Categorized | South Asian Politics


Posted on 24 September 2014 by admin

   Dr. Hasan Askari

  The joint session of the parliament ended on September 19, condemning the “dharanas” by Imran Khan and Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri. However, the parliament did not suggest any solution of the political agitation that has been going on for the last five weeks. It seems that the federal government and the parliament are hoping that the two leaders would get tired of making speeches every evening and leave for Lahore on their own.

 The PMLN and its allies are describing the Islamabad crisis as a struggle between democracy and the military establishment and nondemocratic forces. They argue that the continuation of Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister strengthens democracy. That anti-democratic and pro-establishment activists like Imran Khan and Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri want to tear up democratic political system and return to an establishment-dominated political system.

  The present crisis has also increased religious polarization. The active role by Dr. Tahar-ul-Qadri which has given him eminence in the political field has triggered Islamic-sectarian reaction. Most religious parties and leaders question the role of Dr. Qadri and his religious followers belong to other Islamic sectarian groups because the sudden rise of an Islamic clergy in the politics is viewed negatively by competing Islamic-sectarian leaders in Pakistan.

 Another dimension of politics relates to the emergence of Imran Khan and Tahar-ul-Qadri as the new opposition leaders. The traditional opposition parties in the present day context are the PPP, the ANP and the MQM. Their leading role is now challenged by these two leaders engaged in the sit-in, especially Imran Khan, who has gradually emerged as the main opposition personality. If Imran gets some of his objectives realized in 2014-15, he is expected to push back the PPP, at least in the Punjab. The PPP already suffers from serious organizational problems in the Punjab and, in the context of the present political crisis, it is viewed as the PMLN ally. Therefore, all those alienated from the PMLN, are likely to view the PTI of Imran Khan (rather than the PPP) as the political alternative.

  The demand for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation is no longer taken seriously. If the federal government agrees to establishing a Judicial Commission with power to scrutinize voting in some selected constituencies, the two leaders sitting in Islamabad will have to return to Lahore.

  The support for Nawaz Sharif in the joint session of the parliament has helped to salvage his position. However, the joint session’s inability for political conflict resolution has been exposed. The attendance in the sessions, with the exception of the first two days or when the PTI leader resented his party’s point-of-view, has been poor. In a total joint house of 446 members, the attendance on average was 100, although lesser number of people sat in the house for the whole day.

 If the joint session strengthened the position of Nawaz Sharif, it has created two sets of problems. First, a large number of members belonging to the allied parties, especially the PPP, described the 2013 elections as rigged and manipulated. This eroded the moral basis of the PMLN’s election victory.

 Second, several members of the PMLN and their allies have made strong negative comments about the military and its intelligence agencies. Some of them openly argued that the protest by Imran Khan and Qadrri enjoyed the blessings of the military’s intelligence agencies. These speeches increased the distrust between the civilian government led by Nawaz Sharif and the military.

 When the present crisis in Islamabad ends, it should not be viewed as a victory for the PMLN. The Sharif government faces enormous challenges if it is thinking in terms of completing its five-year term.

One can disagree with the methods adopted by the two protesting leaders. The issues raised by them relate to the need of better governance and the addressing of the problems of the common people. This message appeals even to those who do not identify with these two leaders.

 Three issues are going to determine the future of the PMLN rule. First, the Sharif government should address the political fall-out of the agitation without any delay. It needs to agree to vote-scrutiny and audit by the proposed Judicial Commission so as to ensure fairness and transparency of the electoral process in the future. The required electoral reforms will have to be made.

 The recent floods have strengthened the demands for improving governance by the federal and provincial governments. The civilian government should assign the highest priority to addressing the socio-economic problems, especially the shortage of electricity and gas problems, price hike and internal security. This will enable the Sharif government to renew its mandate in any future election that is expected long before 2018.

  Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri succeeded through the courts to get two murder cases (FIR) registered in Lahore and Islamabad against the Prime Minister and several other people.

 One murder charge has been registered against Chief Minister Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif. Tahir-ul-Qadri will pursue the murder case for the killing of his loyalists in Lahore very seriously. He insists that a proper inquiry cannot take place if Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif continue in their offices. There are two ways to deal with the situation. The murder charges report (FIR) can be sealed till these two people are in office and the inquiry can take place when they are out of office. The other option is to transfer the case to some other province. These issues will have to be addressed in a judicious manner.

 Second, good civil-military relation are a pre-requisite for political stability in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif should discourage his “hard line” loyalists from engaging in direct or indirect military bashing. He should make sure that the process of “mutual consultation” on foreign and security polices between the civil and the military is fully restored. As long as Pakistan faces internal terrorism and external security pressures, the civilian government alone cannot manage these issues on fancy and unrealistic notion of business-based considerations.

 Third, the federal government needs to disengage itself from unnecessary fights to protect its power interests. The selective use of Article 6 of the Constitution to prosecute only Pervez Musharraf will neither establish the rule of law nor civilian supremacy over the military. The military government should learn about dealing with ex-military rulers from the experience of other countries that experienced military rule.

 Democracy in Pakistan can be protected only if genuinely free and transparent elections are held and the civilian governments offer better governance for improving the quality of life for ordinary people. The opposition parties need to adopt political restraint and avoid long marches and long “dhranas”.

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