Everyone playing politics in Pakistan


Farooq Ganderbali
Firing by an unknown gunman outside the residence of Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan, a Pakistan supreme court judge, twice in 24 hours on April 14, but the country’s prime minister and the army chief left the same day for Saudi Arabia, rang alarms and gave the eerie feeling that Pakistan may witness some upheaval.

The judge was part of a five member bench that last July disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from his job.

Widely believed to be the all-powerful army’s “man-in-waiting”, opposition leader Imran Khan, who was central to starting legal proceedings against Sharif, suggested there may have been a political motive for the shooting to “pressurise” the judiciary.

“He gave no evidence for his view,” global news agency Reuters reported.

There are dark hints that the attacker could be a Nawaz Sharif loyalist deployed to warn the judiciary. But this is not being pressed too much.

This link may be firmed up at some stage to persecute the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leadership.

The interesting bit is that after Chief Justice Saqib Nisar visited the home of the judge and agitated lawyers were pacified, the incident has been hushed up. No politico, none in media, is commenting on it. No follow-up or investigation by a media that is under severe pressure.

Everyone is “playing politics” in a manner of speaking. The judiciary, notorious for condemning the political class but siding with the army each time it has grabbed power, is once again playing a role that is subtle, but leaves nobody in doubt where its support and sympathies are.

The role is subtle because the army, having thrown up at least four dictators who went on to become the country’s president, is on no mood to take the plunge yet again. It would rather do back-seat driving and of course, call all the shots.

Everyone is playing politics in that even the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), an autonomous body that has done tremendous work against heavy odds over the years has, in its annual report for 2017, termed the Supreme Court’s judgment disqualifying former prime minister Nawaz Sharif for not being ‘sadiq and ameen’ (truthful and trustworthy) under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution as “most significant decision.”

In doing so, the HRCP has taken a narrow principled stand that ignores the fact that Sharif and his government have been democratically elected.

The commission is opposed to alleged corruption by the Sharif family. But it fails to take note of the fact that none of the graft charges against the Sharifs have been proved so far. The judiciary at the highest level has passed flawed judgments that in any democratic society would be challenged.

What commentators in Pakistan, among them Najam Sethi of The Friday Times, have said is that the entire ploy is to prevent Sharif from winning the next election due this summer.

Even Cyril Almeida, writing in Dawn says that a ‘fake’ crisis has been created to achieve this, but it has now become ‘real’ and has come to haunt every stakeholder in Pakistan.

This is because, he notes and so do others within and outside Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif is not playing to the expected line. He has turned a rabble-rouser criticizing the judiciary (though not the army) and talking directly to the people who will eventually be the voters.

The ‘militablishment’ is afraid to put him in jail because he would play the martyr and perhaps stands a better chance of winning from the jail.

It is a bizarre situation in that Sharif is out, but his party’s government, buffeted and emasculated, lacking in credibility, remains in power at the federal level.

And what is politically important, Sharif’s brother Shahbaaz remains the chief minister of the most powerful Punjab. Nobody has yet succeeded in splitting the Sharif family.

The bottom line is that Pakistan is hurtling towards an election. There are moves to have a caretaker prime minister to oversee them as the Election Commission of Pakistan, already under great pressure, conducts them. A caretaker PM would mean dissolution of the National Assembly where the PML-Nawaz still enjoys majority. This could also mean removing all political elements and those in the government suspected of any loyalty to Nawaz.

Next few weeks would be crucial to watch Pakistan.