panama Papers and the monsoon floods. But the emerging situation, again, may not prove to be that dismal. It can bring some unforeseen opportunities too.

Nawaz Sharif is both fortunate and unfortunate at the same time. He is fortunate in the sense that God lands him in situations where lots of opportunities are normally available to him. But he is unfortunate because he is an expert to screw up any such opportunity every time. His illness afforded him to ward off the crisis that was about stare him in the eye. But he squandered this opportunity by jumping into the offshore hospital bed without formally assigning anyone to run the government affairs in his absence; rather he deemed it fit to use it as a probation period for his daughter have some prime ministerial experience. Also, instead of using this occasion to take some far-reaching and solid decisions, NS took it as a godsend to let him remain in his trademark indecisive mode and let the troubling matters die down on their own. But as they say, a stitch in time saves nine, he will have to pay the price now as he refusedto make that one stitch on time.

The situation now is that PTI is waiting for Eid to make the situation worse for him on streets if PML-N didn’t budge through parliament. (In)famous Tahirul Qadri has only postponed his dharna, apparently to see if Sharif brothers are willing to do something in Model Town incident probe. PPP and some other opposition parties are crying foul and demand something must be done in the Panama Leaks affair.

Justice and political interests demand that the people and political parties mount a formidable challenge to the government in order to deliver on many a front including Panama Papers, foreign policy and other such governance issues. But the opposition political leaders and parties are faced with a serious dilemma. One is that if they failed to exert the required pressure, the government will not do anything meaningful that can make it accountable. This will be against the principles of justice. Also, if they are seen doing nothing, these leaders and parties will be publically considered to in cahoots with the government in its alleged corruption and money-laundering saga. And that will be damaging to them.

Then, there is a further problem. There is the same old division among the political parties and that is PTI vs the rest. The PTI seems interested to bring this government down, no matter what. The rest of the opposition parties (excluding PAT and may be JI) will not like to go to the extent where the survival of the system is jeopardised.

And there are strong indications that it can be in jeopardy this time around if politicians failed to resolve the issues in amicable, political ways or if they failed to address those issues in meaningful ways which are popularly perceived damaging to the country, with corruption on top of it.

So, what can be done in such Catch 22-like situation? If the Nawaz Sharif government allows some real inquiry into the Panama Leaks affair, it can prove to be a political death knell for the family. If the government doesn’t listen the opposition (particularly the PTI-PAT mix) is hell bent to throw it to the dogs. If other opposition parties like PPP, ANP, MQM and JUI-F, etc, remain silent, they will be considered partners in crime and will suffer hugely in terms of popular support; it will also let the ruling family run away with lots of money – which many of those opposition leaders may not like for both personal and political reasons. If they opt in favour of public protest, it can rock the boat. It can even result in wrapping up the system.

 

It is common knowledge that people have lost confidence in the political leaders, parties and the system. This confidence can’t be restored by cosmetic and non-quantifiable measures; nor is it a short-term enterprise. This lack of confidence poses real threat to the system because unless the ‘system’ has the trust of the populace, it can’t continue to run

 

Panama Papers, PTI, PAT and the monsoon together appear set to play havoc with the government, the ruling family and possibly, the system. But the monsoon and some good and timely decisions may still save it. One can’t be sure about the consequences of the monsoon but there is no doubt about the benefits of good decisions when these are made on time. But what can be those ‘good decisions’? And what can be done to salvage the situation and sail the ship safely through troubled waters?

The first measure that can be taken is to immediately announce an independent and powerful commission to probe into allegations of financial impropriety on the part of present and previous rulers – including (or starting with) the Panama Papers. Including other corruption matters and previous governments into the commission’s purview will serve two purposes; it will make it more convincing to the public at large and the PTI and it will gain some time for the PML-N leadership as it won’t be practical and easy to wrap the investigations up in a short time. The second big thing that can help is to announce and expedite the formation of a permanent, independent anti-corruption body with across the board political consensus. Third can be the announcement of time-bound speedy reforms in the electoral process and Election Commission of Pakistan – again with the consensus of all political parties in parliament and even outside.

But these measures may not help if they are not accompanied with the most crucial of decisions to hold early elections sometime in the first half of next year. This suggestion may sound more theoretical at first sight but the fact of the matter is that at present this is the only practical step that can save the system.

It is common knowledge that people have lost confidence in the political leaders, parties and the system. This confidence can’t be restored by cosmetic and non-quantifiable measures; nor is it a short-term enterprise. This lack of confidence poses real threat to the system because unless the ‘system’ has the trust of the populace, it can’t continue to run. One way or the other but it has to go; either through a revolution or a military coup. But since revolutions are historically not our cup of tea, therefore, it’s time to be frightened of a bloody coup; and try to steer clear the democratic ship at any cost.

Immediate announcement of elections is a very low price. And it’s easy and quick. Plus one can still win it, though not with a two-third majority.