Sharif’s departure | Pakistan Today

Sharif’s departure

  • And badly needed confidence-building measures

After abject failure of the PTI’s (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) negotiating committee headed by defence minister Pervez Khattak to break the impasse created as a result of JUI-F’s (Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl group) protracted dharna at Islamabad, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi has stepped in to negotiate an honourable exit for the Maulana. But the JUI-F chief is not willing to relent unless he has the scalp of the prime minister.

The speaker Punjab Assembly and his cousin Chaudhry Shujaat have an excellent personal rapport with the Maulana. Recently the JUI-F supremo had no hesitation calling upon the duo to inquire about the PML-Q chief’s health at his Lahore residence.

Khan is yet to offer this common courtesy to an important political ally. Such gestures are considered important in our political milieu. But these niceties simply elude the PTI chief.

Pervez Elahi after his several meetings with the Maulana and his secretary general Ghafoor Haidri is optimistic that a solution to the present deadlock will soon be found. The prime minister has also urged his party men not to worry too much as the sit-in issue will be resolved through negotiations.

Of course, resignation of the prime minister is off the table so far as the PTI is concerned. This is the maximalist position of the opposition’s Rahbar committee. But short of that there are other areas where agreement should be sought.

There should be confidence-building measures (CBMs) with the government taking some unilateral steps. For starters personal attacks on Maulana and other opposition stalwarts should be avoided at all costs. This however is easier said than done.

Khan’s ‘chor chor’ (crooks and thieves) ad nuaseam narrative against the opposition has lost its efficacy. Law of diminishing returns has quite obviously set in.

There are enough ‘chors’ in the ruling alliance to deprive the prime minister of any moral high ground on this count. The only difference is that they are enjoying fruits of power while most ‘chors’ in the opposition are in the slammer

There are enough ‘chors’ in the ruling alliance to deprive the prime minister of any moral high ground on this count. The only difference is that they are enjoying fruits of power while most ‘chors’ in the opposition are in the slammer.

It takes two to tango. The opposition also has to lower its decibels while attacking the opposition. Nonetheless the ruling party has more to lose in a vitiated political atmosphere.

There was room for some optimism when the prime minister the other day instructed his parliamentary party to fully participate in the upcoming National Assembly session. He also vowed to take apart in the proceedings himself.

But it proved too good to be true. At the very start of the session on Thursday the government bulldozed eleven ordinances within half an hour without any discussion. The partisan deputy speaker Qasim Suri suspended the question hour in favour of a 25-point order of the day.

The opposition now wants the deputy speakers’ scalp. He is already under cloud with his seat restored by the apex court after he was disqualified by the ECP (election commission of Pakistan) on charges of massive rigging.

Similarly, the same day, the Upper House witnessed ugly scenes with some hot-blooded firebrand PTI stalwarts making personal attacks on PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

The government has reportedly agreed to form a judicial commission to probe alleged rigging in the 2018 elections. Similarly, it has been decided to revive the dormant parliamentary committee on electoral reforms.

In order not to have any truck with the opposition Khan has avoided consulting leader of the opposition Shehbaz Sharif for key constitutional appointments. A case in point is appointment of two ECP members.

The Islamabad High Court declaring these appointments null and void has already ordered the government to follow proper procedure by taking the matter to the parliament. Similarly, the same course will have to be adopted for appointment of the CEC (Chief Election Commissioner) in place of the incumbent Sardar Raza Khan who retires in couple of weeks.

So, while the opposition is baying for fresh elections the election commission is not really functional, soon to be without its head. An independent and empowered ECP is axiomatic for holding fair and free elections.

Interestingly no party wants to have elections under the supervision of the military apart from it performing normal maintenance of law and order functions. This is a far cry from the days when the Army was seen as the sole guarantor of fair and free elections.

As the spokesman of the military has correctly pointed out that the Army is only at the beck and call of the elected government even during elections. This is how it should be.

But a perception has developed that, as a prelude to 2018 elections there was massive pre-election manipulation. A concerted effort was made to force, through intimidation and arm-twisting, the so-called electables to join the future King’s party- the PTI.

Unfortunately, perceptions not corrected in real time become an unpalatable reality. This is exactly what has happened in this case as well.

Another bone of contention between the government and the opposition is the pervasive role of NAB (National Accountability Bureau) in muddying the waters. Despite protestations to the contrary it is seen more as an instrument of settling political scores and victimisation rather than across the board accountability, pure and simple.

Efforts to make it merely (opposition) politicians specific and not to touch businessmen and bureaucrats have miserably failed. Resultantly the economy is at a standstill and the bureaucracy is on a virtual pen down strike.

The army chief and the prime minister a few weeks back had invited captains of business and industry to hear their grievances. Predictably their major grouse was constant meddling of the NAB itself.

As the immediate result of these meetings, it was decided to form a committee comprising mostly of presidents of different chambers of commerce, captains of industry and a banker. The proposed committee was to be headed by deputy chairman of NAB to oversee cases pertaining to businessmen. But the very next day the committee was notified one of the prominent members heading a big business group; NAB launched an inquiry against him.

It is obvious that NAB has overcomplicated the so-called accountability process to the extent that unless this body is drastically reformed nothing will move on the political front. Nor the economy can be fully revived in this kind of scare scenario.

Maulana has demanded withdrawal of the reference- largely perceived as politically motivated- against an independent and fearless apex court judge Qazi Faez Isa in the Supreme Judicial Council. The sooner the government relents on this count the better.

Now it has become amply clear that gravely ill PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif is all set to go abroad for badly needed medical treatment. The younger Sharif has already applied for removal of his brother’s name from the ECL (exit control list) enabling him to travel abroad.

The prime minister quite contrary to his past stance has shown the much-needed grace to fast track his nemesis’s departure. This is welcome. But if the government is really sincere in engaging the opposition, this and other CBMs are need of the hour.