Asif Haroon Raja |
Panama case dented Pakistan’s progress
Pakistan had begun to get stronger at the start of 2016 after tidying over energy crisis, economic crisis, and existential threat of terrorism. Target killings, kidnapping for ransom and extortion in Karachi had almost ended. Up swinging of macroeconomic indicators together with the launching of $46 billion worth CPEC opened up broad vistas for economic progress and prosperity. The dream of making Pakistan an Asian Tiger looked real.
NS had to spend the night at Punjab House Rawalpindi from where he had started in the morning and recommenced his journey next morning
Amid the happy tiding, Panama scandal cropped up from out of the blue which gave a chance to the political rivals of PML-N to block and pull down the rising graph of affluence. From April 2016 onwards, the PTI assisted by electronic and social media riveted the nation towards Panama issue alone. Removal of Nawaz Sharif (NS) from the power which Imran Khan (IK) relentlessly pursued since June 2013 became his goal. This ambition bred negativism, intolerance, hatred, and dissipation of morality.
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The culture of allegations, abuses, slander became a norm because of which social and human values dipped low. NS was presented as the most corrupt man this country had ever seen and responsible for the afflictions of Pakistan.
For an unknown reason, the apex court hearing the high profile case gave suggestive and loaded statements, thereby providing fodder to the media to indulge in sensationalism. It made no effort to curb media war by both sides. Notwithstanding the outright negativity of PTI and rating hungry media, the ruling regime kept its focus on development, while the security forces kept fighting the foreign paid proxies.
Impact of Supreme Court decision
The decision of 5-member Supreme Court Bench (SCB) on July 28 against NS made his opponents particularly IK led PTI euphoric but shocked the ruling PML-N and its allies.
TuQ announced that he will reinvigorate the July 2014 Model Town case in which 14 workers of PAT were killed during a clash with the police
The PTI didn’t bother about the political vacuum that occurred and its hazardous repercussions but rejoiced over the thought that victory was within its grasping reach. It’s optimism rested on the assumption that the PML-N fort would crack up and at least 50 MNAs would join PTI or PML-Q.
Read more: Nawaz Sharif’s GT Road Yatra and his confrontational politics
The lot of work had been done in this regard and it was expected that old PML-Q lawmakers who had reverted to mother party and some others would join the celebrations of PTI on July 30. These defections in their view would make it impossible for the PML-N legislators and their allies to win a simple majority of 172 seats for the next PM and thus pave the way for early elections.
Apparently, the wind started to blow entirely in favor of rivals of NS after his disqualification from holding public office for life. The PML-N seemed to be on a downhill journey as a national party with no hope of recovery. For them, NS and his family had become history and there was nothing stopping PTI from gaining power. It was shortsightedness and wishful thinking and nothing else.
Political vacuum bridged
So far nothing of the sort has happened as assumed by foes of NS. The defendants of the Panama scandal case and the ruling regime accepted the Supreme Court (SC) decision but didn’t agree with it and decided to opt for review petition and to take the case to the people.
Read more: Of sit-ins and rallies: the politics on the roads
On 01 August, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was elected new PM securing 221 votes. Allied parties NP, PkMAP, JUI-F, and MQM (Pakistan) voted for Khaqan. The opposition couldn’t put up a consensus candidate because of which their votes splintered. PPP candidate won 46 votes, PTI’s candidate Sheikh Rashid 33 votes and Jamaat Islami candidate 4 votes.
IK is faced with court cases ranging from his party’s foreign funding to purchase and sale of his flat in London and purchase of huge land in Banigala
Soon after, a new 43-member cabinet was sworn in and the political void was filled. The slot of Foreign Minister lying vacant for 4 years was also filled by Asif Khawaja, while Ishaq Dar and Saad Rafique retook their old ministries of Finance and Railways.
Ahsan Iqbal and Khurram Dastagir took over Interior and Defence Ministries respectively. It has now been decided that Khaqan will continue to perform as PM till next elections in May 2018, while Shahbaz Sharif (SS) tipped as his relief will stay put as CM Punjab. SS will also take over as president of PML-N after vacation of the seat by NS.
Read more: Mission GT road
No dent in NS popularity
What is most bewildering for many is that NS has not lost his old gloss and popularity within the party parliamentarians and among the voters of PML-N. After his disqualification, the parliamentary party meeting on Jul 29, 2017, reposed full confidence in NS leadership and with one voice termed the July 28 verdict as a judicial oversight, and vowed to support him.
