Pakistan Riddled with Multiple Crises
by Asif Haroon Raja
Two-Party Rule & Military Rule
ZA Bhutto gave birth to PPP in 1967 and Nawaz Sharif (NS) to PML-N in 1990. NS was groomed and patronized by Gen Ziaul Haq. The 2nd democratic era witnessed the two mainstream national political parties, PPP and PML-N at loggerheads from 1988 onwards till Benazir Bhutto in self-imposed exile and exiled NS signed Charter of Democracy (CoD) in 2006 during Gen Musharraf’s rule, both pledging to let each other complete the mandated 5-year tenure and to clip the wings of the army and the judiciary. They didn’t consider doctoring the moral and social ailments which had decomposed democracy and decayed the institutions.
The lawyer’s movement in March 2007 forced Gen Musharraf to strike a power sharing deal with Benazir, issue NRO on Oct 5 to allow the two exiled leaders to return and take part in elections, impose emergency on Nov 3, shed off his uniform and hand over the baton of Army to his VCOAS Gen Ashfaq Kiani on Nov 27. He was blamed for the murder of Benazir on Dec 27. In the March 2008 elections, PPP formed its govts in the Centre and Sindh, and coalition govts in KP and Balochistan. PML-N under Shahbaz Sharif (SS) took over Punjab.
The CoD was put into practice, provinces granted greater autonomy through the 18th Amendment in the Constitution, and the PPP under Asif Ali Zardari completed its full tenure. CJP Iftikhar Ch sacked by Gen Musharraf was restored in March 2009. He introduced the concept of Suo Motus and judicial activism. It was owing to poor performance of the PPP which reduced its political strength to the Sindh-based party and gave space to the PTI which till then was in wilderness. SS’s good performance enabled PML-N to win 2013 elections with a two-thirds majority.
PML-N’s Rule (2013-2018)
During the five-year rule of PML-N from June 2013 to June 2018, it learnt lessons from its past follies, took advantage of its majority and managed to steady the rocking economy, overcame worst energy crisis, broke the back of rural and urban terrorism, formulated National Action Plan, established NACTA, lifted the GDP to 5.8 %, started the gigantic CPEC project attracting $ 46 billion China’s assistance, forged strategic relationship with China and further cemented ties with the Arab Gulf States.
Its performance could be much better had PTI under Imran Khan (IK), which had refused to accept 2013 elections results, not created one hurdle after another to impede development works. Even CPEC was delayed by one year. PML-N had to contend with judicial activism under CJP Saqib Nisar who disqualified NS for life on a flimsy charge and imprisoned him, his daughter Maryam and the leading lights of the party. The economic graph began to decline from 2017 onwards.
IK’s politics of defiance and aggression were given legal cover by the higher judiciary. In spite of PTI’s 126-day sit-in, violence, protest marches and high-pitched media war together with judicial prejudices, the badly bruised PML-N managed to complete its tenure under Khaqan Abbasi.
IK’s Rise to Power
IK was chosen as the future PM by a selected group of serving and retired army officers in 2011. The one-seater PTI received a quantum jump in the 2013 elections in which it won KP and became the second and 3rd largest party in Punjab and the Centre with a toehold in urban Sindh. The establishment used its tentacles to rig the elections in Punjab and enable the PTI to take over Punjab where it couldn’t secure a simple majority. The PML-N had secured more votes and seats than any other party. Bushra Bibi, wife of Khawar Maneka and mother of five, believing in Peeri-Mureedi, shrine-worship, spiritualism and sorcery got married to IK in Jan 2018 and had a role in election of IK as PM.
Gen Qamar Bajwa, Lt Gen Faz Hamid and CJP Saqib Nisar conspired to push aside populous PML-N and to hand over the reins of power to PTI under IK for next ten years, hoping that he would be able to cleanse Pakistan and make it prosperous. This manipulated change proved fatal for Pakistan’s future politics. Had the manipulators allowed Punjab with PML-N, federal govt and KP with PTI, Sindh with PPP and Baluchistan with a coalition govt, things might have proceeded smoothly.
