Après moi le deluge


And the deep state



Ever since Nawaz Sharif’s ouster instability has become the hallmark of our political milieu. The former prime minister disqualified by the apex court more than two months ago — being hardly a stabilising factor himself — is out to prove: après moi le deluge’.

He has been re-elected as the president of his party thanks to a combination of incompetence and political opportunism of the parliamentary opposition. His celebratory speech at the Convention Center in Islamabad in front of a captive PML-N audience and later in Lahore repeated the same mantra:mujhey kuoon nikala (why was I ousted)?

Sharif, since his exit, has been implicitly attacking the ubiquitous establishment which, according to his narrative, was in cahoots with the apex court.

He glibly claims that his only fault was that he was doing development work in the form of new electricity plants, construction of motorways and highways and general economic uplift. He blames unnamed hidden forces that threw him out for the good work he was doing.

It seems the ruling party is going through an identity crisis. On the one hand it is in power at the federal level and in the largest province, the Punjab. On the other, quite bizarrely, its chief the former prime minister and even some federal ministers are behaving like the political opposition.

This anomalous situation is creating problems for the PML-N government. Sharif instead of strengthening his hand-picked prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, is making his job all the more difficult. Party workers after election of Sharif as president of the PML-N were chanting ‘wazir e azamNawaz Sharif’ slogans full throttle in the presence of Abbasi.

In this context people are asking the obvious question: is there a government in power? Finance minister Ishaq Dar, despite having been indicted by the NAB court on serious charges of corruption, is assiduously sticking to his job.

Being Sharif’s ‘samdhi’ and handpicked by him for the job of finance minister, nobody including the prime minister has the gumption to tell Dar that, ‘the emperor has no clothes’.

As a consequence the already battered economy is suffering. In the face of fast dwindling reserves, consistently falling exports and burgeoning current account deficit most economists predict that Islamabad will be soon forced to revert to the IMF for another bailout.

In this free for all political milieu it was quite surreal to see federal ministers along with a few members walking out of the National Assembly protesting against the government they represent. The immediate cause for complaint was a letter written by the IB (Intelligence Bureau) regarding 37 MPs having links with sectarian and terrorists outfits.

Ostensibly it is a fake letter. But instead of coming out clean on the serious charge leveled at them they chose to stage a walkout. Perhaps a more honourable course for the ministers would have been to resign their posts.

Ironically most of those who walked out had migrated to the ruling party from Musharrf’s Kings’ party, the PML-Q. Why would they resign and part with their cushy portfolios?

Nonetheless their walk out was perhaps a signal to the powers that be that they are quite ready to do their bidding whenever they are needed to break up the PML-N. According to those in the know of things at least about 80 MNAs have packed their bags to form a forward block whenever their services are required.

While the prime minister is trying to grapple with the issues at home his predecessor has gone to London to be with his ailing wife. Some on the basis of his return booking have speculated that Sharif is going to be away for an extended period.

Technically he is yet to be indicted by the NAB court. But perhaps owing to the serious nature of his wife’s ailment he did not wait for the court hearing due Monday. Or perhaps he has been advised to stay away?

Just a day before Sharif’s departure for London with his brother in tow, he addressed a gathering in Lahore. Shehbaz Sharif had been rather quiet since the decision to make him president was suddenly revoked early last month and his candidature for being the PML-N nominee for premiership put on hold.

But at Alhamra hall — the venue of the meeting — he was unusually chirpy. It is well known that the younger Sharif does not share the penchant of his elder brother to play the martyr card by blaming the army or the judiciary for his travails.

The elder Sharif is now left with not much choice but to nominate his brother for the top slot in the next general elections. He is the candidate of the ubiquitous establishment as well.

Perhaps after seeing the khaki leadership Shehbaz Sharif, meeting his brother on Wednesday morning, sorted out the loose ends. The only trouble that remains is that the younger Sharif does not have the same chemistry as his elder brother with the PML-N core voters. Hence both the brothers intend to stomp the campaign trail in the next elections.

But there is a lot of slip between the cup and the lip. There are multifarious internal and external challenges facing Pakistan in the coming months.

The DG ISPR (Inter Services Public Relations) Major General Asif Ghafoor, a day after corps commanders’ seven-hour huddle at the GHQ, addressed a press conference to put to rest all kinds of speculations regarding what was discussed in the marathon meeting.

While ruling out even talk of a martial law he ominously declared that sometimes silence speaks volumes. But in any case few in Pakistan are apprehending a martial law.

The military can have its way in the Islamic republic without overtly ruling, why should it mobilise the 111 brigade guarding the capital? Nonetheless the US, after a meeting between Khawaja Asif and his counterpart Rex Tillerson, has voiced concerns about stability of the Pakistani government. .

It is yet not clear what are the apprehensions of the US administration? Perhaps it also feels that Sharif was ousted through a judicial coup.

The ruling party needs to be doubly careful about the optics. Sharif to some extent is justified to complain about the shabby manner in which the apex court disqualified him. His being sent home on a technicality instead of the Panama leaks will not be considered a showpiece of good jurisprudence.

The DG ISPR as a flash in the pan has dismissed what happened at the judicial academy on Nawaz Sharif’s hearing. Certainly the interior minister, Ahsan Iqbal, overreacted. But what did the military establishment gain by such pinpricks apart from humiliating an elected government?

So far as the opposition is concerned, it has to be cautious about its no holds barred campaign against the ruling party. Sometimes it seems that the PTI and some of its allies will not mind throwing the baby with the bath water as a shortcut to power.

The enigmatic Sheikh Rashid, with his one-man Tonga party, has nothing to lose. But as in the past such shenanigans will not benefit the PTI. It has a lot to lose.