Political polarisation has increased in Pakistan in the aftermath of the inconclusive judgment of the Supreme Court bench on the Panama financial leaks. The PML-N and the PTI are engaged in bitter polemical exchanges and their political discourse is marked by hostility and mud-slinging.
The PPP has also jumped into the political fray by targeting both Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan. Asif Ali Zardari is leading the charge against them, especially Nawaz Sharif. He is criticising the Sharif government for corruption, bad governance and electricity shortages with the objective of projecting the PPP as the most active and autonomous opposition party. The PPP is seeking such a role after playing as a “friendly opposition” to Nawaz Sharif during the last four years.
The opposition’s best case scenario is that all the five judges of the Supreme Court bench have made negative comments on the financial affairs of the prime minister and his family and that the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) would not be able to get anything new on sources and money trail of the Sharif family. This will, in the opinion of the PTI leadership, lead to the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif. From the PTI’s perspective, Nawaz Sharif’s doom’s day is around the corner, if he does not resign earlier.
The PML-N is projecting its own best case scenario. Its leaders are happy that the majority judgment did not disqualify Nawaz Sharif which, in their opinion, is expected to stay as such, making it possible for Nawaz Sharif to complete the final year of his term of office. They would like to use administrative leverage to delay the JIT report, and when the matter is taken up by the new bench of the Supreme Court, the PML-N lawyers are expected to seek permission to comment on the report and the related issues, thereby delaying the finalisation of the case. If somehow the whole issue of the Sharif family’s financial resources and money trail is kept on hold till the end of the year, Nawaz Sharif may pull through the term of office.
What makes the PML-N confident in finding a way out of the Panama case is their success, at least for the time being, in getting away with the negative fallout of the publication of a news item against the army top brass. This has given them optimism and confidence to push aside the Panama case. It is difficult to predict whose future scenario is going to materialise in the Panama case. However, the alarming development is that the mutual hatred between the PML-N and the PTI is on the rise. If these trends persist, no matter what is the final disposal of the Panama case, the political situation between the PML-N and the PTI would become intensely combative, undermining the prospects of amicable resolution of any issue.
The political institutions and processes are showing the signs of fatigue as they are playing little role in conflict-resolution; rather these have become an arena of conflict. In 2014, when the PTI and the PAT undertook a long sit-in in Islamabad, the National Assembly sustained the Sharif government because, among others, the PPP supported it. However, the National Assembly could not resolve the issues of political contention between the PML-N and the PTI.
Now, in 2017, parliament is not making any effort to discuss the matter, not to speak of resolving the political conflict. On November 21, there was pandemonium in the sessions of the National Assembly and the Senate on the Panama case and the opposition demand for resignation of Nawaz Sharif. Both houses were prorogued indefinitely. There is hardly any chance of the two houses meeting again soon to discuss the growing confrontation in the political system. The provincial assemblies are also divided on party lines. The Balochistan Assembly passed a resolution in support of the prime minister because the province has a PML-N led government. In the Punjab Assembly, the speaker disallowed a PTI resolution for the resignation of the prime minister. Though the PML-N has a majority in this provincial assembly, a resolution in favour of the prime minister has not so far been approved. The provincial assemblies in Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa passed resolutions that demanded the resignation of the prime minister because both provincial assemblies have non-PML-N majorities.
The opposition parties are now taking to public rallies and protest marches. The PPP held public rallies in Mardan and Malakand on April 24 and 25, respectively. The PTI held public rallies in Dadu and Islamabad on April 22 and 28, respectively. The Jamaat-e-Islami has so far held more than one public rally, asking the prime minister to quit. Four political parties with limited electoral support have created an alliance against the PML-N on April 23. These include the PML-Q, Sunni Ittehad Council, Majlis-e-Wahadat-ul-Muslemeen and Pakistan Awami Tehreek.
The PML-N is also active by holding marches in favour of the prime minister in Karachi, Quetta and some other cities. It has held a big rally in Okara on April 29 to mark the beginning of its popular mobilisation campaign. The PML-N leaders sharing power with Nawaz Sharif are determined to fight out the opposition demand for the prime minister to resign.
The growing political divisions and the hardening of the disposition of the competing political interests are making it difficult for political institutions like the parliament and the political parties to resolve the ongoing political confrontation. It is likely to make the Pakistani system more dysfunctional and divert the attention of the civilian leaders from the problems of the ordinary people, current efforts for reorienting the society to moderation and elimination of support bases for violent groups in the urban areas and the external pressures on how to counter terrorist groups.
There is a need for moderating the current political confrontation in the domestic context and seeking solution of the current political problems through constitutional institutions and processes.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2017.