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July 3, 2020

Minus-1 formula in politics

National

July 3, 2020

From Pakistan's first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, “minus-1 formula” has been part and parcel of our political history in one way or the other. Democracy was never enforced in its true spirit and derailed time and again. Politicians have also not learnt from history as time and again they either backed undemocratic actions or tried and took advantage from the situation.

Will there be another minus-1? If at all, it could be more than one, may be three or four, as some sources indicate. Now, it's a test for both government and opposition to reject any such ‘formula,’ and reach a consensus that change should come through elections or use of Constitutional means without outside interference.

Prime Minister Imran Khan last week hinted at an alleged ‘conspiracy' against him for yet another ‘minus-1,’ but warned it won't be easy and he will resist. Till this day no one knows who and who were involved in the conspiracy to kill Liaquat Ali Khan at the Company Garden, Rawalpindi, now known as Liaquat Bagh. His presumed assassin, Saeed Akbar, was immediately shot dead and till this day no one knows the actual facts of the case.

Pakistan's political history is full of ‘minus formula,’ not only 'minus-1,’ but, at times minus-2, minus-3, and now some well informed sources hinted at minus-4. In the post 2013-operation in Karachi, minus-three formulas came under discussion at some level which included minus MQM and its founder, minus Asif Ali Zardari and minus-Nawaz Sharif. In 2015, Asif Zardari once warned Sharif that the operation would ultimately lead to the fall of his government.

No wonder why there is a serious difference of opinion within the PML-N over any minus-Imran formula as they knew that if they accept any such formula, it would not remain confined to minus-1. What the author of such a 'formula' as well as Pakistani politicians need to understand is that in the last 72 years, the minus formula has only damaged democratic processes.

Had we been able to unearth the conspiracy the formula could have been buried once and for all. Pakistani politics could not recover since then and his assassination followed by a political turmoil and change of one Prime Minister to another between 1951 and 1958, when the country's first martial law was imposed in Oct 1958.

When Quaid-e-Azam's sister challenged Field Marshal President Ayub Khan in the Presidential elections, she faced all kinds of campaigns against her as a forceful political voice against the dictator. She was defeated in what many believe to be a highly rigged election. She 'minus' herself from mainstream politics and was worried about the country's future political system.

As a result of political uprising Ayub Khan resigned in 1968, but in violation of his own Constitution of 1962, did not hand over power to the Speaker National Assembly and instead to General Yahya Khan, who imposed the second martial law but promised elections for the first time on the basis of the 'one-man-one vote' formula in 1970.

Sheikh Mujeeb-ur-Rehman and his Awami League (AL) swept polls in East Pakistan while Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's newly born Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), formed in 1967, got majority in West Pakistan. But power was not transferred which resulted in a crisis which led to the separation of East Pakistan and a new country, Bangladesh, was established. Here the 'minus formula' led to the breakup of the country.

So, Fatima Jinnah was not all that wrong when she expressed her concern about the future of the country after her defeat when she decided to quit politics.

In 1977, Zuflikar Ali Bhutto's government was overthrown after anti-government agitation against election rigging and the third martial law was imposed on July 5, 1977. Zia promised elections in 90 days but not only postponed it for an indefinite period but also worked out and enforced the 'Minus-Bhutto' formula by hanging him.

He then introduced Article 58-2 (B) in the Constitution, 1973, to give a constitutional cover to the 'minus-1' formula. His own hand-picked Prime Minister, the late Mohammad Khan Junejo, became its first victim on May 28, 1988. He was always regarded as a clean man, who tried to bring major reforms and gave civil liberty, freedom of expression but became a victim for doing something not acceptable to the maker of 58-2 (B).

From 1988 to 1996, two governments of the PPP led by Benazir Bhutto and one by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were dismissed under the same 'Minus-1' formula. But, each time they bounced back and when in 1993, the Supreme Court restored Sharif's first government and declared his dismissal illegal, the former President, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, refused to accept Sharif as PM. The crisis resulted in ' minus-2' formula i.e. both, President and PM, followed by another caretaker setup and fresh elections.

When Benazir returned to power she could not last for more than 24 months and was minus in 1996, on charges of corruption. This time her hand-picked President, the late Farooq Leghari, dismissed her under the same 58-2 (B).

In 1997, Nawaz Sharif returned to power with two-thirds majority. In a bid to consolidate his grip on power, he committed too many political mistakes. He first got rid of President Leghari and got his own man, Rafiq Tarar. He then created a situation which led to the resignation of former Army Chief Gen. Jehangir Karamat and was replaced by General Pervez Musharraf. But, when he dismissed Gen. Musharraf on Oct 12, 1999, the army revolted and his own government was dismissed through a 'coup.'

Musharraf, who did not impose direct martial law but started working on 'Minus-2' formula i.e. minus Benazir and Nawaz Sharif. He held elections in 2002, under the same formula in which two handpicked groups, PML (Q) and PPP (Patriot), were formed.

Musharraf, in a bid to prolong his rule, also went too far and took up confrontation with the superior judiciary in March, 2007, when he forced the deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to resign.

Just before the 2008 elections, two-time Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on December 27, 2007, at the same venue where the country's first PM Liaquat Ali Khan was killed at Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi. So, she became physically minus like her father in a bid to end the politics of the Bhuttos, which was then transferred to the Zardaris.

It is time to strengthen the democratic institutions like the Election Commission of Pakistan and accountability for all. We have tried 'minus formula' time and again. It is time to go ahead with a positive formula, according to the Constitution. Both PTI and combined opposition need to understand the fallout of the minus-formula.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO.