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Double jeopardy



By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times, August 22, 2014


Regardless of the outcome of the so-called marches on Islamabad in the name of “revolution and “real independence,” they reflect a gradual build up accruing from a litany of mistakes that the government in Punjab and in Islamabad kept committing.

The sit-in in front of the parliament became inevitable from the day Imran Khan and Dr Qadri embarked on their journey from Lahore to Islamabad. What preceded and accompanied this “challenge” to the government was clearly born out of arrogance, indifference to political sensitivities of the opposition, and delayed responses. They also reflect the Sharifs’ propensity to draw advice by people most of whom lack the wisdom of realpolitik and hardly fathom the need for statesmanship in the crunch hour. The latter became evident with the inclusion of federal ministers Saad Rafiq and Ahsan Iqbal in the committee the prime minister constituted to deal with the two protesting parties. Was it non-seriousness or sheer lack of competence and indifference to some bitter ground realities? Rafiq and Iqbal’s presence in the committees and their stinging rhetoric on August 19 not only raised eyebrows but reflected the casual attitude towards the issue; both have been part of the verbal charade against Imran and Qadri and hence practically neither of the two having any locus to engage with the same enemy they have been detracting and ridiculing.

The current crisis, on the face of it, is rooted in two big issues: Imran Khan’s objections to the results of the elections last year, and Dr Qadri’s demands for drastic systemic changes for the collective good, of course topped with the demand for institution of criminal cases against Shahbaz Sharif for the murder of his party’s workers.

This way, the assault on Islamabad amounted to a double jeopardy for the Sharif brothers. Firstly, trying to fend off a legal challenge (murder of PAT workers during the police crackdown) through political brinkmanship with the help of the executive power drawn from the constitution. Secondly, the attempt to deal with Imran Khan’s charges of electoral fraud – a legal-executive issue – through political propaganda and conventional antics. This underscores a dichotomy of word and deed. How can the government invoke the rule-of-law argument while stonewalling attempts to legally settle the issue of the murdered PAT workers, using their institutional influence, rather than allowing the law to take its course?

Article 9 of the constitution makes the state responsible for the security of the citizens (No person shall be deprived of life or liberty save in accordance with law). Similarly, Article 14 guarantees the “inviolability of dignity of man”. The oath taken by the members of parliament, including the prime minister and the chief ministers, (Article 65) binds them to uphold the constitution.

By dithering in a situation that warranted a lot of preemptive action and strategic vision, the Sharifs brought an unnecessary crisis upon themselves.

While they clearly have no love lost for the army and their ministers provided substantive evidence of that in the initial months of this year, starting with the treason case against former president Musharraf, they have meanwhile taken shelter behind the same army, and unwittingly put the GHQ once again at the centre stage.

“From a czar-like prime minister, they (the army) have reduced him to a deputy commissioner-type character who will deal with the day-to-day running of the country while they take care of the important stuff like Afghanistan and India. This is not a small loss,” Reuters news agency quoted a former intelligence chief who declined to be named.

“The biggest loser will be Nawaz, cut down to size both by puny political rivals and the powerful army,” said a government minister who asked not to be named. “From this moment on, he’ll always be looking over his shoulder.”

Pakistan’s current situation reminds us of the one that prevailed in the United States during the debt crisis.

Rather than basing preventive strategy on the causes of the downturn and the discontent, the government remained fallaciously fixated with dealing with the effects, suggested The Economist on July 24, 2008, in one of its editorials. If America can learn from its problems instead of blaming others, it will come back stronger, it said.

Will the Sharifs and the others in the ruling troika pick up this advice, learn from the litany of mistakes, and emerge stronger as statesmen rather than acting as political pygmies practically hostage to their egos? One thing is clear, Pakistan’s political set up will probably not be the same irrespective of what happens to the sit-ins. It has certainly unleashed a new dynamic, opened a Pandora’s Box of political conversation, and once again underscored the fact that weakness within the political fraternity lends ever more strength to the military establishment. The outcome will not be without casualties.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk