And inevitable party splits
As per the schedule the announcement of General Elections 2018 is less than two weeks away but there is confusion worst confounded. Despite assurances that the polls will be held on time there are few takers that they will be.
There are those who still believe that the electoral process can be inordinately delayed while there are others who reckon that elections could be postponed only for a few weeks owing to technical reasons. The COAS (chief of army staff) General Qamar Javed Bajwa himself hinted at the possibility of a brief delay when he recently met a group of media persons.
Nonetheless ground realities entail that elections will be held virtually on time. The writ of the government stands already inexorably weakened, some wondering if there is a government at all.
The present PML-N government is essentially chimerical in nature. On the one hand Nawaz Sharif nominated Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is still the prime minister, while on the other, the PML-N Quaid criticizes his own party’s government as if the prime minister was foisted on the ruling party by some extra terrestrial being.
Abbasi himself is in an unenviable position being stuck between he devil and the deep sea. He has to do an increasingly impossible balancing act between Sharif’s defiance and demands of the establishment that his boss now abhors.
Only recently the National Security Committee (NSC) meeting was summoned by the prime minister in the wake of Nawaz Sharif’s controversial interview in which he bitterly criticized the role of the establishment in the 2008 Mumbai carnage. The NSC meeting in which the military top brass was present unanimously condemned Sharif’s remarks. However Abbasi later talking to the media contrarily defended his mentor, insisting that he had not said anything wrong.
The younger Sharif meekly promised that he would try to persuade his brother to soften his line towards the military establishment
Interestingly the state media blacked out the prime minister’s remarks. Control over the official mouthpiece, Pakistan Television (PTV) symbolically represents the writ of the government. Hence poor Abbasi’s blackout is symptomatic of his own helplessness.
Elections 2018 are peculiar in many ways. Instead of parties talking about their manifestos they are mostly engaged in bitter slugfests. Ironically all the three protagonists –the PML-N, PPP and PTI – are in power as well as in the opposition.
Instead of talking about their respective performances and party programmes, the common denominator seems to be Nawaz Sharif. His opponents are singling him out for his alleged corruption and malfeasance. That is why the former prime minister is hogging the airwaves as well as the newsprint.
Sharif has also strengthened the perception that the third (perhaps the most powerful) force, the ubiquitous military establishment, is behind his alleged persecution.
The PML-N parliamentary party meeting last Friday was dominated by complaints by legislators that they were being cajoled or browbeaten by the sleuths to switch their loyalties mostly to the PTI. The complaint is so widespread that according to critics it is tantamount to pre elections rigging.
What kind of a level playing field this kind of strategy will provide is not hard to imagine. If this perverse strategy continues unabated by election time the term, “fair and free elections”, will be rendered meaningless.
The quintessentially pro-establishment PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif throughout the ruling party’s legislator’s moot was on the defensive. Quite a few in the meeting were unhappy with Sharif’s increasingly bitter and acerbic anti establishment narrative.
The younger Sharif meekly promised that he would try to persuade his brother to soften his line towards the military establishment. Of course he disagrees with his elder brother’s line of action. But he is in no position to persuade him to change course.
Like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Sharif symbolically in a river of blood has steeped so far returning for him is as tedious as going over (crossing the river). The former prime minister like everyone else can clearly read the writing on the wall.
Corruption cases in the NAB (National Accountability Bureau) court against him, he is facing certain conviction. Long prison sentences are staring hi in the face. His daughter and heir apparent Maryum will not escape the gauntlet either.
Offence being the best defence for him, Sharif wants to go down fighting as a martyr rather than a corrupt former prime minister. The last straw was his recent controversial interview to a Dawn newspaper’s correspondent.
Cyril Almedia is not new to controversy. He is the same gentleman who broke the famous (or rather infamous) Dawn leaks story during the former COAS General Raheel Sharif’ s tenure.
The Dawn Leaks did not happen on the present army chief’s watch. Nonetheless implementation of the Dawn Leaks Commission report became a major source of tension between the military and civilian leadership.
Sharif resented a tweet by the DG ISPR (Director General Inter Services Public Relations) Major General Asif Ghafoor. The tweet was withdrawn on his request and a minister, an advisor and a bureaucrat named in the report were sent packing. But in the process Sharif-Bajwa relations were inexorably damaged.
The then prime minister in his quest to dominate the military leadership had perhaps gone too far in reneging on an informal agreement made with the military leadership to resolve the crisis. The hiatus created an unbridgeable credibility gap with the military leadership.
The military top brass perhaps reluctantly came to the conclusion that Sharif was a slippery customer who cannot be trusted. Hence when the former prime minister got embroiled in the Panama leaks the military refused to budge or take sides on his behalf. If the prime minister had expected to be bailed out, he was sadly disappointed.
The distinction between the so called good and bad Taliban is no longer being made. Nor are there any concerted moves to facilitate militants to engage in cross border terrorism
Thereby a new narrative that the military and the higher judiciary were in cahoots to oust the prime minister was created after Sharif was disqualified under a controversial constitutional clause last July. There might be a kernel of truth in such misgivings but Sharif himself mishandled his defence by failing to provide the fount of his enormous wealth.
Shahbaz Sharif has made a preposterous statement that whoever arranged the controversial Dawn interview was not a friend of Nawaz. Might be so, but his elder brother for a preconceived audience especially invited the concerned reporter under VIP protocol at Multan airport. Thus attacking the establishment was not an off the cuff remark on Sharif’s part.
Basically what the former prime minister told the concerned correspondent has been said by so many, ad nuaseam. Who can disagree that Pakistan’s soil should not be used as a springboard for terrorists?
But a lot has changed since November 2008 when the Mumbai attacks took place: though admittedly a lot still need to be done. The distinction between the so called good and bad Taliban is no longer being made. Nor are there any concerted moves to facilitate militants to engage in cross border terrorism.
In this context Sharif should resist the temptation to throw the baby with the bathwater. Rather, he should concentrate on his party that might inexorably split before election time thanks to his recalcitrant politics.