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August 9, 2017

The same old Pakistan


August 9, 2017

Over two weeks have passed after the country’s most durable politician was disqualified from office and it seems that nothing much has changed. True, within hours of the judgment, Muhammad Nawaz Sharif (MNS) was being referred to as the former prime minister. The cabinet was no more. More seriously, the country was without a government. The federal capital had no more ministers to represent Pakistan at national day receptions of other countries. The guests at one such reception in Islamabad were wondering about what kind of ceremony would take place without a minister.

After a while, the country’s first female foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua walked in to be the guest of honour in this extraordinary situation. A small reminder: while political and military governments can come and go, the permanent civil service – which is usually at the receiving end of barbs from both the rulers and the media – is always there to carry state burdens.

More significant was the fact that the elected premier, who had been removed from his post by the court, was as firmly in control of things as ever, raising questions over the efficacy of the judicial track of dispatching popular leaders. In no time, MNS elevated a faithful to replace him and had him elected by the assembly with an overwhelming majority. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s position has been greatly strengthened by the decision to let him continue, most probably, till the 2018 general election.

MNS was also able to launch a new cabinet within a week, accommodating more faithful members of the PML-N. Surprise! Khawaja Muhammad Asif, an old party stalwart, has been made the foreign minister, filling a void that had existed for four years. It was a double-edged appointment as it responded to the clamour for a parliamentarian as a foreign minister and provided the possibility that the debutant premier doesn’t attract all the limelight. 

Asif’s arrival at the Foreign Office coincides with a three-pronged offensive by Washington and its regional allies in Delhi and Kabul. His first mission should be to Washington to meet administration officials and Congressional leaders to counter the negative sentiment against Pakistan. All three have resorted to using public diplomacy as a propaganda tool against Pakistan.

Asif can also take the opportunity to convey how far Pakistan’s security agencies can satisfy the demands to curb freedom of movement to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. We should ask for a similar action by Kabul and Delhi against elements carrying out terror attacks against Pakistan from Afghan soil. Otherwise, they should stop maligning Pakistan for sponsoring violence.

The PML-N’s reference to the Supreme Court for the disqualification of Imran Khan to get even with him after his legal crusade against the ruling family is following its course. However, it seems that the court’s ruling against Nawaz Sharif and family has not added to Imran’s political capital. What is worse, the province that was billed to be a prototype of his ‘Naya Pakistan’ is coming under attack for disallowing the accountability of corrupt practices.

The accusations of dissident PTI members cannot be brushed away. At the same time, the coalition government of KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak is facing defections that have raised the spectre of a no-confidence motion.

Imran’s claims of virtue are also under attack, especially after the accusations hurled by Ayesha Gulalai. His desire to bring clean new faces has been negatively affected as, just like Musharraf, his energies have been geared toward poaching members of the two major parties to improve his party’s chances at the next general elections in 2018. In fact, Imran’s ambitious claim of clean governance increasingly looks like a mirage as the PTI is turning into just another political party of ‘old’ Pakistan.

There is little doubt that we are going to witness a fight to the finish between ‘Noon’ and ‘Junoon’ in the coming months, starting with a battle for NA-120 in Lahore, which fell vacant after Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification.

In a real democracy, the party would field a suitable candidate. However, given the dynastic nature of politics, the issue is that of the Sharifs losing a traditional seat after losing the country’s premiership. This by-election will also determine whether the system is geared towards holding a fair election as the country prepares for parliamentary polls.

What is most worrying at this stage is the vendetta-style politics being pursued by the two protagonists. In this, Imran is way ahead by employing invectives that are rarely seen in Pakistan’s politics. His lack of vocabulary is reflected by the excessive use of words like ‘mafia’ and ‘thieves’ with regard to the Sharif family. It is astonishing how Imran thinks that politics is a vocation based on honesty. His concept of integrity among politicians is closer to that of Zia or Musharraf, who witnessed a tragic political end by associating with the B-teams of politicians.

Imran should stop quoting from Western practices of diplomacy in a system that is a couple of centuries behind in terms of institutional development. In fact, Imran is no longer practicing what he preaches. The prevailing levels of corruption in the PTI-ruled province of KP and the party’s tendency to grow on defectors from other parties do not bode well for its high claims of morality and integrity. ‘Naya Pakistan’, after all, is so much like the same old Pakistan.


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