Much haze lifted from the political brew in Pakistan on Monday, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was to present himself in the accountability court for hearing of references ordered against him by the Supreme Court. There was a generally developing consensus on the speculation that the upcoming Senate elections in March 2018 would be at serious risk, given the civil-military roller coaster Pakistan was going through after the elected Prime Minister’s judicial expulsion from office. This impression has taken firm root in public perception because the current majority in the provincial assemblies all but assures a decisive majority for the sitting government in the Senate come March, where it is in minority at the moment.
Everyone appeared to be in the fog trying to figure out what set of steps would be taken to achieve election-suppression. Would PTI’s leader, a vociferous opponent of Sharif to put it mildly, also be disqualified or would he, in keeping with his record of evident immunity, be spared and become part of the King’s Party? He has several cases of financial irregularities and illegal foreign funding of the party in the Supreme Court and the Election Commission registered against him and some of his top cronies-cum-aides. Will Sharif be offered a deal; will he take it? When Sharif came back from London unexpectedly in the middle of his wife’s cancer surgeries, the praetorian television anchors tried hard not to look like utter fools after their gleeful predictions that he was gone forever. Attempting to wipe the egg off their faces they adopted the refrain, ‘a deal has obviously been reached’. Which begged the question as to whom Sharif had struck a deal with, if he had not been ousted as a result of a grand conspiracy - the intransigent position these anchors had been taking all along.
My own informed sense was diametrically opposed to this refrain and I did not see any deal, and I continued to state that Sharif had not made any deal. The next day he made a public address, which could be said to be cryptic because once again both sides of the argument relied on valid reasoning and symbols. The mainstream referred to the PM not having spoken of ‘pawns’ and ‘institutions’ in his speech, and the former Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar sitting beside him, to argue that Sharif had taken a step back as a result of a deal with the establishment with the help of Nisar. Nisar is known to be close to the establishment.
My reading of the same speech was completely the opposite: that Nisar had nowhere to go, had been put in his place and that the speech while not referring to the terms mentioned, spoke very directly to the establishment to lay off. Sharif did not need to say the words ‘pawns’ and ‘institutions’ when he had said them in 550 speeches already; that his reference to 70 years of disrupting civilian rule, of breaking the country in two, of telling ‘them’ to leave the people and the country alone, of respecting the vote, of letting the country prosper all spoke only and only to the establishment; that his promise not to abandon 200 million people was a reiteration of throwing down the gauntlet. He was going to fight. His mind was made up.
Then came Monday morning and all controversy over a ‘deal’ collapsed in a spectacular show. The Prime Minister showed up with his entourage and the usual clutch of ministers and lawyers to be charged with crimes. The Rangers personnel posted for security at the building refused to let anyone but the Prime Minister, including his lawyer, in. The unbelievable turn of events sent shock waves through all those present on the occasion including the media, and viewers glued to their TV screens: suddenly an open trial where any citizen of Pakistan can attend proceedings was being shielded from any and all witnesses, quite illegally. Lawyers, the media, the aides, the ministers who have attended all such trials as a norm in the past were barred by force. Alarmed, the Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal arrived on the scene within minutes to order the soldiers to step aside and let the relevant people into the court premises. That’s when the bomb dropped: the soldiers, didn’t allow Iqbal, their boss’s bosses’ boss, into the premises.
This was the make or break moment. People used to Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar missing in action for days on end at such occasions in the past, could hardly believe their eyes or ears as Ahsan Iqbal began to explode in a rain of fire. This is when someone made a fell strike and cable television in some parts of the country went black and people struck back swiftly with streaming live news and pouring their hopes, desires, and anger on social media, egging Iqbal on. His fury knew no bounds when the Chief Commissioner told him that he never requisitioned the Rangers but that they had mysteriously appeared out of nowhere. He summoned the commanding officer of the Rangers, who made himself ‘rooposh’ (scarce) at being summoned. After about 15 minutes of waiting for the Brigadier to appear the one man exploding munitions depot left to finish what he had started.
After his departure the brigadier emerged from the court premises where the Federal Minister had not been allowed in and attempted to mend matters with a junior minister. He had barely managed to say he hadn’t restricted anyone’s access, when the brigadier was assailed by the large presence of media and lawyers who demanded to know on what authority he had disallowed their entry into the court. At this he fled amidst cries of ‘shame! Shame!’ Somewhere during this high drama and protests at the visible highhandedness, illegality and unfairness, the television screens flickered back on screaming the news and developments.
Iqbal’s ‘promises’ to carry out an investigation into who was responsible for the almost unprecedented and barefaced insubordination, had demanded to know who had challenged the writ of the government. A livid Iqbal had wanted to know whether Pakistan were a banana republic or a constitutional state, had committed to punish the culprits before he left in a blaze of determination to do or die. Thus died the ‘deal’ controversy a deserved death, while Iqbal carried the day. The people were witness to a cosmic event in Pakistan’s history where they saw the violent birth of a star being born.