The ‘Third-party’ experiment in murky waters

The experiment with PTI, the third party, may be in jeopardy as the government fails to fulfill all of its promises. PML-N and PPP may have proven to be stronger opposition than PTI had imagined

of pml-n

In the 73 years of the political history of Pakistan, the civilians ruled for 40 years and the military for 33 years. While Field Marshal Ayub Khan, Gen Zia Haq, and Gen Musharraf ruled for over 10, 11, and 9 years respectively, no civilian ruler completed his/her 5-year tenure. Prolonged military rules made the senior army officers affluent and they made a place in the privileged club.

Frequent military interventions bred civil-military tensions and both sides blamed each other for failing to make Pakistan a prosperous country. While the politicians term the military rulers as power-hungry dictators and anti-democratic and hold them responsible for not letting the democracy to grow, the army generals perceive the politicians as a corrupt, security risk, and inept having no sense of governance and management.

The three military rulers uplifted the GDP to above 7% due to continuity, one window operation, superior management, and governance, but were unable to widen the base of education, improve literacy rate, reform the state institutions and establish true democracy. The politicians neither paid any attention to the education, nor reformed the institutions, or improved the tainted political culture. They were satisfied with the British inherited systems and were content in running sham democracy since it enabled them to break or bend laws and indulge in corrupt practices without any check and balance. The bureaucrats who are the real power wielders and the judiciary played their part in keeping politics in choppy waters.

Leadership crisis encouraged India and Afghanistan to exploit Pakistan

The three-tiered education system, feudalism, religious divides, secular-Islamic divide, the rise of ethnicity, and mushroom growth of provincial parties obstructed nationalism and integration of the society. The Leadership crisis encouraged India and Afghanistan to exploit these fault lines, fuel regionalism, and make use of 5th columnists to disturb law and order or to foment insurgency.

As a consequence, the country kept lurching from one crisis to another and never got politically stabilized, and economically sound.

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Unstable political and economic conditions, the craze for materialism among the elites, ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor, insensitivity of the selfish affluent class towards the deprived class, media emerging as the 4th pillar of the state but using its power wrongfully, all these factors deflected the nation away from the golden principles of Islam and pushed the society towards the satanic path, which degenerated the moral turpitude of the society as a whole. Well-knowing that the hand of the law will not touch them because of their influence and power of money, politicized police and bureaucracy, and highly defective criminal judicial system, the evildoers commit all sorts of sins and heinous crimes without any fear.

Irrespective of internal weaknesses and tense external environments, fighting three wars with India and losing the eastern limb, Pakistan’s Rupee value, its GDP, per capita income, and overall economy were much stronger than the regional countries till 1990. Starting from 1953, Pakistan extended financial support to Saudi Arabia till the mid-1970s.

The rot of the country started in the third democratic era

The rot started during the third democratic era of the 1990s during which the two competing mainstream parties, PPP and PML-N, indulged in a fierce tug of war, nepotism, and corrupt practices.

Merit was set aside and loyalty to the ruling party head and not honesty and professional competence became the criteria for selection of senior bureaucrats, police officers, judges, and bank managers. The same criteria were applicable for the cabinet ministers and advisers as well as the service chiefs. In a decade, all state institutions were politicized and destroyed. Gen Zia’s hammer in the form of Article 58 2 (b) was liberally used by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan to pack up three governments prematurely on charges of corruption. President Leghari used this ax once in 1996.

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Since then, Pakistan’s economy has remained in the doldrums and at the mercy of the IMF and the World Bank. After a good start by the military regime of Gen Musharraf, it lost its shine once it chose to co-opt King’s Party, which was an amalgam of turncoats from all parties.

Emphasis was on corruption but the ax of accountability fell upon the opponents of the regime. Kashmir’s cause was given a setback. National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), which brought back, Benazir Bhutto (BB), Nawaz Sharif (NS), and Zardari from abroad were the gifts of Musharraf. Whatever little improvements he made in the economy were washed down the drain during the 4th democratic era starting in 2008.

Instead of paying attention to institution building, the focus shifted on making compromises both internally and externally. Governed by the dictates of the Charter of Democracy signed by NS and BB in May 2006, both PPP and PML-N during their respective five years tenures kept accountability on the lowest priority.

The emphasis of the two was on keeping the USA and India appeased even at the cost of compromising national interests. Both tried to undermine the Army in order to establish civilian supremacy. Lip service was paid to the Kashmir cause and no heed was paid to the degeneration of morals and human values.

