Ihtasham Ul Haque
POLITICS is a realm of uncertainty. In case of Pakistan, it is mistier than Clausewitz’s proverbial ‘fog of war’ and more treacherous in character than the Machiavellian ‘Prince’. For months on end now, the brewing tension between the ruling party and opposition, the government itself and the security establishment has refused to fizzle away, relegating the running of state to a secondary concern. The opposition’s four months long diatribe over the notorious Panama Leaks has so far yielded no significant end result.
While former President Asif Ali Zardari, the brain behind PPP, has personally not shown any concrete resolve to dethrone the PM so far, his party stalwarts Syed Khurshid Shah and Aitzaz Ahsan seem unwavering in their doggedness to be part of an opposition alliance that is threatening the survival of the government. Interestingly, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, seemingly at a tangent to his father, is also taking a hard line against the government and seems ready to play ‘container’ politics in collaboration with Imran Khan.
The government in its trademark shady politics seems to have broken the deadlock and appear set to untangle the knot that binds the opposition. Reportedly, backdoor contacts have been established with PPP for creating consensus over the Terms of Reference (ToR) for investigating Panama Leaks. These ToRs would effectively delay any tangible action against those involved in the controversy. PML-N sources say that the design of maneuver for the government is to sabotage all understanding between PPP and PTI for launching any serious movement against the government. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s latest cajoling with opposition leader Khurshid Shah is a major indicator that the plan is already set in motion and is working. The government is assuring Mr. Zardari that the cases against Dr Asim Hussain and Super model Ayyan Ali would also be withdrawn in the near term. To save face, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan seems to be playing the bad cop for the government in this matter, threatening to expose the PPP further. Another strategy being pursued vigorously, according to insiders, is aggravation of the gulf already existing between PTI leaders Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Jahangir Khan Tareen in a bid to weaken Imran Khan.
The frustrated MQM has just abandoned the so-called ToRs committee and threatened to resign from the national and provincial assemblies. The Karachi based party has serious grievances against the government for not getting the security establishment off its back in the ongoing Karachi operation. The PM’s point man, Ishaq Dar, in fair admission of a stark reality, is believed to have conveyed to MQM leaders that the center is not in a position to play any role in this regard and the party might have to engage the military authorities on its own to gain any respite in the provincial metropolis.
PTI leaders believe they cannot bank on PPP for launching a decisive movement against the government. They maintain that while their effort is to secure political support of PPP, they are quite confident that PTI and Jamaat e Islami (JI) would have enough public support to run an effective anti-Nawaz movement across the country. For the PM, it is little consolation that Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s JUI, Asfandyar Wali’s ANP, PPP Aftab Sherpao Group and Baloch politicians including Mehmood Khan Achakzai have refused to join the anti-government movement. “With MQM departing the ToR committee and PPP set to follow suit due to impressive offers of legal concessions over pending cases against Dr Asim and Ayyan Ali amongst others, the government is confident that JI would be neutralized through Liaquat Baloch who enjoys good relations with Mian brothers,” says a prominent PML-N leader requesting anonymity. He was confident the PML-N would succeed due to their unassailable diversionary tactics to get away with Panama Leaks controversy and would complete the term despite the turbulent course of events.
The opposition parties have approached the Supreme Court, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and Speaker National Assembly for legal action against the PM for hiding his assets, engaging in money laundering and tax evasion with the ultimate aim to cast him as ineligible for the post of country’s chief executive. Unlike other national institutions, the country’s tax machinery has absolutely done nothing till now to even obtain any information about Pakistani residents who have been pinpointed in Panama Papers. Federal Bureau of investigation (FBR), the leading body for financial regulations, and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), a corporate regulator, have both launched no formal inquiries to investigate the alleged perpetrators of financial transgressions. Little surprise there, since both these institutions are administratively under the jurisdiction of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Prime Minister’s close aide and relative.
Nawaz Sharif’s other concern, probably a more serious one, is the military. Last week he tried to address some vital reservations of the military leadership by appointing a high level committee under the chairmanship of his security advisor Lt-Gen. (retd) Nasir Janjua to ensure speedy implementation on 21 points National Action Plan (NAP), after a clear reprimand by the COAS through the Corps Commanders’ Conference. The Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, apparently unhappy with his continuously shrinking space for action, threw a spanner in the works by undermining the committee, terming it as a commission of administrative nature only. Many believe Nisar is a source of discomfort for Nawaz Sharif at times due to his aggressive nature and independent posture.
Insiders claim that the army is unhappy with the way the issue of establishing military courts was dealt with and even when a certain approval was accorded, it was already late in terms of getting the required punishments for hardcore terrorists executed. As the two years of military courts’ establishment expired this month, the matter requires resettlement once again, inviting further friction with the military. The security establishment, it is no more a secret, has been seeking permission to pursue terrorists and their hideouts in Southern and Central Punjab. This leverage was never ceded willingly and the army intervened on its own undertaking a number of operations in this region including the high profile one against the notorious Chhotu gang. The Punjab government evidently, and for shallow reasons of political expediency, resisted the idea of busting these terror sanctuaries fearing the possible backlash in Punjab. The chickens came home to roost anyway, with Lahore getting in the crosshair several times despite the government’s cowardly policy of acquiescence. The most recent furphy of Raheel Sharif being promoted to the rank of Field Marshal seems to be another gormless effort to ensure ‘safe play’.
How the COAS plans to bring his ‘unfinished agenda’ to a logical termination in less than three months would be a marvel to appreciate. The chief has acquired huge public support during his term, and according to his close confidants is concerned over government institutions not holding up their end of the bargain in the NAP to effectively fight terror. The unrest in the army is due to obvious politics being played over issues of national security and the government might be forced to come clean on deals concerning security matters. “Any adventurism on the part of the prime minister would cause further insecurity and upheaval which must be avoided”, the source said.
Time and patience are two great levellers. The Nawaz government seems to be banking on both to tire away the opposition and military leadership over issues of corruption and national security. The stratagem can backfire any time. It’s about time national interests are elevated over petty politics; an expectation too high from leaders entangled in the game of their own survival.