In the current crisis the Army and the higher judiciary seem to have changed their roles. Earlier the Army took the lead by toppling democratically elected governments and the judiciary supported it. In the charge of roles, the judiciary has taken the lead in destabilising a democratically elected government with the Army’s supportive role….writes Dr Sakariya Kareem
It is confounding confusion that marks the current political scene in Pakistan. The media claims the country is going through the worst crisis of its existence. But outside Pakistan this crisis has hardly any news value. This crisis is inherent in the very existence of Pakistan.
But there is a difference between the current crisis and the crises which have engulfed this country right from the beginning when it was created in 1947. In the first nine years of its existence Pakistan showed democracy was not its cup of tea. Then came: Gen Ayub Khan’s 11 years of military rule in 1958; of Gen Yahya Khan’s three years’ rule (1969-1971); of Gen Ziaul Haq (1977-88) and of Gen Pervez Musharraf (1999-2008). Things were made easy for these generals and the Army by the supportive role of the higher judiciary which sanctified the overthrow of elected governments. Generals have ruled directly for 34 years and indirectly for 21 years (excluding Musharraf’s nine years) since 1988 with the support of the higher judiciary.
In the current crisis the Army and the higher judiciary seem to have changed their roles. Earlier the Army took the lead by toppling democratically elected governments and the judiciary supported it. In the charge of roles, the judiciary has taken the lead in destabilising a democratically elected government with the Army’s supportive role. See, for example, the Bajwa Doctrine which supports the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s verdict of July 28, 2017 disqualifying and unseating Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the Panama Papers case and the formation of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) against him.
The disqualification of Nawaz Sharif under Article 62(1) of the Constitution of Pakistan which requires Members of Parliament in Pakistan to be pious as Muslims was supposed to be during the Prophet Mohammad’s time. This verdict was considered controversial and ridiculous. This very article does not fix the period of disqualification. The court very arbitrarily fixed it for life, thus terminating Sharif’s political career. On February 21, the court ordered that after the disqualification he could not hold the office of President of his party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)/PML (N)-and all the decision he took in respect of this party stood null and void. Frustrated Sharif said: ‘Now I am left with my name only’. A week later, the party chose his younger brother and Chief Minister of Punjab province, Shahbaz Sharif as party’s President and Nawaz Sharif as the life-long leader of the party. Following this the Supreme Court reminded that disqualified persons cannot fight elections. To this Nawaz Sharif’s successor, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said political decisions are taken in Parliament and not in courts.
On May 7, the Supreme Court dug out a long-buried case, known as Asghar Khan case which names Nawaz Sharif among other accused. The case relates to the 1990 general elections in Pakistan. Then Army Chief Gen Mirza Aslam Beg and then ISI Chief Lt Gen. Asad Durrani had distributed Rs.14 crores among politicians, including Nawaz Sharif to set up an Islamic coalition by the name Islamic Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) to defeat Benazir Bhutto-led Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Sharif got the biggest share of the Military/ISI bribe for leading the IJI. The IJI succeeded. But in 1995 Lt Gen Durrani spilled the beans by giving details of money given to each politician. Retired Air Marshal Asghar Khan, who led Tehrik-i-Istiqlal Party, at once approached the Supreme Court, then headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhary. The Chief Justice in a detailed judgement on November 8, 2012, ordered the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to prepare cases for trial in case sufficient evidence was collected against the recipients of the ISI’s bribe. Now six years after the Supreme Court, currently headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar has ordered the FIA to provide details of progress in compliance of the November 8, 2012 order. Sharif is clearly the target of this order.
Sharif is resigned to the idea that the present court and the cases pending with anti-corruption watchdog, National Accountability Bureau (NAB) will take him to jail. He is bitterly critical of courts which he says are acting at the behest of what he calls “Khalai Makhlooq or extra–terrestrial aliens”. By this he means the Army. Nobody in Pakistan will bat for Nawaz Sharif’s honesty. He is said to be as corrupt as other top politicians, generals and judges are alleged to be. The way the corruption case against Army’s chosen one, Imran Khan has been dismissed by the Supreme Court, makes it clear that corruption is not really at the bottom of the present political crisis.
