NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 26

Irreparable damage

The damage which has been inflicted on the state structure and political system of the country by the change of regime in Pakistan is monumental and seems to be irreparable. A change of regime through a no-confidence vote is normal in a parliamentary democracy, therefore, the throwing out of the PTI government, led by Prime Minister Imran Khan in April this year should have been considered very much normal. However, the dislodging of PM Imran Khan’s government was something extraordinary because of the forces and factors involved in bringing about the change.

This is now beyond doubt that the United States, through its Undersecretary for Central and South Asian Affairs, Donald Lu, in a meeting in Washington with Pakistan Ambassador Asad Majeed on March 8, 2022, threatened Pakistani state institutions to help bring down the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan as he was working against American interests. Prime Minister Shebaz Sharif also himself admitted on the floor of the National Assembly that the threat was in fact thrown at Pakistan. In the Lu-Majeed meeting, the US asked Pakistani state institutions to dislodge the PTI government because Imran Khan was going closer towards Russia and reinforcing Pakistan’s ties with China and as both Russia and China are strategic competitors of Washington. Pakistan, an old American ally, getting closer towards these states, was considered a threat to US interests in the region. The former Prime Minister revealed the details of Lu’s meeting with Majeed and also held a meeting of the National Security Committee, having members from top civilian and military office-holders in which it was found that Washington’s threat to the Pakistani ambassador was a “blatant interference” in Pakistan’s internal affairs and, therefore, it had decided to send a diplomatic demarche to Washington. Prime Minister Khan, since his last days in power, has very articulately exposed the US conspiracy against his government, which naturally is a conspiracy against Pakistan for being against an elected government of Pakistanis. Imran Khan, since his ouster on April 8, has built a very strong narrative that the US conspiracy has been given a practical shape by current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif-led opposition parties and, therefore, it needs to be investigated by a judicial commission. His party, through its former Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Qasim Suri, tried to end the no-confidence motion against Imran Khan by invoking the Article 5 of the Constitution of Pakistan. However, the ruling was subsequently declared ultra vires by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The court also ordered immediate counting on the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan and also set a very stringent timeframe for the purpose by directing former National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaimer, a PTI loyalist, to execute the order in letter and spirit.

However, the Speaker instead tendered resignation, paving the way for acting speaker, Ayaz Sadiq, from the opposition to hold counting on the no-confidence motion, which succeeded. The next day, Shehbaz Sharif was chosen by the present Members of National Assembly as Prime Minister but with a majority of mere two votes. However, since coming to power, the 13-party former opposition and current ruling alliance has wreaked havoc on the country with complete inability to arrest economic downslide. The 45-day performance of the current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif-led regime has been so pathetic that the economy has virtually nosedived with the country’s currency losing its value significantly. The country’s foreign exchange reserves registered a decline of six billion dollars and inflation reached unprecedented levels. While ousted Premier Imran Khan is insisting on holding fresh elections, the current ruling coalition of 13 parties chose not to go for new polls for fear of losing the perks and privileges of power and elections. However, the economic and political situation of Pakistan is so serious that the current ruling coalition has to take many politically unpopular steps, like raising the prices of petroleum products, which would be the last proverbial straw on the already encumbered back of the common people.

Realizing that taking such unpopular steps would be politically disastrous for the PML-N and other ruling parties, the coalition is now asking the other stakeholders of state powers, the military and the judiciary, to fully support the dispensation in taking the bold decisions. Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that the country’s establishment must support the coalition government in taking unpopular decisions, which he thinks is exigently needed to arrest the economic downslide. But this is clear evidence of the ruling alliance’s incompetence and chicanery to implicate the military, the judiciary and the civilian bureaucracy to hide its incompetence and selfishness. Obviously, the state institutions would not take the blame of the incompetence and insincerity of any civilian setup for fear of losing their own credibility and stature within the state structure and the eyes of the public. This has pushed the country and the current ruling coalition to a virtually Catch-22 situation and there is no way forward within the bounds of the current system apart from holding fresh elections.

Had the present setup of PM Shehbaz Sharif, comprising at least 13 political groups, been able to provide some economic relief to the general people reeling under the poor governance of the PTI in terms of controlling the prices of staples and petroleum products, it could have justified its existence slightly. However, the sham and bizarre manner through which the present ruling alliance of former opposition parties assumed power cannot be justified. It would have been far better for Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his ruling mates to dissolve the National Assembly soon after ousting PM Khan’s government and call fresh elections. It would have built confidence in the political system and would have been beneficial for the economy and democracy in the country. Unfortunately, the present ruling alliance came to power for personal reasons and their rhetoric that they assumed power only to provide economic relief to people and to protect the country from economic default has totally fizzled out. In the process, damage which the regime change in Pakistan has inflicted on the entire state structure, political system and above all civil society organizations like bar associations and the media is irreparable.

The incompetence and insincerity of key positions in state institutions and political groups have become totally exposed for everyone to see. This does not augur well for the country at all while it is a serious blow to the current state structure. Then the regime change episode in Pakistan has shown that the parliamentary political system is so fragile and has so many lacunas that it is very easy for a powerful foreign actor to force a change for its liking by threatening our diplomats, providing support and bribes to opposition parties. Moreover, the manner in which certain members of parliament demonstrated by selling their loyalties and ditching the majority party is at best indigestible for the common people who send them to the assemblies to legislate on key matters and work towards their welfare. Then the way the coalition partners of the former ruling party, the PTI, left the government while bargaining till the last hour before the no-confidence vote shows that the parliamentary political system, which has not given a clear majority to any political party in the last 30 years sans the PML-N in 1997 and 2013, with the help of the establishment, is a non-functioning system. All these weaknesses of the present state dispensation and political system, which has finally given birth to a coalition of 13 political groups, mostly working as family limited companies, prove the system is no panacea for the problems and issues of Pakistanis and their society. Thus, what is needed is an out-of-the-box thinking because it is a matter of protecting the state.