Comparing the two, the performance of PML-N was much better. NS could have completed his tenure as PM and his party could have won again in 2018 had he abstained from his old habit of locking horns with the army chiefs. The trial of Gen Musharraf and his indictment on charges of high treason, coupled with the Dawn leaks scandal cooked his goose.

It is said that when the two-party system failed to deliver and Pakistan began to sink under the massive weight of foreign debts and faltering economy due to declining morality, ever-growing corruption, and other malpractices and lack of governance, the Establishment decided to bring forward a new party with better credentials.

To this end, PTI under Imran Khan (IK) who had a clean record was earmarked, which had taken advantage of the deplorable rule of PPP under Zardari and emerged as a strong third force in late 2011. Elimination of corruption and justice for all were the slogans chanted by charismatic IK which made him popular.

His party, however, failed to defeat the PML-N in the 2013 elections since go-getter Shahbaz Sharif as CM Punjab had performed well and his party was well entrenched in Punjab which makes or breaks governments. Instead of reconciling with his defeat and concentrating on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where his party had formed a government and preparing for the next elections, IK decided to oust PML-N which had gained a two-third majority and had formed governments in Punjab and in Baluchistan.

The reason behind his impatience was that the ruling party had begun to deliver and the CPEC agreement had become a reality. Letting PML-N complete its tenure would have made its re-election inevitable. A plan was chalked out by him, Tahirul Qadri (TuQ), Pervez Ellahi, and Sheikh Rashid at London to stage a sustained sit-in at Islamabad in July 2014 under the premise of massive rigging in elections.

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The death of 14 supporters of TuQ in the Model Town Lahore incident in June that year at the hands of the police energized firebrand TuQ to censure Punjab administration and police, register FIRs, and gain the sympathies of the people. It fueled the PTI-PAT protestors to undertake a road journey from Lahore to Islamabad and stage a dharna at D Chowk. The reluctance of the government to open four constituencies in Lahore district for recounting of votes became the rallying point for the protestors to demand the resignation of NS and to hold mid-term elections.

Panama case undid PMLN government

To maximize pressure on the government, various tactics were employed, which included attacks on the Parliament, PM Secretariat, and PTV, followed by refusing to pay taxes, resignation by all MNAs of PTI, and vicious propaganda war through electronic and social media to degrade the Sharif brothers. NS was demonized as the most corrupt man and IK glamorized as the best man. During the six months sit-in, every night the PTI members and supporters danced and sang on the beat of music arranged by DJ, and the PTI leaders hurled threats and insults on NS and his family.

The jollification was abruptly called off after the tragedy in APS Peshawar on December 16, 2014, but the tirade continued relentlessly in the public meetings staged in big cities. Fan-following of IK surged and the tussle between followers of PTI named as ‘Youthias’ and of PML-N as ‘Patwaris’ peaked on social media.

Panama case in April 2017 came as a blessing in disguise for the PTI which was fully exploited to boot out NS. Media hype was created despite the fact that in the list of 450 account holders in the Panama offshore companies, NS name was not there.

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The seven-member Supreme Court bench under chief justice Saqib Nisar took assistance from the specially formed JIT to probe the accusations of corruption and money laundering. In spite of the 10-volume probe made by the JIT, the court found no trace of corruption but disqualified NS on charges of holding an Iqama for getting employed in Al-Azizia steel mills at Dubai owned by his son and drawing a salary from him during his period of exile. He didn’t mention it in his 2013 tax return since he had not drawn any salary.

PML-N suffered series of reverses which included the disqualification of three-time elected NS in July 2017 for not being Sadiq and Ameen, a time-bound trial of NS and his children by NAB court-supervised by a judge of the supreme court, toppling of the PML-(N)-NP coalition government in Baluchistan led by Sanaullah Zehri in January 2018, followed by PML-N losing the sure seats of Senate Chairman and Deputy Chairman.

Just before the general elections in July 2018, NS was absolved in one case but convicted in the second case and awarded 7 years jail sentence. His daughter Maryam and son-in-law Capt Safdar were also jailed. Cases were registered by the law courts against senior PML-N leaders. Under the circumstances, the victory of PTI in the July 2018 elections was a foregone conclusion.

