Dr. Hasan Askari
The outgoing year of 2016 can be described as the year of confrontation and the Panama Leaks. The major confrontation was between the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz Group) and the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf and by the end of the year Imran Khan as emerged as the principal opposition leader. The Jamaat-i-Islami also pursued a limited opposition against the PMLN on corruption. The Pakistan People’s Party pursued a dual track approach. On the one hand it was often found to be standing by the side of the PMLN when it came to the PTI opposition to the PMLN. On the other hand it periodically criticized Nawaz Sharif. Whereas Asif Ali Zardari continued with soft approach towards Nawaz Sharif, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari adopted tough language towards Nawaz Sharif and the PMLN governments at the federal level and in the Punjab. He threatened to challenge the government in 2017. We will have to wait and see if the PPP can restore its standing in the Punjab for confronting the PMLN.
The news that dominated the year was the leakage of Panama documents in April, involving over 200 Pakistanis, including the family of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Instead of providing documentary evidence to clear the family of charges of money laundering and building up of foreign asset, Nawaz Sharif and the federal government decided to contested the charges by levelling corruption and financial misconduct charges against Imran Khan and his senior colleague who had challenged Nawaz Sharif on this issue.
Imran Khan and the PTI resorted to their traditional style of protest by holding public meetings and engaging in propaganda in TV talks shows regarding the alleged corruption by Nawaz Sharif and his family. The September 30 public meeting in Raiwind was very impressive. He threatened to lock down the city of Islamabad on November 2. The federal government and the Punjab government used the state apparatus to neutralize PTI’s show of strength in Islamabad. The province of Khyber-Pkhtunkhwa was blocked at the Punjab provincial border so as not to allow the Chief Minister KP and his supporters enter Punjab and Islamabad.
As the Supreme Court took up the Panama Leaks Case, the PTI abandoned its program for Lockdown of Islamabad. Both the PTI and the PMLN filed references and court cases against each other in the Election Commission and the regular court. The Supreme Court took up the Panama case and the evidence produced by the PMLN contradicted with Nawaz Sharif’s statements in the National Assembly. To the disappointment of the PTI and other opposition, the Supreme Court bench headed by the Chief justice who was retiring in two weeks, postponed the case rather than giving a verdict.
Nawaz Sharif spent several weeks in London for medical treatment from May 22 to July 9. In his absence, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar looked after the affairs of the state. He was supported by Mariam Nawaz, daughter of Nawaz Sharif.
Civil-military relations ran into problems from time to time. In the last week of January, Army Chief Raheel Sharif announced that he would not seek extension of service on the completion of his term. Nawaz Sharif gave space to the military in managing security affairs but allowed his close associates to publicly criticize the military. The Corps Commanders meeting in August expressed concern on non-implementation of the National Action Plan and the criticism of the military and the intelligence agencies by some leaders belonging to the ruling coalition.
Another controversy developed about a news leakage of a national security meeting in the Prime Minister house. The Corps Commanders in their meeting in October described the news item as “false and fabricated.” The Army wanted some punitive action against those who issued the news item. However, as the close associates and a family member of Nawaz Sharif were involved in it, the Prime Minister appointed a commission to investigate the matter that amounted to ease army’s pressue. With the change of the army command on November 29, Nawaz Sharif would like the army to forget about the news item issue.
Terrorist incident declined as the Zarb-i-Azam got completed in North Waziristan. However, the Army and paramilitary forces are busy in the return and rehabilitation of the internally displaced people to the tribal areas. The army will have to stay active in the tribal areas to ensure that the Taliban and other do not return. A good number of Taliban and other extremists have escaped to Afghanistan or to urban areas of Pakistan. Though the army and the Rangers have improved security situation in Karachi, the PPP government in Sindh is not ready to allow the Rangers to take any action in interior Sindh. Similarly, the Punjab government has not so far allowed the Army and the Rangers to take independent action against the hardline activists and sectarian groups in the Punjab. Thereby, the Punjab, especially its southern parts, and interior Sindh are viewed as the hideouts for sectarian and other hardline groups. Five major terrorist attacks took place in the year: attack on a university in Charsada, Lahore Iqbal Town park attack, an attack in Quetta on the lawyers, another attack on the police training school outside Quetta and the attack on the Shah Noorani shrine in Balochistan.
Among the political parties, the MQM faced the most serious crisis. Musstafa Kamal, former MQM Mayor of Karachi, returned and launched himself in politics with a press conference on March 3. Later, he announced the setting up of Pak Sarzameen Party. The MQM got further divided into MQM Pakistan and MQM London. It is difficult to suggest if the split between MQM London and Pakistan is genuine. The PPP is trying to revive its political standing in the Punjab.
The year is ending with reduced political pressure on Nawaz Sharif. He has survived the year but the opposition parties would continue to be after him to seek the new elections before the end of 2017.