NationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 06

Political crisis in Pakistan

The movement of the opposition parties to dislodge the government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is doing its utmost to create a political crisis in the country and it has been successful in its endeavor to a certain extent. It remains to be seen how the movement, named the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), would take forward the protest and how the people and in what numbers become part of the movement. At the moment, the opposition parties have successfully put pressure on the government with its public meetings in Gujranwala and Karachi. However, the most important and sordid aspect of the PDM protest so far was the arrest of Safdar Awan, a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader and son-in-law of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, by the Sindh police and his subsequent acquittal.

Safdar Awan was arrested by the Sindh police on the charge of disrespecting the mausoleum of the Farther of the Nation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He raised political slogans on the premises of the monument. The arrest, which otherwise would have been a matter of course and a trivial issue, was made a big issue by the opposition parties. The incident took an ugly turn when Sindh province, where one of the opposition parties, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), has its government, the police claimed that they were “forced” to arrest Safdar. The ruling party at the Centre, the PTI, which is serving as the main opposition party in Sindh, insisted that a legal case should be lodged against Safdar for violating the rules regarding the sanctity of the mausoleum. Though a case was registered by the Sindh police and Safdar was arrested, yet the police high-command claimed that they had not arrested the opposition leader on their own but were forced to do so. The Sindh police even took the position that its chief, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), was taken hostage to implement the orders. Although the Sindh police did not name which force had taken its IGP hostage, yet it was a clear allusion to the security establishment of the country. It has made the incident critically important.

Supposedly, if the security establishment was behind the arrest of Safdar, then it is a very serious matter and something tantamount to the collapse of civilian government authority in Sindh. On the other hand, if the opposition parties with one of it, the PPP, having its government in Sindh, where the incident occurred, staged a drama then it is a far more dangerous development. The head of the opposition alliance, Maulana Fazl, made a very serious charge that the country was facing unannounced martial law while most other opposition parties blamed that the federal government wanted to pit the security establishment against the government of Sindh. The federal government apparently had nothing to do with the arrest of Safdar as it was purely a provincial matter constitutionally, still it has been charged with hatching a conspiracy. This has created a crisis-like situation in the country. Most senior officers of the Sindh police applied for indefinite leave of absence as they took the position that they could not work in the situation. On his part, Federal Minister Fawad Chaudhry charged the Sindh government and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari with ordering Sindh police officers to disown the arrest of Safdar and then blame the security establishment for it.

Many aspects of the incident are shrouded in mystery, however, a fair analysis may throw some light on the issue. Firstly, the incident must be seen in the backdrop of key opposition leader Nawaz Sharif’s recently adopted narrative, blaming the security establishment of all ills inflicting the country. Nawaz Sharif, addressing the first public meeting of the opposition in Gujranwala, claimed that a former military intelligence service head once asked him to resign as prime minister. He even blamed that the-powers-that-be continue to call the shots in the present government behind the scene and Prime Minister Imran Khan is just a puppet. Nawaz Sharif has been declared an absconder by courts of law for refusing to come back to Pakistan and land in jail, from where he had left on the pretext of health issues. So it is understandable that the opposition parties would exploit every incident to prove its narrative that the security establishment is against it and is actually in control of the country.

Secondly, Safdar is not a first-rate leader of the PML-N or for that matter opposition parties, therefore, his arrest would have been inconsequential for the security establishment. Then why would the security establishment attempt to indulge itself in a very trivial issue which may unnecessarily drag it into the issue is beyond one’s comprehension? Thirdly, the Sindh police are notorious for their incompetence and corruption as most officers are political appointees. Noticeably, Sindh for most of the time has been ruled by the PPP in the last two decades, including its third tenure there on the trot, it is an open secret that it has appointed most party loyalists as police officers. So the stand of the Sindh police that they were forced to register a case against Safdar and the IGP was taken hostage is apparently incredulous. Then, if the Sindh police are so professionally committed, then they should have straightaway refused to register a case against Safdar. Protesting and applying for leave of absence by most senior officers of the Sindh police after they had arrested Safdar thus does not make any sense. Fifthly, while the opposition parties claim to be constitutionalist and believe in complete civilian supremacy, then why did PPP Chief Bilawal contact Army Chief General Bajwa to demand an inquiry into Safdar’s arrest? Bilawal should have contacted Prime Minister Imran Khan instead of the Army Chief. It is quite clear that the PPP wants to implicate the military while it is not at all in the state’s interest.

It is important to note that the protest movement of the PDM against the present government, when there is no apparent constitutional or political crisis in the country, is beyond one’s comprehension. The only rationale for it is quite vivid: to evade corruption cases and secure their political future. The opposition parties, all of which have remained in power at one time or the other, think that by developing pressure in this way they could bring down a weak government of the PTI. It is no solution to the issues faced by the state, including an economic crisis, rising inflation, institutional collapse and security problems. The solution must come from the intelligentsia and members of the community must rise above their individual interest to guide the general masses so that a genuine political order in the country could be put in place whose only purpose is to address the main issues of the public.