Commentary on the Current Political Imbroglio in Pakistan

 By Dr. Jyoti M. Pathania
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The USIP report on August 11, 2020, stated that Pakistan continues to face multiple sources of internal and external conflict, incidents of domestic terrorism though have been reduced in part due to the measures taken by the state, but extremism and intolerance of diversity have grown fuelled by a narrow vision of Pakistan’s national identity which is threatening the countries prospects for social cohesion and stability. Weak institutions and the inability of the state institutions to reliably provide peaceful ways to resolve grievances, only end up encouraging groups to seek violence as a legitimate alternative.[1]

For the first time in the history of Pakistan politics, a coalition of 11 members of the opposition parties including the four biggest political parties, have joined together to raise their voice against the selected Prime-Minister’s failing governance. What is significant and unusual in these protests rallies and marches is that these demonstrations are also attacking the powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan for nearly half of its existence. The backlash from the military was instigated when the Chief PML(N), Shahbaz Sharif was sent to jail for a case of money laundering of seven hundred crores, Sharif claimed that during three weeks of detention by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) not even once was he seriously interrogated. He claims the existence of an unholy alliance of Imran Khan and NAB to victimise opposition leaders.

With back-to-back rallies planned and happening successfully even during the Pandemic, it certainly seems that the political situation is only going to worsen by the day. A series of large gatherings in the form of protest marches are becoming a common feature in Pakistan which is caught up in a political impasse of sorts. Imran Khan’s government has not lived up to its commitment to Naya Pakistan. As a result, today a complex political crisis is emerging, and the situation is moving from bad to worst. Be it at any level, political, economic, social, and even handling the COVID-19 Crisis. The PDM has begun to channelise public discontentment on basic ontological issues like rising prices; frequent power cuts; inflated electricity bills, closure of small businesses, other economic miseries coupled with the greylisting under the FATF and the billions of debts owed to international donors and the ensuing health crisis.

In a marathon meeting in Islamabad, while addressing the late Sheikhul Hadith Maulana Amanullah Conference in Sarai Naurang, Lakki Marwat, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) leader blamed “selected rulers” for destroying the country`s economy and urged that each institution should play its role as per the constitution.[2] The PDM rallies showcased the sentiment of the opposition leaders that the Army should not meddle in political affairs. Through a video conference, the ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, launched a direct attack on Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa COAS, and Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, ISI Chief, for direct interference in politics.

The political crisis has further deepened after the PDM announced that their lawmakers who constitute fifty percent of the members of the parliament will resign en-masse by the end of this month from the parliament. Some analysts believe that this might paralyse the government and force Prime Minister Imran Khan to call early snap polls. As per, PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, “All lawmakers will submit their resignation letter to their party chiefs by 31st December,” he said, flanked by The Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Maryam Nawaz and PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.[3] The strength of the National Assembly is 342 members out of which around 157 members are now part of the PDM movement, If the movement of mass resignations is a success, then the strength of the government support will be reduced to almost half, creating a precarious situation of political instability. This could serve as a death knell for the ruling government, and it might be impossible then to avoid the general election. “The government will be forced to call general elections, otherwise the legitimacy of the entire process will be questionable,” said PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal, warning the more protests would follow in case fresh elections did not take place.[4]

Despite hurdles created by the ruling government, the PDM leaders agreed to go ahead with the Lahore rally on December 13th,2020, as a show of power to the government. This was the sixth rally after similar gatherings were held in Gujranwala, Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar, Multan, and Lahore. The Opposition parties are succeeding in attracting a huge number of people despite hurdles created by the government. With each passing rally, the strength, as well as the number of people participating, keeps increasing. The final march to Islamabad early next year is planned to arouse public opinion and showcase the rising support of the movement to the present government.

Maulana Fazrul Rahman, the head of the Jamaat Ulema-e-Islam Fazi, is chosen as the President of the PDM. What is of significance is that this is the second-largest Islamic party with a substantial hard-line religious element, which lays rest to the rumor that this movement has a foreign hand. Moreover, he brings along with him the support of the Pashtun population as well. Maulana though known to be an Islamic hardliner religious believer, but his political views seem to be largely liberal, he certainly seems to be enjoying the center stage in the rallies that have happened so far.

These protest marches are becoming mass national movements of sorts. The collective alliance of the Pakistan Democratic Party(PDM) which has been holding protest marches since 16th October 2020 in Gujranwala also has the four big opposition parties which certainly lends credence to this complete movement. Pakistan Muslim League PML(NAWAZ) headed by Maryam Nawaz, Pakistan’s Political Party headed by Bilawal Bhutto (PPP), Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party led by Mahmood Achakzai, Baluch National Party led by Akhtar Mengal and Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement by Arif Wazir. All of them also constitute the next generation leaders of the political dynasties in Pakistan.