PTI senior member Jahangir Tareen (JT) aspiring to become CM Punjab played a key role in inducing sizeable numbers of the electable turncoats from the PPP and PML-N and independents, mostly from South Punjab, to PTI. He was the chief organizer, financier and right-hand man of IK.

It is said that TLP, GDA, and BAP were created to split votes of PML-N. However, despite the gerrymandering, PTI won with a thin margin in the Centre and in Punjab and perforce had to seek an alliance with PML-Q, MQM-P, and BNP-M whom IK had always censured.

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Punjab was handed to unknown and unassuming Usman Buzdar due to disqualification of JT by the count on charges of possessing a mansion abroad and holding an account in an offshore company which he didn’t declare. The allies and the electives from other parties as well as imported technocrats have created hurdles in the way of reforming the state institutions and carrying out across the board accountability, and in building New Pakistan.

NS in the meanwhile managed to procure bail and get admitted to a hospital at Lahore for medical treatment. Later on, he was permitted by the court to go abroad in November 2019 on account of his deteriorating health condition and to return after six weeks once his health improved.

On December 17, 2019, Gen Musharraf in exile in Dubai was given a death sentence by Islamabad High Court (IHC). The eruption of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 kept the government in a spin and NS was forgotten.

On 01 September 2020, the court hearing the Toshakhana case asked NS to return home in the next ten days, or else he will be declared an absconder. He has now been summoned by IHC in Avenfield and Al-Azizia cases on 22 September. Both the Federal and Punjab governments as well as the NAB are making hectic efforts to get him back but NS is not likely to return soon as long as the doctors treating him do not clear him. NS and Maryam’s indulgence in politics is the reason behind the pressure.

PMLN remained intact despite PTI’s assumptions

It was optimistically assumed by PTI leaders that after the victory, over 70 legislators of PML-N would jump the ship and join the ruling party, as had been the practice before. PTI leadership was confident that not only they would muster enough political strength in Punjab to get rid of blackmailing allies, but would also win local bodies elections comfortably.

This assumption proved fallacious, as was the case with several other rosy assumptions. In spite of the relentless propaganda against the Sharif’s and their families and the witch-hunt of PML-N leaders by the NAB, the party remains intact and has not lost its vote bank in Punjab; the two brothers are still popular.

It is speculated that in order to meet the threat posed by NS and Maryam, not only NAB has been further pumped up, the new CCPO Umar Sheikh has been inducted in the main political battleground of Lahore to do what other police officers couldn’t do. His services are needed so urgently that his blemished service record was ignored. So much so that instead of accepting the request of the IG Punjab Shuaib Dastagir to post out Umar Sheikh, he was removed from his post and new IG Inam Ghani inducted.

The fort of PML-N uncracked

The reason why the fort of PML-N couldn’t be cracked is that so far the PTI hasn’t lived up to its promises and has fallen much short of the high expectations of the people. None of the rosy promises have been fulfilled.

Instead of improvement, their lives have become more depressed due to high inflation, red-tapism, feudalism, nepotism, and other malpractices that were committed in Old Pakistan. Governance and financial management are low averages due to which prices of basic necessities and unemployment have surged.

The rulers are committing the same mistakes and wrongs for which the predecessors were censured. Instead of correcting their shortcomings, they are continuing to blame the former two regimes for their weak performance. Or the danger of the 5th generation war is brandished.

Neither the country has been made free of corruption within months as was claimed, nor the wrong practices of public office holders checkmated, or the economic health of the country improved, or a fair and transparent judicial system established. Instead of reducing the debt burden, it has been increased. Against Rs. 29000 billion debt accumulated in 70 years, Rs. 14500 billion has been added in just two years.

PML-N, PPP, MQM have not been held accountable

Above all, the much-trumpeted accountability has become selective and controversial. No accused has been convicted and punished in the last two years. NS is sitting abroad, Zardari is getting bail after bail, and so are other high prized accused.

No serial target killer belonging to MQM and PPP has been taken to task. No Mafia has been netted. Terrorists caught inside the battle zones have been released and so is the case with several terrorists awarded death sentence by the military courts.

The release of murderer MPA Achakzai in Quetta by the court on account of lack of evidence has disappointed the people. The call for removing the controversial CCPO Lahore on account of his irresponsible statement to the press about the gang-rape victim on the motorway is getting louder.

And so is the call for public hanging or castration of the two rapists as suggested by the PM. Khurram, husband of PTI MPA Abida Raja severely bashed additional session judge Malik Jahangir at a petrol pump in Islamabad.

