Urban Echo News 

Pakistan: A Nation Wrestling with Democracy

by Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE

Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, one of the wealthiest politicians and three times Prime Minister of Pakistan is convicted of corruption and money laundering. He is thus incarcerated along with his daughter and son-in-law; the latter two own assets abroad, whose value is beyond their declared lawful means of income.

Pakistan had 16 prime ministers during her brief history; each one of these was stripped of powers by military dictators on the allegations of corruption and was thus out manoeuvred. Sadly enough, two of these were assassinated and one sent to the gallows for allegedly abetting the murder of the father of a rival politician.

The current political turmoil is a continuity of the unrest created nearly two years ago when Panama papers leaked the offshore companies of the world leaders. The list indirectly pointed to Nawaz Sharif, then Prime Minister of Pakistan whose younger brother, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, was Chief Minister of Punjab, population-wise the largest of the four provinces of Pakistan.

A powerful politician otherwise, Mr Nawaz Sharif was confident to escape accountability with a relative ease. Here Mr Sharif made an error of judgement. Since he longed for bringing the military under his thumb right from the time when he formed his government in 2013, therefore, at every turn of the tide, his relations with the Army deteriorated.

Not assessing what could be done to him and by whom, he went on giving contradictory statements about his assets within and without the houses of parliament. As a result, the Apex Court of Pakistan stepped forward and appointed a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) comprising of officers from the civil and military sensitive organisation to probe into the case and submit the report in a specified period of time. On the basis of this report the Supreme Court of Pakistan disqualified him for life from hold any public office and referred his case to the trial court of National Accountability Bureau (NAB), instructing the latter to decide the case in a specified period of time. Subsequently the NAB court sentenced him to 10 years, his daughter, 7 years and his son-in-law one year, all rigorous imprisonment.

Since then, he, his daughter and the senior leaders of his party have been vociferously defying the verdict of the Apex Court. Since then, they exhibited scorn against the army as well as the judiciary, alleging that the military intervenes every time a democratic government is formed.

As the country is experiencing the climate of general elections to the parliament, the opposition parties chose to remain at a safe distance from the ruling Muslim League (N), in order to isolate Mr Sharif and just to remain in good books of the Establishment. Nevertheless, Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI), who has consistently been scuffling with the ongoing corrupt practices of the rulers for the last two decades, became more hard liner to expose the ways and means by which the country’s wealth has been transferred to the foreign accounts and businesses of the Sharif family.

The continued process of accountability is worrying certain prominent political figures in the hierarchy of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), thus resulting in shedding their sympathy for Mr Sharif in order to exert collective pressure on judiciary and the Establishment not to begin probe prior to the Election Day on July 25, 2018. Nonetheless, the forces that matter look like determined to continue the process of accountability ceaselessly.

When Nawaz and his daughter Maryam returned home from London, where lie ailing Mrs Nawaz in a hospital on Harley Street, they expected to raise ripples before courting arrest on the airport of their landing because of the mammoth crowd that may have come to receive them, but to their dismay, no one, including Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother, could reach there. The authorities arrested the two and brought them to Rawalpindi without any unpleasant event. The provincial government cracked down the crowd, of whatever magnitude it was, and did not let them reach any closer to the Lahore airport.

There is no denying the fact that Nawaz Sharif remains the only politician who threw gauntlet to the Establishment that is blamed for intervening in the democratic process and warned them of the lethal consequence of the level of dismemberment of the country as it was experienced in the past when East Pakistan ceded and became Bangladesh. It is well known that Mr Sharif and Pak Army have always been at daggers drawn over the differences of opinion in particular over the foreign policy and foreign trade. This includes the settlement of Kashmir issue by peaceful means through bilateral dialogue. Other areas of difference were the prosecution of General Pervez Musharraf, and the Dawn Leaks.

Soon after his swearing in 2013, his government had been under surveillance and the Establishment waited for the opportune moment to topple him down, thus replacing him by a national government comprising of technocrats, members of the judiciary and other willing horses amongst the politicians. But the dream could never be materialised.

That doesn’t mean that Mr Sharif is innocent as he pretends to be. He ruled the country as an autocrat and shared power with none except his immediate family members. He showered favours to his cronies and sooth-Sayers, ignoring most of the members of his cabinet and never relegated powers to them laid down in the rules of business. He is an obstinate with a vengeance. He lacks political acumen and foresightedness. He rarely goes to attend when the parliament is in session. This fact alone shows his contempt for democracy.

