Thoughts on political imbroglio in Pakistan ( Part-1)
By Asif Haroon Raja
Rundown on dramatic regime change
The PTI pitched against PML-N triumphed in the July 2018 elections, breaking the two-party monopoly. Pathetic performance of the two mainstream parties, sustained propaganda of PTI’s media cell, politics of agitation by the PTI activists, the judicial prejudiced approach, assistance provided by hidden hands, charisma of Imran Khan (IK), and his tall promises during the election campaign made the victory possible, but with a very narrow margin.
Since the PTI couldn’t achieve a simple majority in the Centre and in Punjab, it was forced to indulge in unethical horse trading and to tie a knot with blackmailing allies. Electables from other parties also became a drag. No homework was done and team selection was poor. Accountability of the opponents was accorded higher priority over economics, but no results could be achieved. These factors hindered PTI’s performance.
In spite of issues of governance and economics, the government sailed smoothly. IK was confident that the PDM posed no threat to him since it was divided, the people didn’t come out on the streets to protest against price hike, and he had full backing of the military establishment. The one-page mantra was enthusiastically sung by each and every PTI leader.
The protective cloak spread over the ruling regime by Gen Qamar Bajwa (QJB) and Lt Gen Faiz Hameed further intensified the antagonism of the PML-N leaders, convincing them that QJB had a hand in the disqualification and internment of Nawaz Sharif.
With his back safe, IK kept hounding and victimizing the top leaders of the PML-N, PPP and JUI-F with the help of NAB aggressively and derisively called them thieves, looters and Maulana diesel. IK showed no empathy to them, and kept repeating that he will not give NRO to them. The DG ISI Lt Gen Faiz with whom he had developed a close rapport was his backbone.
He was confident that the establishment that had brought him to power in July 2018 would fail all the conspiracies of the PDM and also keep his allies tied to his party. He was also very hopeful that sooner than later the forte of PML-N in Punjab would crack up and about 30 dissidents would join the PTI.
Governed by egotism, IK preferred disengagement and arrogance over engagement and affability, and in the process fractured relations with the opposition, the bureaucrats, judiciary and ECP, and later with the establishment and the USA.
On the external front, other than the tiff with India, he had no issue with any country. His rating had gone high as a result of a successful air duel with India in February 2019. Both the Taliban regime in Kabul, and the US were obliged to Pakistan for its big role in the conclusion of Doha peace agreement in Feb 2020, safe exit of foreign troops from Afghanistan in August 2021, and evacuation of 27000 foreigners. However, ungrateful Joe Biden was inwardly unhappy with IK on account of his continued support to the Taliban regime, his Islamic mindset and his refusal to play the US game.
Behind the curtain of one-page mantra, there were areas of friction between IK and QJB but those never came to light. The first crack in the mantra occurred when the DG ISPR announced the posting order of five Lt Generals on October 6, 2021, in which the name of DG ISI Lt Gen Faiz Hameed was included. He had completed his two-year tenure and was due for his posting to command a Corps. Lt Gen Naveed Anjum was to replace him. That was the time when the PDM was getting a bit nasty after giving a call for the long march to Islamabad (Isbd).
When IK obdurately resisted the posting out of Faiz and QJB didn’t wilt, the former gave two additional names and interviewed them. It embarrassed Anjum, delayed the cycle of postings and vitiated the harmony.
Although the spat apparently subsided after IK stepped back, however, the relationship became tense. The new DG ISI Anjum and QJB decided to adopt a neutral posture, which was one way of showing displeasure over the episode. This change in posture implied that from that time onwards, the opposition leaders would not be harassed and the allies would not be kept in line through coercive tactics.
Neutrality, which was castigated by IK stating that only the animals chose this path, changed the political ballgame. Somehow the damage couldn’t be repaired as was later on admitted by Fawad Choudhry.
Neutrality of the establishment galvanized the spirits of the depressed PDM leaders and they started to smile and disseminated their narrative of ‘record breaking inflation and price hike’ vigorously.
Due to the lack of performance of the government, the people groaning under the weight of ever increasing prices became more receptive to their narrative. Resultantly, the popularity of IK began to decline.
Maulana Fazlur Rahman (MFR) who for the first time was out of the parliament, was in favor of mass resignations and was most impatient to oust the ruling regime and hold early elections. The PPP was against resignations and wanted PTI to complete its tenure. PML-N was in two minds due to differing strategies of the two Sharif brothers. The US diplomats played a role in uniting the divided PDM and making them agree to opt for no-confidence-motion (NCM).
IK fell from the USA’s grace
The situation took a further turn when the US, which had suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Taliban, was confronted by Russia in Ukraine. Since the US and NATO couldn’t physically come to the rescue of President Zolensky regime in Kiev, it applied economic and diplomatic coercive techniques to force Putin to pull back his forces. Series of harsh sanctions were imposed, and all its allies were cautioned to be on its side and to condemn the Russian invasion.
