A change in the offing - Pakistan Today

A change in the offing

  • Or a storm in a teacup?

The knives are out for PML-N president (Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz) and leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif as a concerted media trial against has been ramped up with a new vigour.

According to Shahzad Akbar, special assistant to the prime minister on accountability, Sharif and his sons are guilty of mega corruption worth billions of rupees. As per yet to be substantiated multifarious claims, the former chief minister’s wealth exponentially went up a whopping 70 per cent in the past decade.

For services rendered, Mr. Akbar- a relatively undistinguished lawyer- has also been appointed the super boss of the FIA (federal investigation agency) as a minister of state.

Right now the government is in no mood to molly cuddle the opposition. On the contrary it is bent upon using the state’s dirty tricks department to the hilt.

It is obvious that in days to come the opposition will have to face the twin wrath of a hyperactive NAB (National Accountability Bureau) and a rejuvenated FIA. The wings of the incumbent interior minister Ijaz Shah have been somewhat clipped in the process.

Shah, a retired brigadier and close buddy of former strongman general (Retd) Pervez Musharraf, was reportedly inducted in the federal cabinet on the express recommendation of the COAS. Whether Akbar’s fresh induction in the interior ministry had a nod from General Bajwa is not known.

Despite the bravado expressed and tall claims of Khan and his cohorts, not a penny (of the looted billions) has been so far recovered either from the younger Sharif and his family or from the Bhutto Zardari clan. Meanwhile a pervasive sense of desperation seems to be setting in amongst the corridors of power.

It is indeed ironical that on the one hand a planned media trial against the alleged corruption of the opposition leadership is in full swing. But on the other, Akbar and his bosses are quite tight-lipped about the antecedents of the £190 million deal brokered between a property tycoon and UK‘s National Crime Agency.

Nonetheless the question remains that at a time when the government badly needs cooperation with the opposition to pass important legislation in the parliament why raise the ante? There has to be a method in this madness.

Khan seems quite miffed, perhaps believing that the PML-N supremo Mian Nawaz Sharif escaped the gauntlet by duping him about his critical health. An ostensibly ailing Sharif walking, rather than being carried on a stretcher and raising his two finger while embarking a special plane provided by his Qatari friends was not a pretty sight for the PTI chief. Despite his numerous U-turns, his perennial plank: ‘mein in choron ko nahin chorun ga’ (I will not spare these thieves) has gone haywire.

Notwithstanding the elder Sharif‘s serious health issues, with a little help from his younger sibling, he managed to get away under the very nose of the prime minster.

The hawkish prodigal daughter Maryam Nawaz has become a born again dove. The hullabaloo in the media that uncle and niece duo are not on the same page has become a thing of the past. Now dear uncle is back in the saddle calling the shots with the express approval of his elder brother.

Maryam is meticulously keeping out of politics for the time being. She is not engaging in any kind of political activity whatsoever. She does not meet her party stalwarts, neither tweets, nor uses a cell phone.

All this is giving jitters to Khan and his inner circle. What is going on? Surely there must be a hidden hand that facilitated this mini deal with or without the express knowledge of the prime minister.

Suddenly the younger Sharif has started talking about an imminent ‘in- house’ change within months; supplanted by the PPP leadership as well. The name of foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is being touted as an acceptable alternative prime minister.

For the time being this kind of talk can be dismissed as being in the domain of conjecturing and pure speculation. However, slowly but surely, political sands are shifting much to the obvious discomfiture of Khan.

Despite having a thin majority in the National Assembly and none in the Upper House, the PTI in its hallmark impervious style has been simply unable to manage its coalition partners. In the process they have managed to annoy the Chaudharies of Gujrat, the MQM (Muttahida Qaumi Movement) and even BNP-M (Balochistan National Party-Mengal group).

Now when the chips are down, these parties want their proverbial pound of flesh. Pervez Elahi while glibly claiming that he will continue support the PTI government wants development funds for his party PML-Q legislators (Pakistan Muslim League Quaid e Azam group) just like the rest of the ruling party’s coalition partners. As per a written agreement his son Moonis Elahi has to be inducted in the federal cabinet.

Significantly the question of COAS‘s (Chief of Army Staff) extension beyond the six months granted on the orders of the apex court hangs in the balance, that if further mishandled can become problematic. Whether as an act of parliament or as a constitutional amendment it should be passed by consensus.

Right now the government is in no mood to molly cuddle the opposition. On the contrary it is bent upon using the state’s dirty tricks department to the hilt.

Contrarily with a little help from the powers that be- at least theoretically speaking- the PTI government can lose its shirt at the federal level as well as Punjab. The glue that is holding the ruling coalition together is the ubiquitous establishment.

Shahbaz Sharif is no longer the pariah he was a few months ago. He managed to keep his erstwhile hawkish brother and niece ominously quiet.

This is the feat that was required from him. And he has delivered.

The opposition touting Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s name as a consensus candidate possibly to replace Khan is also quite revealing. The Shah of Multan- also known as SMQ- is highly ambitious but not a narcissist a la his boss.

He started   his career in mainstream politics, as finance minister Punjab in the early nineties under Sharif who became chief minister. SMQ worked with Benazir Bhutto Shaheed who nominated him as the party’s candidate for prime minister in the 2002 National Assembly.

Later he served as foreign minister in Yousaf Raza Gilani’s cabinet. He is unhappy that he was deprived of his coveted spot as chief minister Punjab by design. In this sense he is an acceptable face.

Khan instead of playing footsie with the opposition should get his act together and bring them on board. Pakistan needs a bout of consensus politics rather than ego driven toxic divisiveness.

He should know that when the chips fall, they fall like ninepins. They did for Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and later for Nawaz Sharif.

It is high time he leashed the multifarious attack dogs on his team and seriously starts governing rather than chasing mirages. He should be warned that vultures are already hovering around to devour the carcass of a divisive PTI.