Mr Sharif is a compulsive liar and devious. His current stance against the army is not due to his love for democracy, this is just a machination to mislead his electorate for he has reached a point of no return with regard to his relations with the Establishment. His escape remains blocked; his poor judgement of the powers of army and their role in the politics of the country has left him and his party at the mercy of wind and wave. His own political career has reached a cul-de-sac.

His party, Muslim League known after his name as Nawaz League, is now left as a beleaguered group of people who, soon after the elections, will go about in search of greener pastures. He will be left with very few loyal individuals who won’t matter significantly in politics. Who so ever got a chance to join the upcoming government as well as his one-time confidant, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan; they will not resist the temptations.

Sadly, the contestants of most of the political parties, except PPP and Jamaat-e-Islami, are organising large rallies and decry their adversaries with rhetoric and sloganeering including slander and false allegations. Instead of setting examples of higher moral behaviour, bringing forward their policies to alleviate poverty, unemployment, provision of free basic education, measures to improve quality of life of the masses; they indulge in mud-slinging against each other.

Most of them are making false claim to change the country into a paradise on earth if they are voted in, without having to answer with what means would they do so. An upsurge in terrorist activities has been seen in the provinces of KPK and Baluchistan; apparently it seems that certain political parties are targeted in this violence in order to curb their election campaign while the one that has openly been supporting the terrorists, is at liberty to continue campaigning unabated.

This is Imran Khan, the leader of PTI, who is enjoying favour of both the extremists as well as of the hidden actors. He started with the claim that he will change the whole country and its governance; but at the end of the day, his team consists of the same old time-tested players that have changed sides, left the two mainstream parties that is PPP and PML-N and joined the rank and file of PTI. Thus PTI seems no more a party that could bring about change; it is now a party that is bound to maintain the status quo.

PML-N with its leaders behind the bars seems to take up to the streets soon after the elections which have no promise for them. The leadership is uncompromising in their stance of denigration of judiciary and the Establishment. There is no doubt that its credibility is questioned so far as their claims of developing infrastructure, providing gas and electricity are concerned, yet it has still reasonable footing in most parts of the Punjab. But the drawback is that the House of Sharifs stands divided. This is quite apparent from the difference of slogans of the two brothers.

PPP, a party that has been claiming that they stand for the rights of common man, also faces credibility challenges. Zardari and his sister, both are alleged to have transferred huge amounts of money abroad. The young leadership, Balawal is struggling hard. If they could win back their Sindh , and a few seats from other provinces, it could be called as not a bad start for the your leader.

There is another alliance of religious parties in the field called MMA (Muthida Majlis Amal). In Musharaf’s era, it was nicknamed Mullah Military Alliance, and in spirit, it was really so. There were about 65 of them in National and provincial Assemblies; all of that due to the good offices of the brass. Politically they are shrinking day by day. Their only strength lies in the use of religious card to create strife. Very few of them are expected to enter the parliament.

Yet another alliance in Sindh province is Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), a coalition of five political parties, that is, PML-F (Pir Paghara’s party), Qaumi Awami Tehreek (QAT), National Peoples Party (NPP), Pakistan Peoples Party Workers (PPPW) and Peoples Muslim League Pakistan. This alliance is a big challenge to the PPP that has continuously been ruling Sindh for the last ten years and has delivered little. PPP has been in power in the centre too for many times since 1972. However, it has yet to be seen whether GDA would be able to bag enough seats to oust the PPP from Sindh.

The worst aspect of these elections is that defunct terrorist parties, with the UN banned leaders such as Hafiz Saeed, Maulana Azher Masud, Maulana Zali Lakhvi and the Islamabad-based Afghan Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehmam Khalil (the last named showed allegiance to Imran Khan) are allowed to contest the general elections thus paving way for them to enter into the country’s mainstream politics.

In the final analysis, there seems not to emerge a single party with simple majority to form government alone. Not even the most touted one, that is PTI. There would be a coalition. If so, it will have to face the egotism of Imran Khan, a phenomenon that does not auger well for the future of Pakistan’s fragile democracy. Another thing that could be said with a degree of certainty is that even this round of democratic exercise won’t result in alleviating the gigantic problems faced by the country in its every sphere of life.

 

 

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