Ominous Omens

Spearhead Analysis – 17.01.2018

The political temperature is rising. Whether this is because the heat is being turned on or because of the dynamics of an evolving political scenario is open to question. In response to the ongoing judicial proceedings against them the ousted prime minister and his daughter have launched a two-person crusade against the Judiciary that is hearing their cases and the ‘Establishment’ that they think is egging the judiciary on. Brown nosing political supporters looking for brownie points are cautiously echoing what they are saying. The media and public opinion think that they are going too far by hinting that past events that damaged the country can be compared to ongoing situations—music to the external and internal sponsors of those situations but dangerous for the cohesion and integrity of Pakistan. The response from those being targeted is brilliant—ignore and let the judicial and political events take their course. There is, of course, a limit to everything, especially patience.

The PML(N) is under strain. This has to do with the power struggle within the ousted leaders family and the fact that though ousted he remains the Party head through a hastily cobbled legislation and also because the man who replaced him as Prime Minister insists that he is not the Prime Minister simply a stand-in for the ousted one whose team he retains and from whom he seeks guidance. Mystery surrounds the Faizabad sit-in in terms of its sponsorship but all who sought to resolve it had their image tarnished—most of all the PML(N) that rules in Islamabad where the event took place and Punjab where the event originated and where there is a PML(N) government. There has been a revolt of sorts within the PML(N) with a notable cleric exiting the party with his followers and the leader of the Faizabad sit-in though pacified remains a potential mover. The political turmoil in Baluchistan—termed a ‘practical joke’ by the former prime minister—has been resolved with the departure of the PML(N) government and the induction of a new Chief Minister. This has implications for the Senate elections in March as well as the General Elections later in the year. The Kasur outrage following the mutilation and rape of a little girl and the revelation that she was the 12th victim in a two-year span has highlighted governance failures and lack of institutional capacity under the PML(N) government. The All Parties rally in Lahore under the mercurial leader of the PAT seeking justice for those who fell in the 2014 Model Town carnage also demands the resignation of the PML(N) government. The PPP and the PTI are with the PAT—at least for this demand.

The rise of the religious right has surfaced starting with their participation in the NA 120 elections in Lahore and another election in Peshawer. There is a discernible Barelvi upsurge that is a new ongoing development and could have far reaching implications. This coincides with the revelation by the PTI leader that he has been on a ‘spiritual quest’ that started 30 years ago and is now showing him the light. Significant in this context is the PTI alliance with Maulana Sami ul Haq and more recently the PTI leaders visit to an influential Pir of Punjab who has a considerable following. Again there is much speculation on these developments but no conclusive opinion so far.

The PPP remains a region oriented party whose governance has remained questionable in public opinion but it is trying to expand its base. Too early to predict an outcome. The MQM remains divided and an aborted and obviously manipulated effort to unite its two major factions failed.

The Home Department of the Punjab government has published a list of 71 organizations that are operating in the country and are either banned or on a ‘watch list’ in an advertisement that bans all donations to them. For most people the list is an eye-opener with at least ten being Baluch and two from Gilgit-Baltistan and almost all with religious linkages. This has highlighted the magnitude of the threat and the first steps being taken to confront it. Some of the listed organizations are part of the political scene with plans and ambitions.  The US has reservations on some leaders who are on a UN designated list.

This internal political scenario is unfolding under the shadow of wobbly US-Pakistan relations, an increasingly belligerent India and an Afghanistan in turmoil and under threat of a brewing political revolt as well as a resurgent Afghan Taliban. India having declared its policy of destabilizing Pakistan, its opposition to CPEC and its fear of a politically stable Pakistan can be expected to continue doing what it is doing through Afghanistan, in Kashmir and on the LOC. The milestones this year in sequential order are– the outcome of the Judicial process and its fall-out, the Senate elections, the interim government, the General Elections and the formation of a new government—each step has implications for the next. Meanwhile the economy has to be kept on track and security—both internal and external—has to be assured through civil-military cooperation.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to an individual)