Despite best efforts of Imran Khan (IK) led PTI and PAT under Tahirul Qadri (TuQ) since June 2014, the duo has neither been able to eject the PML-N government, nor could it crack the fort of the ruling party. PML-Q led by Choudhry Brothers has been lending support to PTI and PAT all along, while the PPP remained detached from the six months long sit-in at Islamabad in 2014 but now is on board with PAT-PTI. PML-N maintained its popularity because of performance and delivering results. In its 4 ½ year tenure, the incumbent government has managed to fulfil its promise of overcoming power outages by adding 11000 MWs to national grid. It has made the volatile Karachi peaceful that had been bloodied and economically drained by the MQM in close cooperation with PPP from 2008 to 2013. The back of separatist movement in Baluchistan has been broken owing to dual prong strategy of development and intelligence based operations. Militancy in the northwest has been bridled to a large degree as a result of Operation Zarb e Azb and today there is not a single safe haven/stronghold of the TTP and its affiliate groups. Financiers, handlers and facilitators are being nabbed through Operation Raddul Fasaad. Root causes of extremism and terrorism are being gradually cured through National Action Plan.
Economy that had sunk in 2013 has considerably been improved. Above all, development of CPEC which is a game changing project and has already drawn in $62 billion, has full potential to remove chronic socio-economic grievances of smaller province, particularly Baluchistan, and make Pakistan prosperous and self-reliant. CPEC has ruined India’s attempt to encircle and isolate Pakistan. These are no mean achievements which will be played up by PML-N in next elections.
On the other hand the performance of PPP in Sindh has remained dismal. Faced with leadership crisis and lack of will to reform, it is not likely to re-emerge as a national party in next elections. Its collusion with the attackers of Parliament and PTV in 2014 has further lowered its stature.
The PTI promising corruption free and Naya Pakistan wasted all its precious time in politics of agitation, sit-ins, trading allegations and hurling abuses on NS and his family and did very little for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where it was allowed to rule without any obstruction. IK’s marriage scandals and accommodating political rejects and electables from other parties and his disdain for the Parliament has dented PTI’s popularity. Both PPP and PTI lost almost all bye-elections as well as the contests in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan to PML-N which is indicative of future trends.
JUI-F, Jamaat-e-Islami and other established religious parties finding their space shrinking with the sudden rise of new religio-political parties like Tehreek e Labaik and Muslim Millat Party got alarmed and have decided to once again form Mutahida Majlis Amal (MMA) comprising six religious parties.
Having succeeded in disqualifying PM Nawaz Sharif (NS) through the apex court in Panama case on July 28, 2017, and getting corruption cases moved against him and his family members, but failing to reduce his popularity in Punjab, the guns of detractors of NS and PML-N are now trained on Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif (SS). Indefatigable and dynamic SS has become a bigger threat ever since he has been nominated by NS as the candidate for next PM. He has administered the province most efficiently and produced pleasing results. His nomination has grounded the misperception of acute tussle between families of two Sharifs because of NS desire to make his daughter Maryum Nawaz his successor.
TuQ managed to gather almost all other political and religious parties in APC conference and staged a power show at Lahore on January 16. All have ganged up under the leadership of TuQ and vowed to get resignations from SS and Punjab Home Minister Sanaullah at all cost. Objectives of IK, Asif Zardari (AZ), TuQ, Choudhry brothers and one-seater Sheikh Rashid (SR) are common but they have nothing in common and hate each other. All want to topple the PML-N government in the Centre and Punjab at the earliest since they know that in free and fair elections, none of them stand any chance of winning the general elections scheduled in August 2018, and that too with two-thirds majority as was the case with PML-N in June 2013. Band
They want immediate ouster of the central government under Khaqan Abbasi on charges of ineptness, and that of Punjab government on Model Town Lahore case in June 2014, in which 11 people had died as a result of police firing. This has become necessary for PTI and PPP both aspiring to win next elections, since it will help in launching an effective campaign against PML-N, which finds itself handicapped due to loss of NS. The latter having got re-elected as party chairman, still calls all the shots. He has launched a movement to let the people know that he was wronged by the judiciary. By playing the victim card, he is likely to gain sympathy votes. Coming Senate elections in March are also crucial for PTI and PPP, since it will give majority to PML-N in both the Houses and enable it to clip the wings of judiciary and reverse NS disqualification under Article 184.
