FeaturedNationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 05

A darkening political landscape

The political temperature in the country is rising. The battle lines are clearly drawn. The opposition seems to be in a combative mood and the government is also ready to take it on. What will happen?

Following disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s aggressive video-link address from London, the opposition has formed a new multiparty alliance, under the banner of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), and vowed to launch a countrywide agitation to topple the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. A 26-point resolution adopted by the opposition talks of ousting what it describes as the “selected prime minister” through a mass movement, and calls for an end to the establishment’s role in politics. But does the newly formed Pakistan Democratic Movement have the street power, the tenacity and, most of all, the unity to force the government to its knees?

The ruling party spokesmen have labelled Nawaz Sharif’s speech as anti-state. This was followed by a series of disclosures about the opposition leaders regularly meeting the Army Chief. Given Nawaz Sharif’s tough anti-establishment stance, the military spokesman also joined the controversy, revealing a recent backroom meeting of a senior PML-N leader with the Army Chief. Such meetings between politicians and the army leadership are not unusual in the country, but news about them is not made public except on rare occasions.

It may be added here that there have been many attempts over the last two years to bring the opposition groups together on a common anti-government agenda but they did not bear any fruit for the reason that there is a deep-rooted trust deficit between the two largest parties — the PPP and the PML-N. There is a long history of the two parties playing the political game of musical chairs and doing each other down in pursuit of narrow partisan ends. But, hounded by the government’s relentless accountability drive, the two have now found it expedient to come together for a joint front against the PTI.

What is remarkable about the agenda of the newly-formed alliance is that along with targeting the government, it is also focusing on the security establishment which it believes to be the real power behind Imran Khan. As Nawaz Sharif put it, it’s the “state above the state” that he intends to take on.

Taking on a government that is fast losing its support base is a shrewd political move, but directly challenging the security establishment will divide rather than galvanise the masses. The people of Pakistan love the army which is looked upon as a bulwark against internal subversion and foreign threats. On the contrary, the masses don’t have a good opinion of the major political parties which have earned notoriety for their corruption, nepotism and misrule. The alliance has announced a phased plan to oust the PTI government through mass action. But it will be a real test for these parties to bring the people out on the streets and confront the security establishment.

In a series of three aggressive speeches, Nawaz Sharif accused the security establishment of involvement in national politics. Prime Minister Imran Khan responded by accusing Sharif of serving the Indian agenda by targeting the military. Over the past weeks, a slanging match has been going on between members of the government and the opposition which has created a tense atmosphere in the country.

Nawaz Sharif’s reference to the establishment’s indirect role in politics is nothing new. But what is different is that a major political leader has directly attacked the army. And this he has done so in the name of upholding democratic values. But is this really so? Is he really worried about democracy and civilian supremacy? One can ask him: During his long years in politics what did he do to strengthen the democratic system in the country?

The record in this regard is not very edifying. The PMLN is a family-based party and all its policies are geared to perpetuating dynastic rule. What kind of democracy is it in which the elder brother is the prime minister and the younger one is the chief minister of the biggest province of Pakistan? And this had been going on for decades. Other members of the Sharif clan also held high positions in the government. On top of it all, the Sharif family has become dirty rich over the last three decades while the country has become poorer. Nawaz Sharif has failed to provide a money trail for the vast properties his family has acquired over the years. He had been prime minister three times, and there is palpable evidence of misuse of power and position.

Against this background, large numbers of people in the country are of the opinion that Sharif’s protestations about democracy are just a façade and his real motive is to pressure the government to put a stop to the accountability process against him. Political analysts have rightly pointed out that if Nawaz Sharif really believes in democracy, he must return to Pakistan to lead the “revolution” he has been talking about. A real political leader leads from the front, not from his luxurious residence in London, thousands of miles away from the scene of action.