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April 19, 2016

Is political turmoil in the offing?


April 19, 2016

Major political developments are in offing in the wake of the Panama Leaks, thanks to poor handling by the government which has flared up an issue which could have been easily resolved by evolving consensus on Judicial Commission or criminal investigation. Apparently the prime minister was ill-advised that made the opposition’s job easier.

Had the government team led by Ishaq Dar managed to secure the support of all the opposition parties including PTI and PPP, it might have averted a crisis than 126-day dharna. 

Situation would be clear in the next 24 or 48 hours — whether opposition as well as other stakeholders agree on government proposed Judicial Commission or not. 

While Imran has returned from London, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is also returning as per schedule, which has dispelled all speculations from some opposition leaders as well as from section of media about his visit. 

In London, the PM held an important meeting with his close aides — Interior Minister Ch. Nisar Ali Khan and foreign affairs adviser Mr Sartaj Aziz — and is in constant touch with Ishaq Dar who is looking after government and party affairs in Islamabad. 

It’s for the second time in the last three years, the PML-N government is facing a serious crisis, by far the worst given its global dimension.  Unlike in dharna, Imran and the PTI finally is approaching the opposition and civil society to get their support while the government is seeking support of its allies i.e. ANP, JUI-F and National Party. The PTI decision to even take the ANP and the MQM into confidence can add to the problem, though ANP may take a neutral position. 

The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), the central representative body of the lawyers community, may side with the opposition if its terms of reference (TOR) for setting up the judicial commission are not accepted, and we might see lawyers joining the anti-government movement. The Federal Law Minister and the Attorney-General have held meeting with the SCBA leaders but one has to wait and see for its outcome in the next 24 hours.

By the end of this week, chairman of the main opposition party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Imran Khan will set a deadline for the government on party's foundation day on April 24th at F-9, Park in Islamabad to accept his demand or face a "Long March." Rising tension between PML-N and PTI is now quite visible as it was witnessed in London also where PML-N demonstrated against Imran in front of his first wife's house followed by IK's address to PTI supporters, which though related to forthcoming elections in Azad Kashmir but he criticized PM on trying to escape an independent inquiry into Panama leak.

What was more surprising was the position taken by the PML-N. The government decision of not consulting other opposition parties or accommodating their suggestions in Panama leak commission may further isolate the ruling party. In contrast, the PTI has taken all the opposition parties into confidence except JUI-F. 

Federal Information Minister, Mr Pervez Rasheed's statement that opposition did not want the JC was completely uncalled for and would only add fuel to the fire. The PPP has already rejected a commission headed by retired Supreme Court judge, Mr Justice Sarmad Jalal Usmani, as Syed Khursheed Shah said his wife is a member of PML-N. Although the PML-N denied she has ever been its member, she herself resigned from the PML-N, meaning she once was a party member — an embarrassing position for the government.

Since Nawaz Sharif’s departure for London, political and government affairs are being looked after by a committee headed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and the government-opposition gap has widened. Initially, it was decided that committees would contact the opposition parties for a consensus on JC, but no such meetings took place. Dar or Kh Saad Rafiq could have contacted some leaders, but without any agreement or understanding.

PPP has already distanced itself from the government and unlike in the past or as speculated by the media, there was no contact yet between former president Asif Ali Zardari and PM Sharif. 

While all eyes are set on Islamabad, there is lot more to come apart from the Panama leaks. In Karachi, things are getting tense as the MQM feared crackdown on the party and has already demanded end to Karachi operation. 

On the other hand newly formed Pak Sirzameen Party (PSP) led by former City Nazim, Mustafa Kamal has sped up its campaign for April 24 public meeting to mark party's formal launch.

The MQM fears that by imposing an unofficial ban on them and with increase in the arrest of its workers who it claims had no cases against them is a move to give advantage to PSP. The MQM reaction has come at a time when party recently won a legal battle in the Supreme Court over holding elections of Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Chairman, Deputy Chairman and on reserved seats. 

In the next few weeks two more by-elections on Sindh Assembly seats will be held for which the last date for submitting nominations is April 26. These seats fell vacant by the resignations of Dr Sagir Ahmad and Mr Aftab who quit MQM to join PSP.

Religious parties also seems to take advantage of the situation as Jamaat-e-Islami, which has supported Imran Khan, is also building up pressure with a public meeting in Lahore on April 24th as part of its anti-corruption movement. Panama leaks came as blessing in disguise for an otherwise poor campaign of JI. 

An alliance of religious parties which also includes government ally JUI-F has also decided to built pressure on government in what it termed as an attempt to liberalise and secularise Pakistan. The PNA kind of an electoral alliance could be on the cards for 2018 elections but they will try to gain maximum out of the present situation when government is fast losing friends. 

It’s our dilemma that Pakistani politics and protest movements by and large remained "offshore." Two countries always played major role in our politics particularly when things started getting out of control — the US and Saudi Arabia while London being the place where "plans" were always finalized. At times we even had "offshore" prime ministers like Moin Qureshi or Shaukat Aziz. Saudi Arabia often played the role of saviour whether it is 1977 PNA movement or to rescue Nawaz Sharif in 2001. 

This is a crucial year for both the government and the opposition. The final outcome of this crisis is “make or break” for both. Imran will be taking a huge risk if he decided to repeat 2014 kind of strategy. Perhaps, that is why he wants to take other parties along as he knows failure of this movement can take him to the position of 2013 if not worst. However, success in this movement can make his job much easier and brighten up his chances in 2018 or in case of earlier elections. 

Similarly, for Prime Minister Sharif its all the more important to complete his remaining two years by taking major opposition parties along on crucial issues so that his government could complete its term and the pending work to go into the next election with full confidence. (The writer is the senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang)


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