No Pawry By Najam Sethi

46

Hamza Shahbaz Sharif has finally obtained bail. Since the money laundering case is really about him rather than Shahbaz Sharif, it is only a matter of weeks before Shahbaz Sharif will also be a free man. Verily, claim conspiracy theorists, the ubiquitous hand of the Miltablishment can be discerned. After all, if Hamza couldn’t be freed on the merits of his case for twenty long months – it took NAB 17 months to frame charges for an indictment – there’s no reason why he couldn’t have been kept in the clink for longer if the Miltablishment had not willed otherwise. Does this mean that some sort “deal” has been brokered between the Miltablishment and the PMLN?

This “deal” theory has, almost simultaneously, been bolstered by some unique decisions by the Election Commission of Pakistan, an organ of the state that isn’t exactly renowned for much self-determination. The CEC’s bold stance in the Supreme Court about the necessity for a constitutional amendment for open balloting – against the position of the PTI government – in the Senate elections is a case in point. On the heels of that comes a second jolt from the ECP. It has ordered a new election for NA-75, accepting the position of the PDM and rejecting that of the PTI which was only ready to concede repolling in the 20 polling stations. More significantly – and also unprecedentedly – the ECP has sought suspension of the involved DC, DPO, AC, SDPO etc. and sought the removal of the Commissioner and RPO forthwith while the Punjab Chief Secretary and IGP have been summoned for explanation. The “missing” Presiding Officers are to face trial which may lead to imprisonment for up to 3 years. So the question is apt: could the ECP have dared to make such judgments if the Miltablishment hadn’t assiduously refrained from intervention on the side of the government?

As if to prove this conspiracy theory come statements from core PDM stakeholders that absolve the Miltablishment of actively siding with the PTI government now. Maryam Nawaz says that agencies and administrations reporting to the PM like the IB and Special Branch were the culprits. Bilawal Bhutto, Yousaf Raza Gilani and even Rana Sanaullah say the Establishment seems not to have tilted in favour of the PTI. Nawaz Sharif, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal are conspicuous by their silence on this issue despite the fact that until recently they were all blasting the Miltablishment.

The final “proof” of an open and shut case of “Miltablishment turning” is expected next week in the Senate elections. Should the PDM succeed in getting Yousaf Raza Gilani elected as a Senator from Islamabad and deny a majority to the PTI, the conspiracy theory will be validated. “That will amount to a vote of no-confidence in the PTI government which cannot survive long after that”, say our pundits.

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

After five years of delays and obfuscations protecting Imran Khan in the foreign funding case, the ECP continues to let him off the hook. It has now given an opportunity to Faisal Vawda to get elected to the Senate before being disqualified from remaining a member of the National Assembly even as it has overnight disqualified Pervez Rashid for not clearing his Punjab House bills! As for Hamza Sharif, it is forgotten that when he earlier approached the Supreme Court for relief after the Lahore High Court refused him bail, the SC sent him back to the LHC with the advice that he should challenge the HC order on the basis of the fact that he had been indicted only after 17 months, failing which he could approach the SC afresh. In other words, the legal stage had already been set for his release many months ago.

We may also consider some other countervailing factors related to the critical position of the Miltablishment. When Nawaz Sharif blasted the Miltablishment and its two leaders in Gujranwala a couple of months ago, some pundits were quick to wonder how anyone could target the Miltablishment by naming names and live to tell the tale. Instead, the opposite seems to have happened because it is a popular Punjabi leader who is making the allegations and not a forlorn and marginal Baloch, Sindhi or Pakhtun leader whose patriotism is suspect. The Miltablishment is rattled not only because it is being openly targeted in its home base for bad political engineering but also because its leaders are giving the institution a bad name for purely mundane personal ambitions. So if there is a deal, it is only “don’t target us institutionally and definitely not personally and we will adopt a neutral position in your struggle against Imran Khan and the PTI”. Thus the organs of the state, like the ECP and SCP, can now make relatively autonomous judgments so long as core Miltablishment interests are not violated.

But for how long? What if the SC holds in favour of the PTI position in the open balloting case, thereby depriving the PDM of a core plank in its strategy to capture the Senate and block the PTI? What if Imran Khan arrests Maryam Nawaz Sharif and spikes the “deal”? What if the Long March fails to push Imran Khan over the edge? What if the threat of resignations from the National and Provincial Assemblies is sabotaged by the PPP? What if Asif Zardari is unable to poach a dozen or so MNAs from the PTI for a successful vote of no-confidence? What if the PPP and PMLN are unable to agree on the way forward with elections even if they are able to oust Imran Khan?

So many questions, so few certain answers. It is not enough for the Miltablishment to feign neutrality in minor issues while continuing to abhor the PDM. Nor is it possible for the PDM to succeed so long as the PMLN and PPP do not agree on how to deal with the Miltablishment and stake their respective claims.

Until these issues are resolved, the fog will stay and there will be no pawry.