Corruption of a targeted person has been used to create a crisis to facilitate some undisclosed plans of the Army in league with the judiciary. It looks Nawaz Sharif is not really the target of this crisis. The target is his party PML(N). Sharif claims his party men are being cajoled or threatened to join Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) or face NAB cases-just as it happened in 2002 when Gen Pervez Musharraf coerced PML(N) members to join his benami Quaid Muslim League (QML). Those who refused were taken care of by NAB. As a result, the PML(N) almost disappeared till Sharif returned from exile in 2007.The QML disintegrated after Gen Musharraf stepped down as president and eventually left the country for medical treatment when faced with treason changes under Article 6 of the Constitution.
A smokescreen of political crisis has been created by toppling high-profile and popular Nawaz Sharif from the post of Prime Minister – his third since 1990. The question is what is this smokescreen is meant to hide? The behind-the-smokescreen plan appears to have two layers. Firstly, to annihilate big mainstream political parties and secondly to mainstream small non-descript but violent Islamist groups to fight elections and ultimately conclusively prove to the world, as Gen Ayub Khan tried to do, that democracy does not address the aspirations of the people of Pakistan. Imran Khan, backed by the Army, is very sure to be the next Prime Minister. But he is famous for immaturity and lack of political sagacity. If he wins, he may turn out to be the swan song of the history or democracy in Pakistan.
Very systematically mainstream political parties have been destroyed or weakened. A classic example is the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), which was set up as Muhajir Quami Movement with the blessings of the military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq in the mid-1980s to counter Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in urban Sindh. Muhajir student leader Altaf Hussain was made its leader. About ten years later the Army broke it up into two warring factions. It supplied arms to one faction, the MQM (Haqiqi-real). Altaf Hussain, fearing threat from the Army fled to London ostensibly for kidney treatment. From London he ran his faction of the MQM. Electorally the party did very well in urban Sindh in his absence. The problem with this party is that it is uncompromisingly secure that bares it to the charge of being pro-India. Also, Altaf Hussain sometimes uses unrestrained Language. For example, he caused much trouble to his party back home by calling Pakistan the cancer of the world. That was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. His party broke up into two factions and each faction dissociated from Altaf. The factions are: MQM (Pakistan) as against the MQM (London) and Pakistan Sarzameen Party (PSP). It is to be noticed that these factions have succumbed to the use of the word “Pakistan” in their nomenclatures although nationalist parties do not use this word in their names. Reports from Urban Sindh indicate voters will vote for that faction that fights in the name of Altaf. By projecting Altaf Hussain as anti-Pakistan and an agent of India, the Army has practically finished the MQM so that Imran Khan’s PTI take advantage of it in Urban Sindh.
The PPP, which was considered the most popular party, is today gasping for breath. Its Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari has proved himself unequal to the task of running the party. His son and the chairman of the party Bilawal has yet to mature. During its rule (2008-2013) the party lost its workers in Punjab because of callous attitude towards them. On top of it then Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Choudhary made functioning of the PPP government near impossible. He did not even allow Zardari to participate in the 2013 elections according to Bilawal. The PPP was among the MQM and Awami National Party (ANP) which were not allowed to campaign for the elections in 2013 by Islamists. It is doubtful if the PPP can retrieve some lost ground in the coming elections. It is doubtful if the PML(N) can maintain some semblance of unity to go to the polls. The latest campaign against Sharif is that he is traitor to Pakistan especially after his DAWN interview in which he said (and he stands by it) non-state actors went from Pakistan to attack Mumbai in 2008. Hysteria is being created. Imran Khan and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) led by the cleric Tahirul Qadri have approached the Lahore high Court to try Sharif as a traitor. The Court has turned down their appeal because the constitution says only the government can fie this case.
By the end of May, caretaker governments at the federal level as well as in the provinces have to be appointed, who in turn hold the general elections within 60 days, neighbours of Pakistan and international community would observe the developments with great interest. Apprehensions like threats from the Islamists to mainstream political parties; mainstreaming of violent groups and terrorist outfits like Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasul Allah (TLYRA), Milli Muslim League (MML) of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) etc.; anti-Shia/Hazara pogrom by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ); anti-India/anti-Afghanistan rhetoric during the election campaign; disappearance/harassment of human rights activists and journalists and above all influencing the whole electoral process by the Army and the Supreme Court of Pakistan unnecessarily, would eventually have to be allayed by the Pakistani institutions themselves as all these malevolence have remained as distinctive features during the last few years.