Political Rumblings

Spearhead Analysis – 27.04.2016

PTI Rally in IslamabadLast Sunday was dubbed ‘political Sunday’ by the media. The PTI, undeterred by the murder of their MPA in KPK by a fellow minority PTI member, was holding a festival in Islamabad’s F-9 park to celebrate their 10th founding day, the JI was holding a protest rally on the Mall in Lahore, the MQM was protesting against their ‘missing’ workers outside the CM House in Karachi and the newly minted Pak Sarzmeen Party was holding a rally next to the Quaid e Azam Mausoleum in Karachi in what was a show of strength. Political Sunday passed peacefully barring disturbances for ordinary citizens, huge expenditures, massive deployments of security personnel and minor skirmishes within the parties and the crowds. Not much was achieved because nothing that had not been said before was said. Plans were announced for future rallies and a PTI march against corruption that is already underway in Sind. The ruling party announced a series of mass contact meetings with rallies being addressed by the PM. The media reported all faithfully and since the political rally format is to have singers and dancers to please the crowds there was entertainment for TV viewers across the country.

The trigger for this flurry of political activity was the Panama leaks and the focus was on the PM and his family members named in the leaks. The government had already announced that they had asked the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) to appoint a judicial commission to investigate the matter. This was the demand by the opposition but they upped the ante by demanding a say in the framing of TOR’s (Terms of Reference) for the yet to be appointed Judicial Commission that awaits the CJP’s return from abroad. The CJP may point out that their Lordships are not an investigative agency but they have been given the freedom of action to bring in financial experts. Noted lawyers have stated on TV shows that such a commission is not likely to reach any conclusions with one stating that the work could go on for 50 years. The government is saying that the commission will investigate across the board and not just focus on the PM’s family — the PTI wants a top down investigation. Pakistan’s track record on such commissions is not exactly brilliant so very few are holding their breaths. The PML (N) has its own track record of confronting institutions and there are ominous signs of such a possibility — not a good omen for the country at this stage.

No one is asking for military intervention as used to happen in the past. That this is the case in spite of public opinion in favor of the military is a good sign. Perhaps the intervention scenario is a thing of the past — barring some kind of catastrophe that endangers national interest. There is no real clamor for snap or early elections because the PTI is showing signs of stress fractures within the party. The MQM with charges of its leadership’s linkage with India’s RAW and arrests of hard core criminals linked to its ‘political wing’ is against the ropes and gamely facing the Pak Sarzmeen onslaught from within its ranks. The Pak Sarzmeen Party is still finding its feet and not ready to face the polls. The PML (N) is fighting back and determined to complete its tenure. The PPP has set limits on it cooperation in the anti government movement and in any case needs time to get organized again. The JI and other religious parties are either part of governments as in KPK or generally aligned with the government for various reasons. In spite of all this an electioneering environment is building up and the PML (N) does not want to be left out though it should use its majority in Parliament much more than it has. But it seems Parliamentarians do not like Parliament and prefer the media and the street. The military is staying out yet the word going around is that the military is overseeing the country while the politicians are playing democracy.

So far no real demand has been made to use the Panama episode to bring in taxation and structural reforms. Nor has any plan been presented to create an environment and offer incentives for all assets held abroad to be brought back into the country with the present leadership setting the example. Such a happening would be a game changer for the country. In any case assets abroad are no longer safe or secure in the global environment that is taking shape — this fact should be exploited while framing policies. Pakistan and its policy makers need to focus on foreign and economic policies, on the issue with Afghanistan, on internal security, on the threat from India and the opportunities that Iran and Central Asia offer and on cementing our ties with old allies in the Arab world. Pakistan needs expert teams for trade management, for privatization and above all for looking at looming issues like demography, water, infrastructure and energy. There has to be a shift to strong governance and empowering an enfeebled society susceptible to exploitation. The Panama event should be seen and tackled in context and not in isolation — but the problem  does have to be dealt with especially with more such leaks said to be on the way.

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