Pakistan is currently facing a whirlwind of events, encompassing economic, political, constitutional, and security challenges, along with devastating natural disasters caused by monsoon rains in various parts of the country. However, amidst this chaos, the most significant and intriguing development is the recent meeting in Dubai involving Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Zardari, and Nawaz Sharif. This encounter marks their second gathering within a single month, indicating the immense political pressure they are under, despite having their loyalists controlling the nation’s major institutions. So, what exactly is the reason behind this apparent panic among the leaders of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)?
The PDM’s Panic
The PDM, a thirteen-party alliance formed to oppose Imran Khan, successfully tabled a no-confidence motion against the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government in April 2022, resulting in their removal from power. Consequently, the PDM gained control over key institutions, yet they still find themselves unable to effectively govern Pakistan. On the other hand, despite facing over 200 cases against him, Imran Khan, the ousted leader, not only bravely faces the prospect of imprisonment but also presents himself for accountability, a trait rarely found in political elites. Khan has meticulously addressed every allegation against him, ranging from Toshakhana and Al-Qadir Trust cases to corruption and terrorism charges. By remaining transparent and repeatedly articulating the truth to the public, Imran Khan stands as an exemplar of courage. The crux of the PDM’s panic lies in the fact that, even with control over institutions, they cannot control the truth.
The PDM’s Agendas: Elections and the Interim Government
The seasoned PDM leaders are well aware that Pakistan’s political landscape is ever-changing, as Imran Khan aptly put it, “it would not take long for them to shift from plan A to plan B.” The recent meeting between Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Zardari, and Nawaz Sharif centers around two main agendas: the upcoming general elections and the interim government. The five-year tenure of Pakistan’s National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, is set to expire on August 12 at midnight. According to Pakistan’s constitution, elections should be held within 60 days if the assemblies complete their tenure, or within 90 days if dissolved before their term expires. Sharif has already announced his government’s early departure to pave the way for a caretaker setup.
However, it is evident that the PDM is reluctant to hold elections, and their anxiety has led them to consider extreme measures to evade this democratic process. They seem determined to shun any norms, laws, or constitutional obligations to escape the election altogether. Yet, what remains essential is that the PDM’s masters, the ones who control Pakistan’s political system, have already provided guarantees of a “sellable” election to the Western powers. This leaves the dynamics and logistics of the election process shrouded in confusion, with a high possibility that it may merely become a management exercise.
It is also important to note that the controversy surrounding the 2022-2023 census is being deliberately generated to create a sense of discord and turmoil with the underlying motive of causing delays in the election process. Leaders of the PDM, including Fazal-ur-Rehman, have said that the census controversy could cause a delay in the election.
Establishing the Power and Structure of the Interim Setup
An essential item on the meeting’s agenda revolves around establishing the power and structure of the interim setup in the event of elections. Recent reports suggest that Ishaq Dar, the finance minister and a close relative and confidant of Nawaz Sharif, is being considered as a potential nominee for interim Prime Minister. The apparent justification being given for this nomination is Dar’s involvement in critical decision-making regarding the IMF loan program, emphasizing that his understanding of these matters is deemed crucial for guiding such decisions. However, the underlying motive for his nomination lies in his proximity to Sharif, as it is believed that he can effectively carry the influence and power of the PDM into the interim setup.
Furthermore, the current government seeks to legislate an increase in the power of the upcoming interim government. According to the PDM, past IMF deals were negatively affected due to the limited decision-making authority of interim governments. The Election Act of 2017 outlines the role of the interim government, primarily providing structural and logistical support to the Election Commission of Pakistan to ensure free and fair elections. However, the PDM aims to expand the interim setup’s duties to retain its own residual power through this transitional phase.
Struggle for Power
The PDM is cognizant of the establishment’s promises of timely elections, but it now faces a limited timeframe to manipulate the law-making process to ensure their power endures in what should only be an interim setup. The PDM’s fear of the establishment runs deep, as the establishment retains the true power in the interim setup, irrespective of whoever is presented as its public face. The 13-party alliance’s attempt to retain this power in the upcoming interim setup seems unrealistic, given the complexities and realities of the Pakistani political climate.
The establishment, entrenched within the system, may have lost its long-standing public reputation, but it remains steadfast in resisting any democratic transition. The panic-stricken PDM is determined to win the “game of thrones,” even though their political calculations are not adding up. On the other hand, Imran Khan stands as a resilient figure, undeterred despite the shifting winds.
The overseas meetings between Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Zardari, and Nawaz Sharif signify that the political landscape of the country is rife with complexities, as various forces vie for power and control. As the nation braces for what lies ahead, only time will reveal the true outcome of these political maneuvers.