Desperation | Najam Sethi


Let’s face facts. Despite Panamaleaks, Imran Khan has not been able to rouse the masses on the issue of corruption and provoke them to throw out Nawaz Sharif. So Khan has become quite desperate. He and his two bit allies like Dr Tahirul Qadri and Sheikh Rashid are openly attacking various institutions of the state like the NAB, FBR, FIA, ECP and Parliament for not doing their bidding. Worse, they are now exhorting the army chief, General Raheel Sharif, to step in, the constitution be damned. Consider.

Imran Khan has lost all general elections to date despite consistently campaigning on the issue of corruption against PMLN and PPP. For a year, he didn’t challenge the 2013 results. Then, realizing that he might be out of business altogether if Mr Sharif was able to consolidate his regime, he started hurling allegations of election rigging in order to derail the ruling party. When the ECP and SC didn’t play ball, he openly invoked the finger of the “third umpire” during his endless dharna in 2014. When that didn’t materialize, he clutched at Panamaleaks to push his agenda forward.

But a string of bad decisions has laid his popularity low. Party infighting and divisions have badly depleted his organizational abilities. His pre-Eid attempt to ignite a spark has flopped. Now he and his fellow desperados are openly begging the army chief to oust the prime minister.

Sheikh Rashid has called for the army chief and chief justice of Pakistan to sit down together and find a way of dethroning Nawaz Sharif before “an unconstitutional intervention” happens. This is a remarkable statement. It amounts to bullying and blackmailing the chief justice to lend his shoulder to an unconstitutional act of which he will be a part in order to thwart an unconstitutional act of which he will not be a part.

Dr Tahir ul Qadri has gone one step further by bringing religion into the equation. He has exhorted the army chief to redeem his pledge (given to him personally, it seems, during the 2014 dharnas) to provide justice (string up Shahbaz Sharif?) in the model town case. “If you don’t do that and retire instead”, thunders Dr Qadri self-righteously, “how will you be able to face the Maker afterwards?”

These desperate antics have nothing to do with democratic electoral or agitation politics. Furious campaigns to dethrone sitting governments are not launched three years in advance of general elections because the public has a short memory span. Nor is the issue of corruption, unfortunately, new or sexy. When people go out to vote for Nawaz Sharif or Imran Khan, the corruption of one or the cleanliness of the other is not sufficient to sway significant numbers of them. Rural folk are as cynical as their local leaders. The urban middle classes are both more ideological and moralistic. But they are notoriously fickle and impatient. The very people who lust for military interventions to cleanse the rot are the ones who quickly tire of the military and are ready to join forces with corrupt politicians to revolt against it.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is once again being billed as a “failing state”. Acute political instability is negatively affecting foreign investment and foreign policy, which in turn are straitjacketing the economy from growing. The Chinese, who have pledged $42B in direct investments and loans to build CPEC as a strategic dimension of the One Belt-One Road vision for the 21st century, are increasingly worried about the political divisions and lack of democratic continuity in Pakistan. On the other side, India, US and Afghanistan are tying up anti-Pakistan alliances. The last thing Pakistanis should want in this state of internal disarray is a military intervention that alienates the biggest political parties, ethnic regions and international community and plunges the military and country/trustee into a veritable quicksand. Past military interventions were able to survive and even flourish because the US was ready to pour money into their kitty for doing its dirty job in the region. This time, however, the US is distinctly hostile and distrustful, and will relish the prospect of turning the screws on the Pakistani military.

The PMLN and PTI have filed numerous references against each other before various courts of appeal. But the problem is that the very institutions in which these appeals are logged have become controversial. Imran Khan doesn’t think much of the ECP unless it judges in his favour – that is to say he is cleared of owning an offshore company and not declaring it to the ECP but Nawaz Sharif is knocked out because he didn’t declare his dependent daughter as a beneficial owner/trustee of one! And so on.

These protests will end in a whimper the day General Raheel Sharif honourably goes home. They are being staged solely for his amusement. But the country is paying an enormous strategic price for this circus. It’s time for ISPR to clear the fog.