Huge preparations were made and security arrangements tied up. PM Khaqan and PML-N lawmakers hugged him and saw him off at Punjab House at 1130 hours while many accompanied him
He named the new interim PM and the future PM and also approved the names of new cabinet members. A glimpse of his popularity among the people was seen on his two-way journey to Murree and back to Punjab House and now it is being further echoed by the human sea of his fans moving with his convoy to Lahore.
Game changing road journey
NS changed his initial decision to proceed to his hometown Lahore on August 6 via Motorway and has embarked on a 400 km road journey along GT Road on August 9 which will pass through PML-N’s 14 constituencies and at each constituency NS will be welcomed by slogan-chanting and flag-waving Leaguers. He will terminate his journey at Data Durbar Lahore by next Friday.
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Huge preparations were made and security arrangements tied up. PM Khaqan and PML-N lawmakers hugged him and saw him off at Punjab House at 1130 hours while many accompanied him. His fans emotionally kissed his vehicle and showered rose petals.
A container equipped with resting facilities accompanied NS and catered for the night-stay facility at one-two cities. Senior hawkish leaders of PML-N have started to heat up the political temperature to trigger sympathy wave for NS. The epic road caravan may prove to be a game changer.
Anxieties of foes of NS
Alarmed and flabbergasted by the sudden change of tide, the PTI leaders are making hue and cry as to how come a disqualified PM on whom references have been filed in the trial court can take part in politics. They demanded that he and his family members should be put on exit control list.
A case was moved to the SC on August 7 requesting it to disallow NS from undertaking the road move. The petitioner took the plea that the move is intended to discredit the judiciary. Impressed by the turnout of PML-N workers and fans, the SC turned down the petitions.
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Woes of IK
IK is faced with court cases ranging from his party’s foreign funding to purchase and sale of his flat in London and purchase of huge land in Banigala in Islamabad over which he built a palatial house and his luxurious lifestyle without any source of income. He is at risk of being disqualified. Bounce-back by PML-N has distressed him.
Apparently, the wind started to blow entirely in favor of rivals of NS after his disqualification from holding public office for life
As if these worries were not enough, his party’s MNA Gulalai from Waziristan leveled accusations against IK and called him characterless on account of sending her erotic messages on his mobile phone. She stated that scruples of women parliamentarians and workers in PTI are unsafe. She also accused PTI Ministry in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) of being involved in corruption.
It created an uproar and put IK on the defensive. PTI women parliamentarians feeling sheepish are in the ugly mood and are berating well-educated and bold Gulalai who is eloquently and forcefully putting forward her grievances. She has left her party but much to the chagrin of PTI, she refuses to vacate her seat. A parliamentary committee has been formed to probe the truth, but IK is reluctant to appear before it.
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Efforts to scare NS
To frighten NS, PTI recalled PAT leader Tahirul Haq Qadri (TuQ) based in Canada. Opportunist TuQ with dubious track record seized the opportunity and suddenly landed at Lahore on August 8 and held a public meeting at Nasir Bagh which was attended by PTI leaders and Sheikh Rashid. TuQ announced that he will reinvigorate the July 2014 Model Town case in which 14 workers of PAT were killed during a clash with the police.
After the fall of NS, TuQ hopes to get SS and Rana Sanaullah disqualified through apex court/JIT and then demolish the PML-N Punjab fort. He exhorted his followers to be prepared to stage a decisive sit-in in case blood money was not paid to the families of 14 victims.
Up swinging of macroeconomic indicators together with the launching of $46 billion worth CPEC opened up broad vistas for economic progress and prosperity
Propaganda machinery of PTI has been geared up to further heap abuses on the cast-off NS and IK has decided to hold a public meeting on 13th to water down the impact of NS road move. Punjab PPP leaders are also shamefacedly trying to undermine the strength of supporters of NS who have come from far distances in large numbers. ARY TV and some other channels, as usual, are giving false coverage.
Read more: Rally fails to rally behind support on day 2
There was such a heavy rush of people that the huge caravan of vehicles and walkers could not get past the Murree Road until late night. NS had to spend the night at Punjab House Rawalpindi from where he had started in the morning and recommenced his journey next morning.
He received rousing reception at each city he crossed, addressed the people at Sohawa and next spoke at Jhelum at 5.30 pm. The people everywhere expressed their dissatisfaction with the court’s decision. The cavalcade is expected to magnify manifold once it crosses Gujranwala.
Asif Haroon Raja is a retired Brig Gen, a war veteran, defense and security analyst, author of five books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre. Takes part in TV talk shows, delivers talks and take part in seminars. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.