Deciphering the future
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s severe illness and then bail, followed by a tug of war in getting him out of the Exit Control List (ECL), Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Azadi March along with a two-week long sit-in at Islamabad, and finally ‘Plan B’ which involved blocking main arteries of the country. Such have been the topics that the media has obsessed with over the past few weeks.
On each step of the current political turmoil, conspiracy theories and hypothesis rang out from all quarters. Yet, even now, none of those have proven to be the absolute truth. That hasn’t stopped people from asking questions.
Why, they queried, did the government suddenly back off from its earlier stance of removing Nawaz Sharif’s name from the ECL? Why did Maulana Fazlur Rehman suddenly wind-up his sit-in despite proclaiming that he won’t budge from Islamabad without the Prime Minister’s resignation in hand? The answer to these questions, and others, will remain secret between the warring factions but enough is known to paint a picture that might reflect reality.
One known factor was the sudden rise in prominence of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), enough to be given equal share of the limelight as Nawaz Sharif and Maulana were receiving. After the government’s negotiating committee failed comprehensively, the Chaudhry brothers appeared on the scene. Whatever they told Maulana Fazlur Rehman was enough to get him to end his protest from the capital. Later, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi confessed that Maulana was sent from Islamabad as part of an ‘understanding’, and he had been ‘entrusted’ with something.
Days before this cryptic remark from the former Chief Minister, Chaudhry Shujaat had been more forthcoming when he had said that rising inflation and joblessness ensures that in a few months, no one will accept the Prime Minister’s job.
Over at the national parliament, the ruling party bulldozed through rules and procedures when it got nine ordinances approved in a single day. The opposition, in angry response, initiated a No Confidence Motion against Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri who was presiding over that session. Sanity prevailed however when after negotiations the opposition took back its Motion and the government took back all nine ordinances. Federal Minister for Defense, Pervez Khattak, gave a statement in which he all but promised that the treasury benches would, in the future, keep the parliament on board.
Why this flexibility from PTI, and why now? A ruling coalition with a thin margin of just nine votes has come to appreciate the value of its allied parties, especially after Fazlur Rehman’s dharna, but is that all there is to the situation? Is a conspiracy afoot somewhere in the echelons of power?
In the federal and Punjab governments, PML-Q support is vital for the PTI’s survival. Yet, rumors have abound since long about how unhappy the Chaudhrys from Gujrat are with the PTI, most notably, on PML-Q’s share in cabinet portfolios.
It would be easy to dismiss the sympathy and efforts the Chaudhrys displayed for Nawaz Sharif’s departure as part of the traditional norms and morality that the old school politicians prescribe to. It has, nonetheless, rang alarm bells throughout government ranks. Among the doctors who took care of Nawaz Sharif in Services Hospital, most had been given jobs during Pervez Elahi’s tenure. The younger Chaudhry felt no qualms in admitting that he had indeed called those doctors up multiple times to inquire after Nawaz Sharif’s health.
On the issue of letting the former Prime Minister leave Pakistan for medical treatment, the government adopted a policy which its own ministers said was shaped to keep its voter base satisfied. How successful was this policy can be gauged by Gallup Pakistan’s latest survey. 53% of the people were in favor of allowing Nawaz Sharif to go abroad for medical needs, while 44% were against it. How popular was the government’s scheme is quite apparent.
Imran Khan, on his part, has switched gears from “Will never give NRO,” to “Sharifs are doing politics on ill health; it is baffling why would they not give an indemnity bond; the government has not asked the Sharifs for money.” After the Lahore High Court (LHC) opposed the government’s point of view, the Prime Minister is said to have remarked that had he been in Shahbaz Sharif’s place, he would have given all kinds of guarantees and gotten his brother treated. This statement was enough to make clear that both the government and the Premier have lost focus.
In the aftermath of the ECL fiasco, Imran Khan has moved towards strengthening his ranks. He has made it clear that the ministers who cannot deliver wither in the federal or the provincial cabinets will all be sent packing home. This team leader who needs to often threaten his cabinet seems a far cry from the man who once claimed that a strong captain can perform even with a weak team.
PTI and its ruling benches refuse to acknowledge that the real problem the people are facing are not related to the ECL or the Azaadi March. They are worried about inflation and joblessness. Prime Minister Imran Khan seems most unaware of this fact, as his latest statement shows. He reportedly said that artificial inflation is being used to weaken the government. On the issue of joblessness, one Minister famously remarked that it is not the government’s job to provide employment. Such statements serve to weaken the very roots of the party that had promised ten million jobs before being elected.
In Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK) more than a hundred days have passed with no letup in the endless blockade and human rights violations that have been forced upon the people. That hasn’t stopped the government and its ministers from harping on about a successful foreign policy and claiming diplomatic victory over India.
Raja Farooq Haider, President of Azad Kashmir, in a conference held in Islamabad, said point blank that the impression among Pakistanis that we have won and India has lost is quite wrong. “India will take even more actions after the Babri Masjid verdict,” he said, “How can we say that India has failed when it continues to target Pakistan and Muslims within its own boundaries?”
So, who stands where in this game of chess? How satisfied are the people of this nation? When will a new game begin in Pakistani politics? How long will the narrative of a good captain triumphing despite his weak team, work?
For the wise, there are plenty of hints with which to decipher the future.
This article first appeared in Daily Dunya in Urdu.