PTI’s Rule (Aug 2018 – April 2022)
Finding itself short of the magical figures in the federal govt and in Punjab, perforce the PTI had to tie knots with MQM-P, PML-Q, BNP-M, BAP, GDA and independents, which handicapped the winning party. More than half of the cabinet members were electables from other parties and advisers from abroad. IK was made to believe that no sooner he was crowned, the people would readily pay taxes, the expats would fill the commercial banks with remittances and donations, and the looted amount of $ 200 billion stashed in foreign banks recovered. He and other party leaders were so intensely infatuated with these fanciful assumptions that they felt no need to make an economic plan. IK made tall promises of making Pakistan corruption-free within 90 days, providing one crore jobs to the jobless, 50 lacs homes to the homeless, cheap justice at the doorsteps of all and making Pakistan an ideal welfare state.
Intoxicated by the charisma and popularity of IK, and riding on the strong shoulders of the military, support of the Supreme Court (SC), the PTI leaders remained wholly focused on casting aspersions on the former regime. The military establishment being on one page with the ruling regime, emboldened IK to carry out witch hunting of his opponents with the help of NAB. Purpose was to frighten the PML-N MNAs and Punjab MPAs and force them to join the PTI, but the fort of PML-N remained intact.
Hardly any heed was paid to uplift the economy, or to carry out crucial reforms, or to gel the divided nation, or to lessen the pains of the poor and the tyrannized Kashmiris. IK remained heavily dependent upon the advice of his wife and appointed a goofy Usman Buzdar as CM Punjab at the behest of Bushra Bibi, known as Pinki Peerni. She meddled in postings of govt officials. Finance ministers, IG Punjab and other senior appointment holders in Punjab administration were changed frequently.
Downfall of PTI Regime
By 2019, all the wishful assumptions proved elusive and high hopes dashed. GDP dipped to zero percent and economic indicators went into negative. One reason was the IMF loan agreement of $6.5 billion, tied to stringent conditions. The other reasons were Covid Pandemic, poor governance, mismanagement, nepotism and reliance on dual nationality holders. Selective accountability gave reason to the PDM to team up and form PDM.
The PTI regime didn’t fare well on the diplomatic front as well. Apart from annoying the IMF by violating the terms of agreement, it irritated the US, China, and KSA and to top it all, the Army leadership.
It was a criminal act to freeze the game-changing CPEC to please the USA at the cost of upsetting Pakistan’s most trusted friend China. Whereas the bold response against Indian air intervention in Balakot in Feb 2019 raised the stature of IK, PAF and Army chiefs, adoption of a defensive posture after the illegal annexation of IOK by India on Aug 5, 2019, was another inexcusable act.
GHQ not only helped in battling the pandemic, but also made concerted efforts to boost the economy. 23 Brigs were posted to GHQ to extend a helping hand to the ministries and Gen Bajwa became the member of the national economic team. Some improvements were made in 2nd half of 2022. Bajwa’s repeated requests to change Buzdar were turned down by IK. Once Bajwa and his core team found that the PTI was neither prepared to listen to good advice nor was delivering, their relations cooled in 2021. The issue of posting out of DG ISI Faiz Hamid broke the proverbial back of the camel, and GHQ decided to become neutral.
Removal of the army’s crutches encouraged the fence sitters within the PTI to rebel, and the blackmailing allies to part ways. IK tried to induce Gen Bajwa by offering another extension, but he refused to meddle in politics. When the trust motion couldn’t be defeated, IK with the help of President Alvi dissolved the National Assembly (NA) on Apr 3 and all the 35 MNAs of PTI resigned. The SC reincarnated the NA on Apr 8, and the PDM members elected SS as the new PM on Apr 9.
PTI’s fall turned into a blessing in disguise for IK. His popularity graph that had declined considerably began to surge up significantly. Not reconciling to the loss of power, IK’s sole concern has been snap polls and return to power. In order to pressurize the govt to hold early elections, he held a series of huge public gatherings during which he bad mouthed the PDM leaders, Election Commissioner, Gen Bajwa and the ISI senior officers and gave them insulting names. His invectives and abuses and his call for Azadi march to attain real independence further ignited the emotions of his fans.
To maximize pressure, he undertook a long march from Peshawar on May 25 to storm Islamabad, but the assault was successfully thwarted by the police. His 2nd long march was launched from Lahore in Oct/Nov which was primarily aimed at preventing SS to appoint Lt Gen Asim Munir as the next army chief on Nov 29. His first choice was Lt Gen Faiz Hamid, but he had become highly controversial owing to his linkage with CJP Saqib Nisar, Bushra Bibi and the TTP.
