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The Punjab saga: towards political uncertainty

 

By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times,Mar 04, 2011

Mutual recriminations between the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Musim League-Nawaz (PML-N) seem to have plunged Pakistan into yet another phase of political uncertainty. The uncertainty is not because of a strident and increasingly assertive Nawaz Sharif alone. The alarming situation has in fact further eroded public faith in national institutions and the ruling elite. Corruption, incompetence and self-righteously skewed views on governance and the rule of law stand out as the hallmarks of Pakistan’s ruling elite. Our present lotof rulers has only reinforced the popular perception of the ruling elite. Consider for example Tahir Ali Javed,a member of the Punjab Assembly, who made his career as the Pakistan Muslim League- Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q)legislator after escaping conviction in United States of America. 

Tahir Ali Javed appears to be the lynchpin in the Nawaz Sharif’s grand scheme. He took upon himself the onerous job of engineering the so called unification bloc within the PML-Q and thus stands out as the epitomeof the grimy politics of Pakistan. Why? Tahir Ali Javed,the son of Dr.Naimat Ali Javed, a former scientist in the Pakistani nuclear establishment,ran a clinic in Nebraska long before escaping indictment for medical malpractice involving as many as 82 patients who had contracted Hepatitis C. The origin of the epidemic was traced to his clinic, where the management, in order to save money,was using used syringes. 

In Pakistan Tahir Ali Javed met Tariq Aziz, a close confidante of General Pervez Musharraf. Alongwith so many other new faces, Javed was presented to Musharraf as “the new blood” for Pakistan’s future – totally disregarding the past of many of those, including that of Javed, whose father, according to the German weekly Der Spiegel, had sought commissions while shopping for the nuclear programme in that country.

In late 2009 Javed’s goons had also harassed and mistreated a school teacher and his family in Shakargarh. It was only after instructions from the Supreme Court of Pakistan that a case was registered against him under Section 295-A of the Pakistan Penal Code. Section 295 A deals with offences which causedeliberate and malicious hurt to a citizen of Pakistan by insulting their religious beliefs.

The aggrieved party was eventually coerced into an out-of-court settlement and the FIR was withdrawn.

Now we have the same Tahir Ali Javed in action to help the Sharifs pave the way for early elections. The cooption of people like Javed simply flies in the face of Nawaz Sharif’s lofty moral rhetoric because in this time of turmoil the country needs cohesion and peace more than ever before, and not the kind of turmoil they plan on creating in Punjab.

This move will most likely embroil the country in another legal battle over the issue of defection and floor-crossing. Legal wizards such as S M Zafar argue that the issue has been accepted and settled in the 18th amendment, which accords primacy to the head of the party to decide the fate of thosedefecting or leaving the party or voting against it in cases of vote of confidence or the finance bill.

If the Sharif brothers subvert this principle by embracing and defending the unification bloc, they will losehigh moral ground on the issues of corruption and abuse of power. The contravention of fundamental principles the brothers have been insisting on time and again will further erode public trust in the ruling elite and raise questions as to what really prompted Nawaz Sharif to take such an extreme step especially when Ishaq Dar, a Sharif loyalist, had declared that they had made good progress on the 10-point agenda placed before the PPP? 

Do the Sharif brothers want to create a Tunisia-like situation in Pakistan and rock the boat through street agitation, plunging this crisis-ridden country into another phase of political uncertainty and economic adversity? The only way to cause an impasse and paralyse the federal government is to resort to street agitation. 

This is likely to confront the Pakistan Army with anotherdilemma ie to intervene or to look on as law and order breaks down. It will be the real test of nerves for the army because its leadership seems quite reluctant to resort to direct intervention. Given the royal mess in Musharraf’s aftermath, the establishment seems to have taken a conscious decision to stay away from direct political management – the way it did by stage-managing the PML-Q. 

The emerging situation is likely to bring more pressure on the judiciary as well as on the media; judiciary as the legal censure of last resort on shortcomings and weaknesses in governance and the media as a mirror to society in general. This is likely to create dejection and despondency in the people already reeling under the burden of inflation. Nawaz Sharif’s decision stems from the shortcomings of an inefficient and corrupt ruling alliance which has failed to deliver good and clean governance. Similarly the PML-N government in Punjab is also accused of bad governance and arbitrary use of power.

One big question agitating concerned minds is how the government will push its finance bill in June. How soon will the Sharifs pull the trigger and force fresh elections. Another issue to further complicate issues is the crisis brewing between key PPP allies, theMutahida Qaumi Movement and the Awami National Party. Both parties are threatening the government over popular issues such as the petroleum prices. But how will they eventually behave and whether they find any common cause with the PML-N remains to be seen. 

The writer heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk