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October 12, 2017

Gossip about political ceasefire abounds


October 12, 2017

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ISLAMABAD: There is a strong whisper taking rounds in the capital about a political ceasefire being worked out between former premier Nawaz Sharif and the establishment. Nothing concrete, but ruling party insiders say the ice is beginning to melt between elder Sharif and the establishment with both sides mindful that the clash of institutions is detrimental to country’s interests. At the same time, there is a realization that the accountability process should not look like a witch-hunt for anyone.

Perhaps, it was in this background which prompted Premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to instruct PML-N legislators on Monday not to indulge in “conspiracy” related rhetoric and exercise restraint in their statements and news channel talk shows. Some informed ministers are however receiving this background development with guarded optimism till something substantial comes forth. This is definitely not music to the ears of hardline Sharif opponents. Sheikh Rashid of Rawalpindi got some hint of it, and he immediately struck back complaining openly that “the establishment is actually collaborating with the rulers”.

The outspoken opposition politician, however, stayed away from qualifying what he actually means by the establishment. Premier Abbasi believes that it is the government and all the institutions under it comprises establishment. Generally, Rashid has been terming garrison as the real establishment. Former Premier Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz have referred to this real establishment since July 28 disqualification of Sharif by the apex court. Ever since, accusations traded between PML-N and PTI has upped the political confrontation to a dangerous level as saner elements across the country have advised caution and restraint. With Sharif’s exit, the PTI-PPP opposition took separate ways hoping to secure a maximum share in 2018 elections bounty.

The issue of NAB chief appointment and next year’s caretaker government selection further alienated Imran led PTI from Zardari sahib’s PPP. PTI-MQM joined ranks in an unusually-surprising manner after necessary prodding by some hidden hands to secure a major stake.  But the whole effort is fizzling out fast. Now, PTI seems taken aback on Justice (R) Javed Iqbal’s selection as NAB chairman. Imran Khan seemed short of words and arguments to oppose this PPP-PML-N selection as rest of his comrades received the news with cautious optimism. At this moment, the stature and track record of the new NAB boss would compel PTI to go silent on the issue as Imran focuses on lecturing PPP and PML-N on harms of hereditary politics and favouritism in party ranks and file. With heavyweights, electables from all nooks and corners making their way into PTI, its structure is no different from PPP, PML-N and the rest, anymore. Though there no denying that immediate and extended family members of Imran Khan are neither poised nor planning to fill in his shoes if and when the need arises. The promotion of close friends and wealthy favourites in party rank and file is what the PTI’s sidelined old guards from Akbar S. Babar to Justice ® Wajihuddin and Saeedullah Niazi have been complaining unabated. The list is long. Almost all the PTI’s original lot has been sidelined or removed during the last few years as heavyweight entrants from PPP, PML-Q and PML-N are in prominence and control. From Jahangir Tareen to Shah Mahmood Qureshi up till Asad Umar, from Pervaiz Khattak to Yar Mohammad Rind up to Chaudhry Sarwar to Aleem Khan, none are original old guards. Then there is a list of Imran Khan’s friends and relatives which extends from Naeem ul Haq to Mr Saifullah Niazi -- the real cousin of Imran. Then there are some deputed on  “special duties” and “tasks” like Dr Babar Awan to Fawad Chaudhry, both of them having landed from PPP. But let’s give the PTI chief some benefit of doubt that this is not ‘favoritism’ at all. Confronted with queries why he is filling his ranks and file with tried and tested lot, Iman replies he needs electable and can’t find angles to get them elect to the assemblies. He fell short of legislators and could not become Opposition Leader in the National Assembly in 2013. Here Khurshid Shah occupies the coveted seat and refuses to leave till PTI and MQM bring enough members to send him packing. That is hard to achieve. And no serious effort is in sight for the rest of the days left in this session.

An interesting situation developed at the end of Tuesday afternoon NA proceedings. A lady legislator was presiding over as the Deputy speaker went to his chambers. Her inexperience and lack of understanding of the rules of procedure prompted Opposition Leader Khurshid Shah to get furious as he had landed after chairing a seemingly unproductive run of the mill meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Shah seemed frustrated and went overboard as the chairperson tried to postpone some agenda items on the private members day in absence of any minister for a necessary response, reply. Literally, finding not even a single minister in attendance, Mr Shah demanded a ruling against the absent, relevant ministers. This scared and confused the chairperson instantly. Shah, however, continued the attack sarcastically congratulating her for presiding over the proceedings for the first time ever. “You should secure a picture of yours sitting on Speakers chair,” he asked her angrily. The attack was so sudden and swift that she didn’t know what to utter. It was exactly this time when a junior minister, as well as deputy speaker, rushed to the NA Hall to save the situation. Minister Sheikh Aftab too doubled down to come to the rescue of his colleagues.

Earlier at the PAC, Shah was dismayed by the state of affairs of the national airliner. But he forgot to mention that his own party and its union subsidiaries, along with that of PML-N’s, were part of the problem, not the solution. Successive past regimes have propagated inefficiency, nepotism, corruption in the national airliner. And stuffed the airliner with extra, unwanted, unproductive staff resulting in huge financial losses in the past decade. In 2015, the opposition parties unduly sided with an unusually long strike of pilots and staff which caused loss of billions to the national kitty. They opposed tooth and nail reforms and rightsizing in the airline when the then Advisor on Aviation Mr Shujaat Azeem was overhauling the operations, and streamlining the worst state of affairs. But the unions, supported by PPP and PML-N too, played havoc and thwarted the whole thing. A man handpicked by the then premier for his competence, Shujaat Azeem left the job complaining that unions, politicized staff, won’t let him do his job.  And here we are where huge bad debts, overstaffing, inefficiency and undue political patronage has landed the airline in such a state of affairs that the present advisor calls it a Titanic (that can sink any time) worth Rs 400 billion bad debts. Worse, he complains that no stakeholder – employees, government etc – are ready to own the airline on the brink of collapse. But Opposition Leader and his unionist comrades have no solution to offer, nor is there any government initiative as all seem to be waiting till the time when this national airliner becomes another white elephant like Pakistan Steel.

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