Pakistan’s preoccupation with internal turmoil was reflected in the sorry state that Martyr’s Day in Kashmir passed unnoticed. So have the Gaza crises. But even worse, the police violated all rules of engagement to subdue Dr. Tahir ul Qadri’s movement in the Model Town Lahore killing and maiming scores. Confrontation raised political temperatures catalysing prospects of cooperation amongst unlikely allies. Given Nawaz Sharif’s mindset, the posturing is not likely to abate till all options in PMLN’s arsenal are exhausted. Conflicting self-serving narratives at the cost of a nation are a poor reflection of a government preparing for two weeks of sustained independence celebrations. This out of the blue celebration is a reaction to the likely political strikes that may cripple Pakistan. The government does not realise that confrontation with the army, media, opposition political parties and constitutionally approved regulatory bodies is not worth the effort.
Political camps in Pakistan seem divided in three blocks. Traditional parties like PMLN, PPP, ANP and JUIF make a strange mix of centrists, leftists, rightists and nationalists. As and when the temperature rises, some of these will slip away leaving the federal government in splendid isolation. Faced with strong opposition on the streets and defection of NRO allies, PMLN will still (or so they think) have many tricks up their sleeves to ward off the crises. They deny they have ceded initiative.
Then, there are the centrists led by PTI both in Parliament and the streets. It appears that as the mercury rises; their demand will graduate to a complete overhaul of the system, something that Dr. Qadri’s movement also seeks. This rendezvous with PAT, Minhaj ul Quran, PMLQ, MQM and APML could create a critical mass for regime change. However, a sustained street agitation will not be possible without the support of the leftists who control trade and labour unions and smaller parties most prominent in Punjab and Sindh. An added factor will be civil society which, like on May 11, 2013 may also decide to join the agitation.
PMLN argues it is right. It has the people’s mandate in an almost landslide electoral victory centering Punjab. How else could one explain its absence in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa? Opening four constituencies for verification is tantamount to accepting responsibility for rigging. Arsalan Iftikhar and a group of lawyers from Islamabad will try their best to ensure that Imran Khan is made irrelevant to the crises. With the remnants of Chaudhary courts still around, they hope to garner favorable decisions. But politically motivated judgments will expose the inability of the judiciary to raise questions of law and its willingness to play minion to political expediencies. Faced with street demonstrations and agitation, this could open yet another Pandora’s Box. Imran Khan and Dr. Qadri will fight back.
Secondly, as a backup, PMLN will not hesitate in attacking and slandering the personality of Imran Khan in the manner they did with Begum Nusrat Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto Shaheed, and Imran in the past. Their smear dons will utilize the last straw to neutralise Imran Khan; their main challenger in the Punjab, once and for all.
Thirdly, as written in the past, this government has applied (or so they think) a stranglehold on Pakistan’s economy. They have ensured that even if out of power, they will remain relevant by continuing to manipulate the large consumer segment in Pakistan’s economy.
Fourth, their undeniable linkages within Punjab police and banned organizations will morph in due course of time. If push comes to shove, these forces could wreak havoc to the extent of being counterproductive to the objectives of the armed forces engaged in counter terrorism operations. As of today, this remains the crucial weak link. So far, the government has shown no urgency in bolstering civilian capacity and therefore is not serious in taking the bull by its horns.
Fifth is the question of the ability of the federal government to handle a sustained IDP effort followed by the reconstruction and rehabilitation in FATA. So far, no special allocations for this purpose have been made in the Federal Budget. Reappropriations will either have to be done from the PSDPs or loan and development schemes that presently harbour on political bribery. At some point, conflict of interests as cited above, will make pursuit of objectives elusive.
So where does the military figure into this situation?
First, the military will singularly concentrate in consolidating its gains in NWA and FATA. In its hearts and minds strategy, a crucial link will be reconstruction, rehabilitation, socio economic development and lucrative incentives for the people. IDPs from SWA and NWA will be incrementally shifted town by town. The Army will assist the civilian administration in establishing its writ and look forward to the federal government for replacing the archaic FCR. Funds will be a crucial issue. The army will also hope that the government will not denude its focus in FATA by invoking its employment In ‘Aid of Civil Power’ under Article 245 of the Constitution against political unrest and agitation on the streets. If it does, it will be at a cost to the environment the military is shaping to its advantage in the tribal areas; a certain setback.
Secondly, on its part, the military would like to complete its pacification operations in FATA and wait for a more conducive political environment before the next phase in urban areas. This time frame could be upset by the government, street agitations and the militants. It is probable that all three will play their part. A lot will depend on how the Federal and Punjab Governments handle the challenges to their legitimacy and employ politics to avoid high handed confrontation.
The situation post 14th August could either be politically resolved at a high cost to the PMLN’s political credibility or be a replay of mayhem seen in Model Town Lahore. The former is unlikely and in case of the latter, the government would have lost all moral authority. In any case, the government will have to come out of the shadows of rigged elections, low morale of Punjab Police in aftermath of Model Town Inquiry, load shedding, hyperinflation, rising poverty and manipulative economic handling. This puts it in a Prisoner’s dilemma or a blind tunnel. It may then have lost crucial ground to make positive decisions. The void thus created would be anyone’s to fill.
The worst case scenario could culminate in the removal of the government either through persuasion by the establishment or worse, by an extra constitutional action under the law of necessity. Much like water, these events are most likely to charter their own way.
n Brigadier (Retired) Samson Simon Sharaf is a political economist and a television anchorperson.