The rallies are proving their objective of publicising the fact that, ruling political party Tehreek-e-Insaf won the elections not because of any big majority, but because of the support of the  Deep State. Hence Imran Khan was not an elected Prime minister but a selected one. The aim of these rallies are to weaken the public appeal of Imran Khan and provide an alternative to the people of the nation to end his puppet regime. The ISI involvement was also seen when the Interior minister Brig Ijaz Shah, ordered the arrest of Maryam Nawaz’s husband. While the Army, ISI, and the ISPR are gathering inputs and watching the situation closely as and when it is being played up. The Deep State will not hesitate perhaps in sacrificing another selected PM in order to be in sync with the larger public opinion.

In the next few months, the current political imbroglio will only become more complex and complicated. So what could be the possible scenarios; a long drawn out political instability and turmoil will continue, wherein both the ruling and opposition alliance will battle it out with allegations and accusations, this might lead to a civil war like situation which might hamper and further dent the economy as well as the ongoing infrastructure projects under China Pakistan Economic Corridor(CPEC), a cause of concern for China,  another possibility is that the Deep State takes on the reigns of governance directly with the COAS or the President as interim leader, calling for dissolution of the Parliament till such time fresh elections are held, with the inflation rate at 9 percent, and the global economy also slowing, Pakistan might fall into a debt trap[5], With respect to India there doesn’t seem to be any major qualitative change in Pakistan’s approach, as the perennial issues such as cross border terrorism, increase in terrorist activities, raising of the false flag operations will continue with more vigour perhaps, continuum will also be maintained between the Afghan-based Pakistani Taliban and the Islamic State-Khorasan Province(ISPK) which may destabilise both the eastern Afghanistan and the newly merged tribal districts of Pakistan along the Pak -Afghan border[6], the diversion of Jihadi fighters and proxy groups from Afghanistan to Kashmir might also increase. This will only dampen the already sour relations between India and Pakistan.

End-Notes

[1]The Current Situation in Pakistan, A USIP Fact Sheet, Tuesday, August 11, 2020, Available at-https://www.usip.org/publications/2020/08/current-situation-pakistan. Accessed on 12-12-2020

[2] Despite Imran khan govt warning, Pak opposition vows to hold Lahore rally, ANI | Updated: Dec 07, 2020 22:00 IST, Available at_https://www.aninews.in/news/world/asia/despite-imran-khan-govt-warning-pak-opposition-vows-to-hold-lahore-rally20201207204848. Accessed on 14-12-2020

[3] Pak. Opposition lawmakers plan to resign en masse – The Hindu, Dec 06, 2020, Available at-https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/pak-oppn-lawmakers-plan-to-resign-en-masse/article33292463.ece. Accessed on 14-12-2020

[4] Pak lawmakers to resign en masse to paralyse govt: PDM chief Rehman, DEC 10, 2020, Available at- www,the hills times.in,International, Accessed on 18-12-2020

[5] The Economic Times, Pakistan political crisis could impact CPEC, economic growth Oct 24, 2020 Available at: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/pakistan-political-crisis-could-impact-cpec-economic,growth/articleshow/78842659.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst, Accessed on 20-12-2020

[6] End of the Afghan conflict: Pakistan’s hopes and fears, february 12, 2019 by Ashraf Ali, Available at: https://southasianvoices.org/end-of-the-afghan-conflict-pakistans-hopes-and-fears/ Accessed on 21-12-2020

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DR. JYOTI M. PATHANIA is working as a Senior Fellow and Chairperson Outreach committee at Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New-Delhi. A doctorate in Political Science, she graduated from Lady Shri Ram College in Political Science (Honors) and secured the Third rank in Delhi University. She obtained her M.A. and M.Phil. degree in “International Politics” from the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She was selected to go on a scholarship to the European Peace University in Austria, Spain, and Ireland, where she pursued another Masters's in advanced studies in ‘Peace and Conflict Studies. She has over 20 years of teaching, training and research experience in various universities: to name a few; Symbiosis Law College Pune, Amity Law School Delhi, Centre for Strategic and Regional Studies, Jammu University, Jiwaji University Gwalior, St. Xavier’s College Ranchi and also worked as an analyst for South Asian Analysis Group and was also the Assistant Director of the Amity Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution. She has also qualified for National Eligibility Test for lectureship under University Grant Commission. Recipient of various awards and scholarships, to name a few, Prof. Randhir Singh Award for securing distinction in Political Theory, Prof. N. N. Aggarwal Memorial Award, Austrian Govt. Development Scholarship, H.P. State Govt. Scholarship, National Talent Scheme Scholarship, Delhi University. She was also awarded by the Chief Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat for excellence in research and establishing collaboration with international research institutes. She has authored books and written articles for various newspapers and journals both national and international. She is also the founding editor of the Online Indian Journal of Peace & Conflict Resolution. Her book on India- Pakistan: Confidence Building Measures was one of the first few books on the subject. Her areas of specialization are International Politics, Conflict Resolution & Peace, Non-Traditional Security, and South Asia.