What is however noteworthy is the collaboration between PAT and PPP and PTI and PPP meshed in protracted antagonism since 2013! Having realized that IK and AZ sitting hand in hand on one container will create a poor impression on the voters and the public in Punjab, it was decided that AZ will first deliver the speech and IK will come on the stage after his departure. Hypocrisy was on display. The gathering of about 14 to 17000 and enthusiasm of the crowd was certainly far below the expectations and deflated the big hype. Various speakers resorted to same old practice of insinuations, allegations and abuses and termed NS as a security risk. IK, TuQ and SR felt no compunction in abusing the parliament. IK stated that after consulting his party, he might follow suit of SR to tender resignation from the cursed parliament, which he has hardly visited. Since Lahore High Court had allowed limited time up to 1155 pm only, TuQ called off the session at 0930 pm after stating that next course of action will be announced in two days.
Although the PPP and PTI claim that they have colluded with TuQ to seek justice of the deaths of 11 people, but in reality, lure of power has got them together and not the sympathy for the victims of the dead. Shedding tears of sympathy by PPP is rather derisory since its own history of Sindh is pathetic. It forgets May 12, 2007 in which 57 political workers were killed by MQM goons in broad daylight. The culprits have been identified but no one has been punished. The then Home Minister is now performing as Mayor of Karachi. Likewise, the ones involved in Baldia town factory case in 2012, in which 260 people were burnt to death by MQM sector in-charge Bhola and his accomplices, he and others have joined Mustafa Kamal led PSP to save themselves from punishment. In fact no target killer of MQM that killed over 5000 people in Karachi between 2008 and 2013 has been taken to task because of close intimacy between Altaf led MQM and PPP in Sindh. Paradoxically, Zardari who lost his wife Benazir in December 2007 has throughout exhibited a lackadaisical approach and never felt pained as to why the murderers have so far not been traced and punished.
Tragic rape and murder of 7 years old Zainab in Kasur has given strength to the collaborators to combine the two cases and build further pressure on Punjab government. Like Model town tragedy, Zainab case is also being blown out of all proportions as if a crime of this nature had never occurred before. 12 similar cases took place in Kasur in 2016/17 and many child rape cases have taken place in other provinces and Gilgit-Baltistan. So why the extraordinary noise on Zainab case particularly when all out efforts are being made to nab the culprit?
The political atmosphere that had already been vitiated in the aftermath of July 28, 2017 verdict has been further vitiated at a time when the sky of Pakistan is overcast with black clouds. The US has put Pakistan on notice, suspended its aid, reportedly deployed stealth bombers at Bagram airbase and has readied its offensive plans. Indian military is itching to strike Pakistan in disregard of nuclear deterrence and is awaiting green signal from New Delhi to start a nuclear war. Hardly a day passes without a ceasefire violation along the LoC in Kashmir by Indian military, resulting in loss of lives. Visit of Israeli PM Netanyahu to Delhi was calculated to give a message to Pakistan that both are on one page to strike Pakistan. The unity regime in Kabul is in hostile mood and has stepped up blame game and propaganda war against Pakistan and has welcomed Trump’s aggressive stance against Pakistan.
Pakistan armed forces are ready for any eventuality and have made it clear that any untoward aggressive act will be responded with full force. Politicians are however least concerned about the threat posed by enemies of Pakistan and the foreign sponsored internal terrorism. The government has also taken a bold stand and is determined not to be intimidated. Irresponsible behavior of the opposition parties in these testing times when unity is direly needed is helping the cause of adversaries of Pakistan. Demand of resignation of SS and Sanaullah at a time when elections are round the corner speak of mala fide intentions and heightened nervousness of the opposition parties.
Pakistan’s economy that was steadily climbing upwards and GDP was well poised to cross the benchmark of over 6% has started to tumble after the disqualification of NS and consequent rise in political temperature and uncertainty. Foreign exchange reserve has decreased, foreign investment radically declined and work on CPEC has slowed down particularly after the sudden change of government in Baluchistan which is now under the stewardship of PML-Q Bizenjo. Several more attempts in various forms may be brewed up to maximize pressure and to derail Senate elections.
What is unfortunately missing is healthy politics, healthy criticism, tolerance, reconciliation and accommodation for each other. In order to effectively meet the foreign threats and internal challenges of extremism, terrorism and dwindling economy, there is an urgent need to set aside our internal differences, shun lethal politics of agitation, put up a united front, make the parliament strong, frame pragmatic and astute foreign policy and all-encompassing economic planning, maintain harmonious civil-military relations, and infuse nationalism and patriotism among the people and prepare for next elections to ensure smooth transfer of power as had been done in 2013.
The writer is a retired Brig, war veteran, defence and security analyst, columnist, author of five books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Chief Editor Better Morrow Magazine, Director Measac Research Centre.