The former is in the lock-up and the latter removed from his seat by Isbd High Court. Street crimes, rapes, and robberies have increased and law and order are deteriorating mainly due to defects in the investigation, prosecution and criminal justice system.

Voters of PML-N believe that Nawaz Sharif was wronged

Secondly, the PML-N voters are convinced that NS was wronged by the judiciary and that IK was empowered by the Establishment.

They feel that irrespective of his fault lines, he was making good progress to make Pakistan economically strong and their living condition was much better during his tenure. Naya Pakistan is becoming a nightmare for them.

NS has upheld his view that his removal was part of an effort to undermine democracy and civilian supremacy. The dismal performance of the PTI in its two-year tenure and the growing frustration of the people have encouraged NS, Maryam, and other senior PML-N leaders to deride the ruling party and seek in-house change or mid-term elections.

The PTI has not been able to make any headway because the politicized and corrupted institutions, particularly the judiciary, bureaucrats, and the police have not been reformed. The flawed electoral system elects the same lot of vultures again and again, but no effort has been made to restructure it and improve the political culture. Without reformation no breakthrough is possible.

The large numbers of legislators and senators drawing handsome salaries and plentiful perks and privileges are a huge drain on the national kitty since they remain disconnected from the people who elected them and are more of liabilities than of any use. Imported economic wizards tutored by the IMF/WB have failed to draw a sound economic roadmap to steer the country out of the choppy waters.

Apart from the socio-economic challenges, failure to provide respite to the marooned Kashmiris in occupied Kashmir locked down since August 5 last year and trampled and molested by 900,000 Indian forces is a cause of embarrassment for the government.

Imran Khan has support of the military? 

IK is undoubtedly honest and earnestly wants the country to progress. He has the requisite leadership qualities as well as drive and initiative and has the big advantage of the unflinching support of the military, president, and the judiciary. However, to what good is his honesty and backup support if he has selected a poor team and sticking with it despite knowing that most have skeletons in their cupboards and are letting him down?

Usman Buzdar is not changed on the premise that he is simple and honest, but he is a flop and a cause of discomfiture for IK. Political expediency is coming in his way to pick the right men for the right jobs.

Art is long and time is running out. While the political parties in opposition pose no threat to him, what should worry him is the growing frustration and resentment of the people. His own party members and fans are getting disillusioned and are expressing dissatisfaction. People are questioning how Pakistan will be converted into Riyasat-e-Madina when all our systems are western, and so is the way of living of the elite class? Or it is rhetoric and akin to Bhutto’s concept of Islamic socialism?

Marginal improvements in macro-economic indicators have brought no succor to the people. Unless IK reins in the Mafias, makes the accountability effective, fair and transparent, ends nepotism and restores the merit system, implements austerity, brings down the prices of fuel, gas, and daily commodities, provide health facilities, cheap and quality education, social services, jobs, homes to the shelter-less, provides security to the people and delivers justice at the doorsteps, his shrinking popularity graph will dwindle further. All this will be possible only when the alien systems are replaced with Islamic laws.

The far-right is upset about punishments to Hafiz Saeed 

Additionally, a way out will have to be found to unlock over 8 million Kashmiris, get the original status of J&K restored, and put an end to the reign of terror launched by Indian forces. Pressure must be maximized upon the UN and the world community to settle the oldest dispute of Kashmir in accordance with the UN resolutions. However, the diplomatic offensive alone will not fetch any results.

The Far Right in Pakistan is incensed over punishments awarded to Hafiz Saeed and other Jamaatud Dawa leaders on account of fear of getting blacklisted by FATF. They say that neither the Mujahids are allowed to help the Kashmiris in distress nor the government is taking any physical action to put fear into the hearts of the Indian brutes brutalizing Kashmiris.

The lingering Kashmir dispute is the root cause of the growth of religious extremism. Pacifism in the face of offensive activism will not work. One-side appeasement, moderation in war, diplomatic juggling or peace mantra are self-defeating.

It will be imprudent to rely on the UN or the dual-faced USA for a solution. We regret the lost opportunities, but the fleeting opportunity is once again knocking at our door which may not be there tomorrow. Bold stances of the Taliban, China, and Iran are recent examples of how to deal with cunning and arrogant enemies.

The writer is a retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defense & security analyst, international analyst, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, member CWC PESS and Veterans Think Tank, Member Council TJP. asifharoonraja@gmail.com        

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