National politics has entered a highly uncertain phase. There is no sense of direction, with both the government and opposition leaders expressing apprehensions about the emerging shape of things.
National Assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq’s recent statement that he does not see the assemblies completing their term is one among many examples of how politicians see things moving. He also ominously referred to “a greater plan” to destabilise the system. According to him matters are worse than in 2002 and 2008 and that has to be taken seriously.
Ayaz Sadiq’s statement is symptomatic of the murkiness that characterizes the national political scene today. Since Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification in July, things have been in a fluid state. Many known and unknown factors are at work, the most prominent of which is the policy of confrontation that the PML-N leadership has adopted towards the army and the judiciary. PML-N stalwarts have been openly talking about hidden hands behind Nawaz Sharif’s ouster.
All kinds of rumours are in the air. One is that the holding of general elections after the assemblies complete their term on June 5 next year is doubtful owing to the lack of consensus on electoral reforms and delimitation of electoral constituencies under the provisional results of the census. The other hot rumour is that the ground is being paved for setting up a caretaker government for two years to undertake long overdue electoral reforms and clear the decks for the next elections.
In making the confusion worse confounded, the Abbasi government is playing no mean role. He appears to be heading a lame duck administration which does not know what it is doing or where it is going. When he says that Nawaz Sharif is the real prime minister and he is just a stop-gap appointee, he not only demeans himself but also undermines the credibility of his government.
The lack of governance has exacerbated the sense of uncertainty in the country. The existing system seems to be collapsing like a house of cards. The economy is in a state of steady decline. Since Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s flight to London on the pretext of medical treatment, the country’s economy is being run without a finance minister. Dar has been declared a proclaimed offender by NAB and is technically on an indefinite leave. But no replacement for Dar has yet been found.
The trade gap is widening dangerously, while the current account deficit has gone through the roof. All this is on top of a crushing debt burden which has touched unprecedented levels. The Pakistani Rupee touching 110 rupees plus to a dollar is akin to covert devaluation. Dar had artificially kept the rupee overvalued by pumping in millions of dollars in the market from forex reserves. But the market forces are now asserting themselves.
The recent Islamabad dharna by a religious groups paralysed life in the federal capital, and the government showed extreme ineptitude in handling it. It allowed the agitation to fester on and when it sent in police to disperse the crowd, the result was a disaster. In the end, the army had to be called in to break the impasse. It was a shame that a military representative brokered a deal between the dharna group and the government. All this has led to the widely held perception that the government has lost its grip on national affairs.
The publication of Justice Baqar Najfi’s report on the Model Town firing case has added to the political tensions in the country. As if Imran Khan were not enough, Tahirul Qadri has also joined the fray and demanded the resignation of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Law Minister Rana Sanaullah by the end of December. To make matters worse, the PPP has also joined Tahirul Qadri who has threatened to stage another dharna.
Another bone of contention between the opposition and the government is the FATA reforms under which the tribal areas are to be merged with KPK province. Despite a consensus amongst all the mainstream parties on this issue, the government has kept dithering to avoid alienating its allies, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai both of whom are opposed to the proposed FATA reforms to serve their ulterior motives.
The ongoing rivalry within the Sharif family and the struggle for power between Maryam Nawaz on the one hand and Hamza Shahbaz on the other have raised question marks about the future of the House of Sharif. As political analysts have repeatedly pointed out, Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif are not on the same page regarding how to meet the challenge to their power posed by the Supreme Court verdict. Throughout Shahbaz Sharif, supported by ex-interior minister Ch. Nisar, has advocated moderation while Nawaz Sharif has adopted a hard, confrontationist line.
The decks are cleared for Shahbaz Sharif as the PML-N’s prime ministerial candidate in the next elections as his elder brother has endorsed his candidature. Both Nawaz Sharif and daughter Maryam Nawaz are likely to be convicted in the NAB references against them. In that case, the situation will drastically change. The apex court ruling against reviving of the Hudaibiya paper mills case has further strengthened Shahbaz Sharif’s position. On the other hand, the Supreme Court has absolved Imran Khan which gives the PTI chief new confidence in his relentless campaign against the PML-N government.
Last week the army chief briefed Senate members on security issues and clarified some wrong perceptions about the role of the military in national affairs. But it seems his address has not fully cleared the atmosphere of doubt and misgiving as Nawaz Sharif and his close aides continue to attack the judiciary. To add to the miasma of confusion, Nawaz Sharif has now threatened to launch a new countrywide movement for the restoration of what he calls justice, while Imran Khan has announced his own plans to counter the move.
PM Abbasi a few days ago said that elections will be held as scheduled next year. But some pundits continue to predict early elections. With Nawaz Sharif refusing to accept the judicial verdict and the opposition parties planning new moves to bring down a tottering government, it seems the country is in for a rocky ride ahead in the coming days.