Shrinking breathing room for the opposition

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  • While the economy continues to suffer

The PTI is close to completing its first year in office with not much to show for it. The economy, by most estimations, is even worse off than it was during the 2008/2009 recession. Record high inflation has started to affect the budgets of upper-middle and upper-class households as well, so one can only imagine how the lower income groups are suffering. The IMF has approved a three-year $6 billion loan package and predicts inflation reaching 13 percent while GDP growth slows to 2.4 percent from 3.3 percent last fiscal year, meaning in the short-term financial difficulties for the citizenry are not going to improve rather get worse. An attempt to achieve the unrealistic Rs 5.5 trillion tax revenue target for this year is underway with a plethora of new taxes in the government’s first budget, an upward revision in previous rates and mandating the FBR (Federal Board of Revenue) to weed out tax evaders and pursue vigorously those still hiding assets they chose not to declare in the recently concluded amnesty scheme.

In a first, the military has also thrown its weight behind the government, validating the latter’s tough economic measures by deeming them “… difficult but extremely essential long term beneficial measures for improving and strengthening national economy”. That this happened at a Corps Commander meeting at GHQ makes it all the more significant. Events preceding this, like the Army Chief blaming ‘fiscal mismanagement’ in the past for the current economic predicament and his inclusion in the National Development Council make it abundantly clear that the Army, in addition to security and foreign affairs, now has a seat at the economic table as well. But this was bound to happen. Since getting elected Prime Minister Imran Khan has continuously emphasised what an excellent relationship his government enjoys with the Army, how they are “on the same page”.

At the start of his term, when he took more U-turns than he perhaps would have wanted to on the promises he had made, Imran Khan compared himself to Hitler and Napoleon, stating he was a better leader since he had ‘taken decisions according to the demand of the situation’. One hopes that that is the extent of his fascination with the likes of Hitler and Napoleon

Realistically, the economy will take at least half of the PTI’s tenure to maybe show any signs of improvement. So, unable to deliver on a majority of its key promises that unfortunately for it are linked directly to a better economy, it has upped the ante on the so-called accountability drive. Focused primarily on the opposition, the practice of registering cases and making arrests has gone into overdrive. With the top tier leadership, Nawaz and Zardari of the PML(N) and the PPP respectively, behind bars, action is now focused on the second tier. Most of the arrests are being made under corruption charges and being pursued by NAB with new cases being added rather than reaching a logical conclusion in older ones with a conviction or acquittal. Now it seems a new layer is being added to this one-sided ‘jail-bharo tehreek’ (fill up the jails movement).

Rana Sanaullah, senior PML(N) leader and currently an MNA, was arrested for possession of 15 kg of heroin, neatly tucked away in a suitcase in his car, traveling from his hometown Faisalabad to Lahore. The FIR that has been registered states that upon inspection Rana himself gave up the illicit drugs. Why would Sanaullah, who in the past few weeks had repeatedly said he would be incarcerated soon in one case or another, carry a quantity of heroin that confirms a death sentence if caught with it and convicted, on the M2 motorway, during the day and that too himself? It makes little sense until you consider how during the Musharraf years the same man was picked up and tortured by ‘agencies’ for making derogatory remarks against the government of the time. A 2003 article in Dawn titled ‘Tyranny’ by the late Ardeshir Cowasjee is worth a read.

Recent statements made by members of the PTI government suggest that this is the new norm and will continue. Federal Water Resources Minister Faisal Vawda, not known for showing restraint while expressing his disdain for the opposition and often letting his fascist tendencies get the better of him, stated in the National Assembly that he wanted the corrupt to be dragged on the streets and hanged. Earlier, on a talk show, he said if 5000 people were hanged it would change the country’s fate.

Meanwhile the PM wants the law requiring incarcerated elected representatives to be produced during parliamentary sessions to be abolished. He also wants the jail manual amended so that all prisoners are kept in the same class of jail. Ironically, what he wants requires legislation that is unlikely to be passed without the opposition’s support, which will be at the receiving end of the downgrade in jail perks and no visits to Parliament. So, abruptly taking Asif Ali Zardari’s interview off air; refusal of the National Assembly speaker to issue production orders of PTM MNAs Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir being tried in an ATC for an alleged attack on an army checkpost; and new restrictions on non-family members visiting Nawaz Sharif in jail, are all manifestations of a concerted effort to put more pressure on the opposition.

Up against the wall, the opposition has joined forces and will go after the Senate Chairman, tabling a motion against him on July 9. Reportedly 15 PML(N) MPAs met with PM Khan at Bani Gala– sort of an encore to the 2018 pre-election activity to weaken the opponent. Delaying elections for 16 KP Assembly seats in former-FATA, opposition candidates being arrested and campaigning being made impossible are all attempts to achieve a specific result there.

At the start of his term, when he took more U-turns than he perhaps would have wanted to on the promises he had made, Imran Khan compared himself to Hitler and Napoleon, stating he was a better leader since he had ‘taken decisions according to the demand of the situation’. One hopes that that is the extent of his fascination with the likes of Hitler and Napoleon.