Pit­falls af­ter the MPC

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE -

There may be noth­ing in Nawaz Sharif's ' no­holds-barred' ad­dress from Lon­don to Sun­day's mul­ti­party con­clave in Is­lam­abad that he has not said be­fore. But his words seem to have gal­vanised the frac­tured op­po­si­tion groups at least for now. Com­ing out of a pro­longed hi­ber­na­tion, the for­mer prime min­is­ter has re­vived his anti-estab­lish­ment nar­ra­tive that seemed to have been put on the back-burner by his party out of political ex­pe­di­ency.

For long, the tar­get was Prime Min­is­ter Im­ran Khan and not his al­leged back­ers. But now the guns have been turned on the ubiq­ui­tous se­cu­rity estab­lish­ment. This change of tack has not been with­out rea­son. Be­sides other fac­tors, it also shows the grow­ing frus­tra­tion over the re­lent­less per­se­cu­tion of op­po­si­tion lead­ers in the name of ac­count­abil­ity.

A num­ber of mul­ti­party con­fer­ences (MPC) have been held in the last two years, but the lat­est sit­ting of around a dozen op­po­si­tion groups was more struc­tured. It also for­malised the al­liance un­der the ban­ner of the Pak­istan Demo­cratic Move­ment (PDM). The 26-point res­o­lu­tion adopted by the con­fer­ence vows to oust what it de­scribes as the "se­lected prime min­is­ter" through a mass move­ment, and calls for an end to the estab­lish­ment's role in pol­i­tics.

Not­with­stand­ing the solemn pledges, a ques­tion mark hangs over the PDM's abil­ity to mo­bilise the masses towards that end. Un­doubt­edly, the PTI gov­ern­ment stands on a weak political wicket largely be­cause of its fail­ure on prac­ti­cally ev­ery front; it has failed to de­liver on its prom­ises of good gov­er­nance.

Most par­ties at the MPC have played into the hands of the estab­lish­ment when it suited their in­ter­ests. Yet there are few prece­dents in Pak­istan's his­tory where gov­ern­ments have been ousted through street ag­i­ta­tion. It is much more dif­fi­cult when the ad­min­is­tra­tion is backed by the se­cu­rity estab­lish­ment. It is hy­brid rule that is be­ing chal­lenged but the al­liance is still not will­ing to play its most ef­fec­tive card of re­sign­ing from the assem­blies for ob­vi­ous rea­sons.

Both the PML-N and PPP would not want to lose their foothold in the power struc­ture. More­over, they are not sure whether the law­mak­ers would com­ply with any de­ci­sion to re­sign. The only thing the al­liance could do is to in­crease pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment through mass mo­bil­i­sa­tion on var­i­ous is­sues di­rectly af­fect­ing the peo­ple.

But their ca­pac­ity to mo­bilise peo­ple can be ques­tioned. The bat­tle­ground is Pun­jab, which is also the stronghold of the PML-N. But the party failed even to bring out its sup­port­ers when Nawaz Sharif was jailed. It is also un­cer­tain if the en­tire party would stand be­hind Sharif's anti-estab­lish­ment nar­ra­tive which has never been fully ac­cepted by many party lead­ers in the past. It is doubt­ful if they would ac­cept it now.

Many would not dis­agree with what Nawaz Sharif said in his speech about a "state above the state" which has been an ev­i­dent fea­ture in Pak­istan's political his­tory. Be­cause of weak demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions, the estab­lish­ment's shadow looms large over the coun­try's political spec­trum. Political par­ties are equally re­spon­si­ble for this state of af­fairs.

Most political par­ties at the MPC have played into the hands of the se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus when it suited their in­ter­ests. Nawaz Sharif in his speech men­tioned how his party's gov­ern­ment in Balochis­tan was top­pled in 2018 in or­der to ma­nip­u­late the Se­nate elec­tions. He held a now re­tired army of­fi­cer re­spon­si­ble, but not the party, which was in­stru­men­tal in that sor­did power game.

Peo­ple may not have for­got­ten the then prime min­is­ter Yousuf Raza Gi­lani's speech in De­cem­ber 2011 from the floor of the Na­tional Assem­bly when he warned the estab­lish­ment against be­com­ing a "state within a state". It was the most scathing crit­i­cism of the estab­lish­ment by a sit­ting prime min­is­ter. But other par­ties in­clud­ing the PML-N joined in the de­mand for his res­ig­na­tion when he was tried for con­tempt of court.

Sun­day's MPC called for re­vival of the Char­ter of Democ­racy signed by the PML-N and PPP in 2006, but both par­ties had flaunted it for their own vested political in­ter­ests. It was a good doc­u­ment for strength­en­ing the demo­cratic process in the coun­try. But it never worked as each party tried to un­der­mine the other. The Balochis­tan episode was not the only one.

Even now, when these par­ties are de­plor­ing a "state above a state" there has been si­lence over the al­leged back­room con­tacts be­tween the PML-N and the estab­lish­ment. In a re­cent in­ter­view, Shah­baz Sharif re­port­edly con­firmed an im­pend­ing un­der­stand­ing with the estab­lish­ment.

That may not have worked, but the fact is that political lead­ers are not averse to mak­ing a deal with the estab­lish­ment when it suits them.

The 26-point res­o­lu­tion adopted by the con­fer­ence

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