When this offensive backfired, in desperation IK resorted to other highhanded tactics like Jail Bharo Tehrik and dissolving the Punjab and KP Assemblies and then pressing the govt and the SC to hold elections in the two provinces within 90 days. The SC directed the Election Commission (EC) to hold elections by May 14, which has been declined by the EC and the Parliament on account of lack of funds, security personnel and staff to conduct elections.
Role of PDM Regime
What is most striking and bewildering is that the bunch of thieves and goofs ruling the roost are showing extraordinary resilience to the political and judicial activism as well as multiple crises.
The unpopular PDM regime has braved the fierce onslaughts of PTI and rolled back the two long marches and smothered other offensive acts. And now they are defying the CJP and two other Supreme Court judges who in their view are highly partisan and aligned with the PTI.
Irrespective of the inglorious past and poor performance of the PDM leaders who are at the helm of affairs for one year, they are at least trying hard to salvage the sinking ship. The same cannot be said about the largest and most popular party PTI, which is hellbent to foment chaos, intensify instability, insecurity and uncertainty in order to suck the life out of the dwindling economy.
The so-called imported and good for nothing govt has not only prevented the default of Pakistan, but has also managed the state affairs under most trying conditions and without the crutches of the establishment. It has managed to fulfil all the demands of the IMF, procured loans from the KSA, UAE and China. The latter has committed $ 58 billion for the railway line which is part of CPEC. KSA is ready to invest $ 14 billion to install an oil refinery at Gwadar. Iran is in the loop of China and prospects of operationalization of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project lying in limbo since 2006 have brightened. It can be assumed that Iran will not undermine Gwadar Port. Russia has supplied wheat on cheap rates and the crude oil shipment is likely this month. Moscow has promised to build gas pipelines in Pakistan. Possibility of Russia and Afghanistan getting connected to CPEC cannot be ruled out.
Despite multifarious crises of grave nature, the hard pressed govt has ensured supply of gas and electricity to the consumers, started counter terrorism operations, distributed free wheat bags to the poorest segment, lowered prices of fuel, raised daily wages of labor class, provided some relief to the flood affected and kept Pakistan relevant in the world comity. But for the deliberate instability fanned by the PTI, the results could have been better.
The Parliament – SC standoff has reached a dangerous stage since both sides have dug their heels. PTI’s xenophobia and judicial jingoism against the Parliament has further unified the PDM. One bill after another has been passed with speed by the parliament to cut the powers of CJP to size and possibly to disqualify him and two other judges with doubtful integrity.
SS and his coalition partners are determined to ensure the supremacy of the parliament. He felt so confident that he took the vote of confidence on 27 April and secured 180 votes. Last time in April 2022, he had secured 174 votes, two more than the magical figure of 172. The re-elected PM demanded a thorough probe by a parliamentary committee to dig out details of massive rigging in the 2018 elections, of which former CJP Saqib Nisar was a party.
Burning Issue and Dilemmas
The burning issue at hand is elections in Punjab and KP in May as desired by the apex court, Supreme Court Bar Counsel and the PTI, or simultaneous elections on one date in Oct wished by the PDM and Pakistan Bar Council. 14 May has become impossible. Mid-way will be found, although PML-N would like the elections in Oct to be able to provide relief to the people and create conditions conducive for the return of fugitive NS. The latter would like to return after the retirement of CJP Umar Bandial.
CJP Bandial is pushed for time since he and the president are retiring in mid Sept, the judges would go on summer vacations in mid June till mid Sept. Justice Faiz Essa who is pro-PDM and anti-PTI, and is also cross with Bandial, would take over as next CJP in Oct this year. Even if Bandial disqualifies the PM or the whole of the cabinet, Essa would restore them.
The PTI is anxious to hold snap polls since it fears the possibility of IK getting disqualified in foreign funding, or in the Toshakhana cases, which would render the party redundant. It is now keen to re-join the NA, desires dissolution of NA by May 14, or to restore dissolved assemblies of Punjab and KP. It has formed a committee to hold parleys with the government. Three rounds have taken place.
The numerous predicaments are the outcome of sustained politics of agitation and confrontation from 2011 onwards which scaled new heights after April 10, 2022. The deadly fight between the furious elephants is adding to the sufferings of the people groaning under the weight of high inflation, price hike, unemployment and poverty. The IMF working on an agenda is still playing cat and mouse game and has so far not released the much-sought $1.2 billion loan tranche.
The writer is a retired Brig, war veteran, defence, security & political analyst, international columnist, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan & director Measac Research Centre.