IK fell from the USA’s grace when his visit to Moscow in February coincided with the Russian invasion. Matters worsened when Pakistan abstained from voting in the UN and IK didn’t condemn Russia. Infuriated Biden regime decided to remove him from power through a regime change. To this end, the undersecretary Donald Lu conveyed the threat to Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington Asad Majeed which he transmitted to the foreign office in Isbd on March 7 through a telegram. MFR’s urgency for a regime change was overtaken by the US.
IK has not explained as to why this important letter was not discussed in the right quarters from March 8 to March 29. One reason could be that he was hopeful of winning back the loyalties of his party dissidents. It is now being said that the Foreign Minister and the NSA paid no heed to it and informed the PM late. The other story is that the defence attaché in Washington who was also present in the Asad-Donald meeting had sent his report to ISI and MI Dte two days before March 7.
The sensitivity and gravity of the said letter-gate dawned upon the ruling regime when ten of its MNAs jumped the fence on March 18, its allies started hobnobbing with the PDM leaders and NCM was admitted on March 25. After failing to get the dissidents disqualified by the ECP under Article 63 of the Constitution and not getting a positive response from the Supreme Court (SC) to forbid the turncoats from voting due on April 3, it became obvious that the dice had upturned in favor of the opposition. IK tardily decided to go to the people and play the conspiracy card single-handedly.
Hurried steps were taken to establish a nexus between the US and local actors. Evidence of meetings of PDM leaders with the US officials in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi was collected. A campaign was launched against the floor crossers propagating that Rs 600 crores of Rupees and $ 500 million from the US had been doled out to them and the fence sitters. The first disclosure of the letter was made by IK on March 27 in a big public gathering in Isbd.
The matter was discussed in the National Security Council (NSC) on March 30 followed by another meeting of the Parliamentary Security Committee on March 31. The participants agreed that the language of the letter was undiplomatic. A demarche was given to the US charge d’ affairs in Isbd, and also in Washington, which happened for the first time.
Purpose of this exercise was to shame the conspirators, to put fear into the hearts of the dissidents, and build a narrative to win the sympathies of the public that IK was being punished on account of pursuing an independent foreign policy, and thus build a case to scuttle the NCM.
On the plea of conspiracy under Article 5 of the Constitution, the deputy Speaker Suri rejected the NCM on April 3 and called off the National Assembly meeting without vote counting. The opposition managed to get a reprieve from the SC and the April 3 proceedings were resuscitated on April 9.
Day of high drama
April 9 was a day of nerve jangling drama with emotions of the two camps running high. The Speaker Qaiser tested the tolerance of the opposition through delaying tactics. He knew that the PTI had lost the number game and the legal and constitutional battles, and it was futile to reinforce failure. He couldn’t have avoided voting since the SC had given the date and cutout time of voting. If he didn’t comply with the court orders before 2400 hours, he could be proceeded against under the charge of contempt of court. Either he was instigating the opponents to resort to violence and give a reason to him to suspend the meeting, or he wanted to cause nervous breakdown to the dissidents, compelling them to revert to the treasury benches. The intentional delay with mala fide motives was in violation of Article 95 of the Constitution.
The atmosphere became pregnant with gossip. A petitioner wanted to submit a petition to prevent imposition of martial law in the wake of floating rumors. The news that a notification had been sent by the PM to the Ministry of Defence to sack Gen QJB and the latter not certifying it, and that at about 2330 hours, the COAS and the DG ISI landed in the PM House in a helicopter to hold a meeting with the PM, and that he was manhandled were cooked up stories. It was due to these developments that the doors of the SC and of the IHC opened up after 2300 hours.
At that belated stage, the Speaker after meeting the PM stated that the PM had handed him the US letter which can be read by any member in his chamber. He ended the proceedings melodramatically minutes before 2400 hours by resigning from his seat and inviting former Speaker of PML-N Ayaz Sadiq to complete the proceedings. The latter conducted the voting in which the opposition bagged 174 votes.
For the first time in Pakistan’s history an elected PM was voted out of power through NCM. It was also for the first time that a PM was removed through constitutional means. IK’s impulsive ouster upheld the track record that no PM could complete five years tenure.
While the judiciary was blamed for introducing doctrine of necessity and for its judicial inequities in dispensing justice, for the first time the impartiality of the establishment was put in doubt. It is now being said that the establishment is also part of the problem. Credibility of the NSC and of the ECP have also been made controversial.
Hatred in politics has reached an alarming level and is spreading like a wildfire. It has entered homes and divided the families and has infected the disciplined rank and file of the armed forces and the veterans as well. If public gatherings and social media are a yardstick to measure popularity, it seems that the majority see IK as a Messiah who can make Pakistan independent and self-reliant in true sense.
With an empty national kitty, absence of a neutral and trustworthy referee, the explosive situation has become ripe for our external enemies to fish in troubled waters and achieve their hidden objectives.
To be concluded