All the King’s Men…

The talks are not just about elections, but obeying the Constitution


Though negotiations have started, positions do not seem to have changed. It is worth noting that the governing coalition is going through the motions because it does not want to offend the Supreme Court (well, at any rate more than it has done in Parliament), the PTII has no such inducement. Indeed, it could be argued that it has made the bigger sacrifice, giving up its stand that it would not even talk to ‘thieves and dacoits’, while the ‘thieves and dacoits’ of the PPP and the PML(N). The PTI has managed to preserve the purity of chairman Imran Khan, but not only is he closely supervising the negotiations, but he has had his Senior Vice-Chairman, Makhdoom Shah Mahmud Qureshi, talking to those who have hitherto been treated as a polluting presence.

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The PTI negotiators do not exactly come to the table without unchequered pasts. Makhdum Shah Mehmood himself started with the IJI/PML(N), and spent almost two decades in the PPP, before joining the PTI. Fawad Chaudhry has been with the PML(Q) and the PPP before getting into the PTI. Ali Zafar was a caretaker minister in 2018, when the PTI won the election. He then went into the PTI, and is the only one of the three not to have served in the PTI’s Cabinet.

The PTI has been instructed to break off the talks if the coalition does not agree to an immediate dissolution. This is not a formula for getting the other side to agree to anything more. The murmurings from Fawad Chaudhry of a new street agitation are also not going to bode well for the success of the talks. It is almost as if the PTI is negotiating with the belief that the talks will fail. Even if one side entertains such a belief, making it public by announcing one’s post-failure plan of action is a reasonably good way of ensuring that the talks will fail.

It is perhaps not clear why the PTI is talking. There is a strong suspicion that it is going along with what is a charade because it has been told to do so by those forces iit has been following ever since it was founded, and with which it has been on the same page for so long. The Supreme Court has not been as steely with it bon talks, to which there is more resistance from its supporters. While Imran is indeed disinclined to talk to opponents, having learnt as a sportsman that they have to be beaten in the field (much military men learn).

There has been a red flag raised about whether the present Imbroglio has been specifically created so that military rule can be imposed. Indeed, that was one of the points raised by the mother-in-law of the Chief Justice in her telephonic conversation with Mrs Rafia Tariq Rahim, wife of a legal practitioner presently associated with the PTI. She is supposed to have said regretfully that these ‘damned people’ did not impose martial law.

The unfortunate part is that the Constitution is not going to be obeyed. If there is an agreement, then the Supreme Court will be complicit in stepping beyond the 90-day limit for two provincial elections. If not, the Court will be disobeyed in the name of parliamentary supremacy.

The resemblance to 1977 cannot be mistaken. The Prime Minister had not been ousted then, as now. However, there was a clash on elections. In 1977, the opposition claimed they were rigged. In 2023, the ousted party wants them held. In 19777, government-opposition talks were held with much fanfare and raised great hopes. This time too, they have started.

Of apparently less importance, but perhaps of greater imponderability, is that the COAS in both instances has taken over the year before. Both Gen Ziaul Haq and Gen Asim Munir had parents belonging to Jullunder district. However, the parallel stops. Zia was himself a migrant, born in Jullunder, a commissioned officer at the time of Partition. Asim was born in Rawalpindi, long after his parents had migrated. There is the difference of caste. Zia was an Arain, Asim a Syed. There is one commonality; both were short-course graduates. Zia did attend the elite Indian Military Academy at Dehradun, but in a wartime short course, designed to meet the shortage of officers. Similarly, Asim attended the Officers Training School at Mangla, which had been set up in 1982 to meet a shortage of officers when the Army expanded after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. While belonging to different arms (Zia being from the Armoured Corps, and Asim from the infantry), the latter was commissioned into the Frontier Force Regiment, which is where Zia might have well gone if sent to the infantry, his family being domiciled in KP after Partition.

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One similarity with Zia is their religious bent. General Asim is actually a Hafiz-i-Quran, and not the more traditional one produced by a stint at a madressa, but a Hifz accomplished as an adult, which is much rarer, but not unknown, as a kind of religious duty. Hifz is not an accomplishment to be done and dusted, but implies a lifetime commitment, because if a Hafiz does not incorporate revision into his daily schedule, then he forgets.

Though Imran has no military connection, he is half-Jullunderi, his mother being from that district. Of the three, his connection is the most tenuous. Still, it is there, and his living at Zaman Park is evidence of this. It has not been inherited from his Niazi paternal side, but his maternal, and is in the midst of a nest of Jullunderi Pathans. The Zaman Khan after which the Park is named was Imran’s great-uncle on his mother’s side.

Perhaps most relevant is the fact that General Asim was commissioned when General Zia was

This has all created the suspicion that events are being taken to a direction which would lead to a takeover. Pakistan’s first coup took place after 11 years of civilian rule. The next coup, 11 years later, took place on military rule, and Pakistan seemed in danger of falling into the pattern made by Nigeria, where the principal method of changing the government was another coup. However, Pakistan had to split in 1971 before civilian rule was restored, and a coup came in 1977. Civilian rule was restored in 1985, but there was a coup in 1999, with elections held in 2008. It has now been 15 years since the last military intervention, meaning that while a coup could take place, it is hardly overdue.

It had been thought that Martial Law could now no longer be imposed because of the danger of a high treason trial. Though the last coup-maker, Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf, escaped being hanged, the fact that he was tried and sentenced, being acquitted only on appeal, it was an indication that any future coup-maker would not be able to escape. There is also the risk that juniors, down to the level of Junior Commissioned Officers, getting indicted, and having the defence of obeying orders rejected.

Another imponderable is the place Pakistan has in the US-China conflict. If US interests are to be advanced, then Pakistan must be broken away from China. That is easier said than done, and might be the only reason the USA would put its weight behind a coup. At the same time, one of the reasons behind the fall of the PTI is reputed to be its casual attitude towards the CPEC.

Once again, it seems, Pakistan’s domestic politics are being caught up in the geopolitics of the region. About half a century ago, the USA used a military regime in Pakistan to help its relations with China. Now, it wants Pakistan on its side in the developing conflict. However, Pakistan should remember that, on this chessboard, it remains a pawn for the USA, which has got India on its side to act as a knight or a rook.

Another problem for the negotiators is that the timing of the polls matters that much less with every passing day. The problem is that neither side can have what it wants without making major concessions. That neither is willing to do. Is apparent.

The unfortunate part is that the Constitution is not going to be obeyed. If there is an agreement, then the Supreme Court will be complicit in stepping beyond the 90-day limit for two provincial elections. If not, the Court will be disobeyed in the name of parliamentary supremacy.


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