Tuesday May 30, 2023

The tide has turned

July 29, 2022

Coming so soon after the drubbing the PML-N received at the hands of the PTI in the recently-held by-elections in Punjab, the Supreme Court (SC) judgment to “set aside and declare to be void, without lawful authority and of no legal effect” the ruling of the Punjab Assembly deputy speaker, dethrone Hamza Shehbaz and his outlandish cabinet and declare Pervaiz Elahi as the “duly-elected chief minister of Punjab” would be nightmarish. This changes the entire political spectrum in the country, reducing the hold of the incumbent federal government to their much-bloated egos and a few sectors of Islamabad alone.

The SC judgment ordered the chief secretary of Punjab to “immediately and forthwith issue the requisite notification declaring Elahi as the duly-elected chief minister of the province”.

The order further stated that Hamza Shehbaz “not being the duly-elected chief minister, the oath of office administered to him was and is without lawful authority and of no legal effect”. Likewise, “all acts, deeds and things attendant and consequent upon such oath including, but not limited to, the notification (of his appointment) and the formation and swearing in of the cabinet on his advice is also declared to be without lawful authority and of no legal effect”.

Leaving nothing to chance, the order further directed the governor of Punjab “to arrange and administer oath of office to the petitioner as the duly-elected chief minister, Punjab in accordance with law and the constitution not later than 11:30 tonight (July 26, 2022)”.

The short order issued by the SC bench is a damnation of all that the PML-N and its leadership together with their allied parties had stood for in their pursuit of this case. From indulging in false bravado, to assaulting the judiciary and questioning the integrity of the judges, to using vile and wicked language, to demanding a full court, to boycotting its proceedings from July 26 onwards, to threatening not to accept its adjudication, they tried every sinister trick in their Machiavellian book to pressurise the bench into submission.

The prime minister was directly involved in the entire drama as even the press conferences were held at his office, with him participating in all consultative/preparatory meetings in this regard. The government machinery and ministers were also deeply entangled in furthering this false narrative and pressurising the judiciary to let their man stay on as the chief minister. The judges, despite being sick and tired of being branded as partisan, came up with a judgment strictly in accordance with how things actually transpired on ground as well as the relevant provisions and requirements of law and the constitution. This is a welcome atonement for many errors of omission and commission that the institution may have committed in the past. More importantly, it augurs well for a future when law and constitution will hold ascendance over pursuit of advancement of personalised interests.

This adjudication is also praiseworthy in a different capacity. It is a powerful judgment which highlights the key role that the institution can play in remedying the travesties that the ruling elite are currently afflicted with. Exploiting the strength derived from their hierarchical hold on the electorate, some political leaders have turned this into a tool to fabricate narratives which are patently false, but which gain forced acceptability because of multiple vulnerabilities that communities of people suffer from in the society. Just glancing at the arc of the most recent indulgence of the PML-N leadership, one can easily gauge its rooting in utter fallaciousness and exploitation through popular sloganeering. From preaching the gospel of ‘vote ko izzat do’ to falling in the lap of the powers for winning reprieve from a multiplicity of crimes a second time over, it was a complete reversal of approach that is aptly symptomatic of pursuing politics of deceit and deception.

There were far too many loopholes in their strategy which were soon seen through. On top of that, they were pitted against a leader who has no skeletons in his closet and the word ‘defeat’ is not part of his vocabulary. He took them on for all their perversions, crimes and complicities at rendering the state weak. He took his message to the ultimate arbiters of the fate of the country, the people, who responded with unprecedented zeal, passion and verve. The victory that Khan secured in the court of the people is only a small manifestation of so much that is likely to follow in due course.

The tide has turned. Pakistan is undergoing a fundamental change in approach. This is reflected in the spontaneous celebrations across the length and breadth of the country following the SC judgment which is reflective of a burgeoning mood of optimism and hope as well as a high quotient of meaningful defiance.

But Pakistan also faces grave challenges. It is like an island which is being constantly ravaged from all sides, weakening it further with every such assault. Whether it can retrieve itself from this conundrum of self-serving interests or not depends entirely on the steps that we are able to take in the next few weeks. But an immensely beleaguered federal government lacks the credibility and strength for taking these difficult initiatives for turning things around. The threat of the looming crisis will intensify with time, thus landing the country adrift with strong currents which may soon turn into a ferocious and all-consuming storm.

We need to extricate ourselves from this harrowing quagmire which has been created and perpetuated by the promoters of personal and family interests. To escape the damage of the SC judgment, it is likely that the PDM leadership may change its narrative from pursuing a policy of apparent subservience to the powers to a mould of belligerence with both state institutions and individuals as their potential targets. This will accentuate the divisions further, thus rendering national politics murkier and increasing the extent and intensity of the existent polarization.

The change in Punjab is likely to bring in a paradigm shift in the political map of the country. It provides an ideal opportunity for moving beyond the mafia politics of the Sharif and Zardari clans and laying the foundations for building a strong, stable, sovereign and sustainable Pakistan committed to the welfare of its people, most importantly to the impoverished communities which are in need of urgent attention.

Holding early elections is the only way to let the people speak and elect leaders they would entrust the future of their country with. The besieged concoction in Islamabad should move quickly to bury their bloated egos and let the electorate give its mandate to initiate the much-delayed process of retrieval. Every moment matters.

The writer is a political and security strategist and the founder of the Regional Peace Institute in Islamabad. He tweets @RaoofHasan