It will be an understatement to say that Pakistan’s politics is in a pretty mess these days. Political polarization is at its peak and both the government and the opposition are on a collision course. While the opposition parties, now grouped together in the newly formed Pakistan Democratic Movement, say that they will not rest until the incumbent government is removed from power, the ruling party spokesmen are accusing the opposition of pursuing an anti-national agenda and playing into the hands of forces hostile to Pakistan.
The ball was set rolling by the PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, who in his Gujranwala address, mounted a vicious attack on the army chief, accusing him of hatching a conspiracy to topple his government and installing Imran Khan as the next prime minister. Although the establishment in Pakistan is often blamed for interfering in national politics in favour of one or the other party, it was for the first time in the country’s history that a sitting army chief was so named in an open public jalsa. In his speech, which was aired via video link from London, Nawaz talked “state above the state”, going on to name Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and ISI Chief Lt-General Faiz Hameed as being behind everything.
So strongly worded was the speech of Nawaz Sharif that in a subsequent interview with the BBC, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said that he was “shocked” when he heard PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif’s speech during the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) first rally in Gujranwala in October. In his interview, Bilawal said neither Nawaz nor his party had discussed the issue of naming the army or ISI chiefs when the PDM’s agenda was being prepared. According to him, during their all-parties conference, it was decided that no single institution would be named, but Nawaz Sharif deviated from the script. The PPP chairman also said that the opposition did not want the military leadership to resign: “Let me make it clear that this is not a part of our demands and does not reflect our position.”
Although Nawaz Sharif has since toned down his anti-army rhetoric, yet Maryam Nawaz has carried on his mission undeterred, naming the establishment time and again for backing the present government and keeping Imran Khan in office. The political waters were further muddied when PML-N lawmaker and former National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, in the course of his speech in the assembly, accused Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi of shaking in his shoes while discussing the release of Indian pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, hinting that the PTI government had capitulated, fearing an imminent attack from India.
His statement, which directly played into the hands of Indian jingoists, drew heavy criticism from all quarters in the country and also prompted the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) chief Major General Babar Iftikhar to hold a press conference in which he sought to “correct the record” regarding the events that surrounding India’s violation of Pakistani airspace and subsequent developments.
On its part, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf has decided to counter the opposition’s “anti-state narrative” with full force at every forum and expose corruption cases against the opposition members. The PTI has also planned some political events in response to the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s rallies in different parts of the country. While presiding over a meeting of the PTI spokespersons in Lahore last week Prime Minister Imran Khan categorically stated that his government would not succumb to the pressure being mounted by the opposition through agitational politics.
The tense political atmosphere in the country and the rising tempo of inter-party bickerings has not been without its negative effect on both the ruling and opposition alliances. Already a number of senior leaders both at the provincial and federal levels have deserted the PML-N in the wake of the incendiary speech by Nawaz Sharif at Gujranwala. Cracks have also appeared in the edifice of the PDM with some of its constituents expressing displeasure over the PML-N’s anti-army narrative.
On the other hand, the ruling alliance too has come under strain as evidenced by the refusal of the PML-Q to attend a luncheon meeting called by PM Imran Khan. According to reports, other coalition partners too expressed their dissatisfaction over the government’s policies, especially the treatment meted out to them. Imran Khan promised to look into their grievances but sources say that the allies were not convinced.
So, here we are faced with a situation where both inter-party and intra-party differences and dissensions are on the rise. On the other hand, the economic situation is far from satisfactory with the price spiral totally out of control. Surely, it is time for the political leadership of the country to show maturity and agree to a common national agenda to steer the ship of the state out of troubled waters so that all energies are diverted towards solving the basic problems of day-to-day living faced by the masses.