Season of arrests

The PTI is no longer a beneficiary of the State’s favour

Political turmoil is reaching a crescendo. The Pakistan Tehrik Insaf (PTI) is yelling and screaming for finding the date of early general elections. To achieve this end, the party is ready to cross all red lines.

On January 25, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry was arrested for threatening members of Pakistan’s Election Commission and their families with dire consequences. Though he issued the threat conditionally with the utterance of “if”, the threat was there to annoy the recipients. Chaudhry has been served with charges of sedition.

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The deeper malaise is that the PTI, which was a beneficiary of the bias of the State institutions, now considers that it is a victim of the same partiality. The PTI seems to have been sucked in by the bias catch. The PTI assumes that the State’s institutions, which were pro-PTI in the past, have turned against the party. Under the spell of this assumption, the PTI is out to oppose every institution which it suspects to have been working against it. The list is getting longer and longer.

Post-2017 politics is the politics of turmoil. The fallacious desire of the Army to manipulate the political chessboard to its benefit has impaired both society and politics. Society has got divided, while politics has got ruined. Perhaps, this time, society is reacting more than politics to the perpetrators of turmoil. The way Gen (retd) Qamar Javed Bajwa was trolled on social media is indicative of the fact that the compulsory relationship between the Army and society stands fractured. Emotive rhymes and songs to infuse nationalistic spirit in the heeding youth have foundered on the touchstone of reality: the Army plays with sentiments of the masses.

Just to rectify the foregoing statement, in addition to society and politics, one can include the economy, the third area that has got damaged. This time the harm is to the infuriation of the Army. It is heard that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has refused to be flexible on its conditions, which would coerce Pakistan into reducing its non-developmental expenditures including the budgetary allocation earmarked for the Army. For instance, pensions of retired Army personnel (both officers and soldiers) should be paid from the defence expenditures and not from the civilian pension pool.

It is apparent that the IMF is demanding reforms imposed from inside. In case of declaring economic default, the IMF would foist reforms from outside, as the IMF bailout has done to Sri Lanka by necessarily forcing the country to reduce its Army by a half. The downsizing is taking place gradually to be completed by 2030.

Pakistan is refusing to learn the realities of the present age. Pakistan has to reduce non-developmental expenditures of all sorts to meet the developmental needs of its growing population. Pakistan needs investment in the development of infrastructure, besides promotion of education and provision of health services. At the same time, Pakistan has to control its population as well. For that, Pakistan has to soothe its religious schools which oppose family planning.

February may deepen the season of arrests just because the PTI is bound to question the intent and action of every State institution. The PTI has its own style of discrediting its supposed opponent. That is, by casting aspersions, flinging allegations and hurling threats. This is where the red line would be deemed to have been crossed.

The challenge before the incumbent government is that, in the recent past (say, after 2014), the way the Army’s intelligence agencies supported religious elements to choke the streets to embarrass or topple the civilian governments,and nw refuses to leave. Religious elements are now a palpable reality to stay for a long time.

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Any measure of family planning is bound to invite repercussions for the government which introduces it publicly. In other words, a gulf of mistrust between the ruling government (or between any ruling civilian government) and the Army exists. That is, any Army general can get involved in wearying a given civilian government by inciting religious elements against the family planning policies of the government. Whereas the Aeneral would go scot-free, the government would suffer. Pakistan has been caught in this dilemma.

The mistrust between civilians and the AQrmy pops up in several spheres. For instance, the existing dissonance between the PTI and the Election Commission can be fathomed in the context aired by the PTI that the Commission’s chairman was proposed by the Aarmy (read, General Bajwa), and that the Chairman must be acting at the behest of the Army. Hence, the primary conflict is between the PTI and the Army, whereas the Election Commission has been caught in the crossfire.

The Army did not spare any instance to reinforce the mistrust. For instance, the way (run by a major general) the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) sprang into expressing bias against Rana Sanaullah (who is now the Interior Minister) indicated the way institutions were working politically, beyond their constitutional mandate. In July 2019, the ANF claimed to have recovered 15 kg of heroin from Sanaullah’s vehicle. The punishment for the charges, if proven correct, was the death penalty or life imprisonment. Sanaullah was lucky to have escaped the attempt. Nevertheless, the attempt tarnished the image and credibility of the uniform running the ANF. In fact, it was a heinous crime committed by the ANF.

Nobody has held the ANF to account. Whereas the police are notorious for staging fake police encounters, the ANF has earned notoriety for registering fake drug smuggling cases. This is an example of how the State’s institutions lose credibility in the sight of the masses. At that time, the PTI was at the helm of affairs. The State’s institutions, including the ANF, tried to move events in the favour of the PTI.

Now, in 2023, the situation is different. This is why, owing to its past experience of enjoying the gains of bias, the PTI sees a hand of conspiracy in any act that militates against it. The PTI thinks that the State’s institutions cannot work as per the given constitutional mandate. Instead, they mould their mandate and work to appease the sitting government.

February may deepen the season of arrests just because the PTI is bound to question the intent and action of every State’s institution. The PTI has its own style of discrediting its supposed opponent. That is, by casting aspersions, flinging allegations and hurling threats. This is where the red line would be deemed to have been crossed.

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Dr Qaisar Rashid
Dr Qaisar Rashid
The writer is a freelance journalist and can be reached at [email protected]


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