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September 29, 2020

Pakistan’s political divide


September 29, 2020

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is constantly under attack after his first speech since he went to London about nine months ago at the All Parties Conference (APC) on September 20, which generated lot of heat within the government and some other circles which they termed it something tantamount to ‘treason’ while others see it as important to decide about the role of the establishment in politics.

It is important to determine such a role in a historic perspective as Sharifs themselves need to answer many such questions about their own role as well. His speech was followed by two major leaks, one about the meeting of the parliamentary leaders with the army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and the ISI chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, about a week before the APC and the second, meeting of the PML-N leader and Sindh’s former governor Mohammad Zubair. The first meeting that lasted about two hours was reportedly held on the invitation of the army chief in regard to the status of Gilgit and Baltistan, which was attended among others by the AJK prime minister as well.

Since there was no news about any such meeting before the APC, its leak after Nawaz’s speech generated a debate over the breach of trust as that meeting was suppose to be kept ‘off the record’ since neither any press release was issued from the host side nor the guests ie parliamentary leaders including that of the PML-N, the PPP and the JUI-F top leadership.

The leak, first through sources followed by back-to-back statements and press conferences by veteran and vocal politician- cum federal minister Sh Rashid gave an impression as the political leadership met the military establishment ‘secretly’.

The Opposition leaders reacted over the leak and said they went on the invitation and not on request from them.

However, in the case of meeting between Mohammad Zubair and army chief and ISI chief certainly put the PML-N leadership on the defensive as none other than ISPR DG not only confirmed about such a meeting in the presence of ISI chief but also disclosed that Mr Zubair also discussed about the cases of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz.

The PML-N senior leader on his part admitted that he did meet the army chief twice in a year, one in December, during the wedding reception of the son of his brother and federal minister Asad Umar which was informal and then at Islamabad. All this followed by Sh Rashid’s constant attack on Nawaz Sharif and he went on to challenge all political leaders who claimed they had never met. He even went on to say that all leaders of the key political parties were created by the establishment. “They are all product of the establishment”.

Sheikh sb often reminds me of late Pir Pagaro, who always publicly claimed, “I am GHQ man” and never hid it. Now, Sheikh sb though denied he is anyone’s spokesperson, he came under heavy criticism for his recent interviews, statements and press conferences in this connection.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has also joined the controversy. While talking to news heads of some private TV channels, he claimed that both the PPP and the PML-N are the product of establishment.

He believes that both Nawaz Sharif and former president Asif Ali Zardari are now out of the system and said his government is under no threat from the Opposition. “If they resign from assemblies I will hold by-elections and they will get no seat,” he claimed.

The PPP was created not by the establishment but was formed by anti-establishment forces after Zulfikar Ali Bhutto revolted against Ayub Khan’s cabinet and joined the mainstream politics. However, it is true that he entered the political arena and joined Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s cabinet as junior minister in his 30s.

The dilemma of Pakistan since its birth on August 14, 1947 has been the constant involvement of the powerful quarters in decision making whether it’s a direct military rule or so-called civilian rule.

Even if one goes by the statements of Prime Minister Imran Khan and Sh Rashid, its role and interference is more than visible. The latter who had remained in most of the cabinets except during the PPP government from Gen Zia to Gen Pervez Musharraf and from the PML-N to the PTI, knows better than anyone else these non- civilian forces were behind the making and breaking of parties and the government.

Pakistan is in search of a political and democratic system where civilian supremacy is respected and all institutions remain in their constitutional domain and respect their own oath in office.

It is also a fact that political parties by and large are undemocratic in their own political domain and seriously lack a culture of democracy within. Thus, if the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) worked as an independent body and had power to register parties which held elections and have enough membership to be called national parties; how can one party be registered in the ECP?

Only a powerful and independent ECP could ensure transparency in the elections and even in political and democratic culture.

Establishment on its part must stop ‘political engineering’ which they have been accused of since long and even in the last few elections. Meeting between the prime minister and the army chief on matters of national, security and strategic importance is understandable but meeting of politicians or vice versa and that too with ‘secrecy’ raised questions for both.

If we really want to build the image of civilian supremacy at the global level where the general perception is that the power centre is the military establishment and not a civilian government, it is important that all stakeholders should have political maturity. It is unfortunate that even with the release of top political leaders either through NRO or deals being done under pressure from the international establishment, how we could grow as a matured democratic state.

It is time to learn a lesson from history. Political divide in Pakistan has once led to the creation of Bangladesh and a sense of deprivation among the federating units. We have not yet learned a lesson from the past and still brand all those politicians as ‘traitors’ who talked about civilian supremacy. Unless this issue is resolved there is little chance of democracy taking roots.

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

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO