Dr. Hasan Askari
The politics in Pakistan is currently experiencing positive and negative developments. Two most significant positive developments are improvement in civil-military relations and the renewed determination on the part of the military and the civilian government to control extremist religious groups that use violence to advance their religio-political agendas.
With the appointment of the new Army Chief at the end of November 2016, the differences between the civilian government and the Army are no longer visible. They are working in cooperation on security and counterterrorism issues. The Army top command is showing patience on the news item controversy. The civilian government had appointed a special committee to look into the complaint of a news item about the national security meeting in he prime minister house that blamed the Army top command for showing partisanship towards militant groups. The Committee is expected to finalize its report in this month. The Army is waiting to see what this committee has to say what the Army command thought to be an effort to malign the Army. If the civilian government hushed up the matter, it will have negative impact on civil-military relations.
The civilian and military authorities are more cooperative for countering terrorism. The decision to put Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and his colleagues under house arrest was taken jointly by the federal government and Army-Intelligence authorities. However, the federal and the Punjab governments are still not in favor of the Army or the Ranger resorting to anti-terror operation in the Punjab in an autonomous manner. The PMLN does not want that its monopoly of power in Punjab is weakened by the presence of any institution or political party that is not fully under its full control. In the past, some federal ministers and one Punjab minister used to condemn the top brass of the military for their expanded role and the military rule. Their harsh statements used to undermine the federal government’s relations with the Army. Now, these ministers are silent. If they return to their old policy of public denunciation of the Army top brass, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will have difficulties in dealing with the Army.
One negative development in Politics is that the relations between the ruling PMLN and the major opposition party, Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf, have deteriorated to such an extent that both sides use rude and insulting language about each other. The media team of the PMLN uses harsher phrases about Imran Khan and other PTI leaders than the PTI leaders criticizing Nawaz Sharif. This has spoiled the political environment. In late January2017 the PMLN and the PTI members exchanged punches on the floor of the National Assembly.
In this government-opposition equation, the PPP is playing a dubious role. Asif Ali Zardari continues with his soft policy towards the PMLN. However, Bilawal Bhutto is vocal in his criticism of the PMLN, especially Nawaz Sharif. He led a highly anti-PMLN procession from Lahore to Faisalabad. The PPP leaders from Punjab also want to pursue confrontation with Nawaz Sharif in order to revive the PPP in the Punjab. They prefer Bilawal’s political style. There are two problems for the PPP in the Punjab. First, Zardari’s preference appears to be for Nawaz Sharif rather than Imran Khan. It is quite possible that he participates in the next election with informal cooperation with the PMLN. The second problem is that Bilawal is not consistent in pursuing his politics. After every five-six weeks, he goes abroad. He does not have continuous interaction with the party workers and activists. He visits them in Punjab like a high profile guest rather than their leader. The PPP will have to change its leadership style as well as politics if it wants to stay as a credible party in Punjab.
Another negative aspect of politics is that the federal government seems to have been overwhelmed by the Panama Leaks case in the Supreme Court. There are many gaps in the defense arguments of the Sharif family. Up to now the lawyers of the Sharif family have not been able to provide credible proof of source of money as well as its route, how it moved from one place to the other, and when and how the flats were purchased? The uncertainty about the outcome of the Supreme Court case is causing much anxiety in the government circles.
There can be four possible outcomes of the case: The charges against the Sharif family are rejected altogether; there is nothing negative about Nawaz Sharif but some members of his family get blamed for money laundering and hiding facts; Nawaz Sharif and the family are held responsible for money laundering and corrupt practics; a commission is appointed to investigate the money trail and flat ownership in detail.
If the Sharif family is not framed in this case, it will be a moral victory for them and the probability of Nawaz Sharif getting reelected in the next general elections will be very high. However, Imran Khan will continue to contest the government on corruption and poor governance. If Nawaz Sharif is disqualified, the PMLN will select a prime minister as an interim arrangement until some member of the Sharif family is available for that task. The most challenging task will be to keep the party together in this interim period. In any case, Pakistan politics will continue to pass through uncertaintie that will adversely affect the government’s capacity to pursue the programs for the welfare of the common people.