Some political analysts have predicted that Pakistan may end up becoming a single-party system, as key state institutions are busy cutting a swath through senior leaders of the country’s main opposition parties with corruption and money-laundering charges.

Analysts foresee a chaotic and messy political landscape for 2019 amid growing tension between Islamabad and Sindh province and reports the federal government is vying to destabilize the state government. Even if the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government survives a backlash from rival factions, the going will get tougher for the PM and his party in coming days, they claim.

The Imran Khan government appears to have begun a “political decriminalization process” to drive out many senior politicians on the other side of the political divide. If successful, this would leave the ground wide open for PTI to become the country’s single-largest party.

PTI already runs three of the country’s four provincial governments. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the party won a majority government while in Punjab and Balochistan they formed governments with the support of coalition partners.

Criminal cases

With criminal cases filed against leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the PTI has now started evaluating different options to move a no-confidence motion against the chief minister in the Sindh assembly, which has been a seat of power for the PPP since the early 1970s.

“They cannot make changes in the Sindh government, where the PPP enjoys a majority with over 90 members, while PTI and its allies have got 60 seats. The only option for the opposition is to make a forward bloc with help of the establishment to acquire the required numbers and undo the PPP government,” Faisal Karim Kundi, a former PPP deputy speaker in the national assembly and the party’s provincial general secretary, told Asia Times.

Kundi said the country had become a laboratory for the establishment to try different political theories. “They are now trying to install a presidential form of government in the country but the PPP will never compromise on the parliamentary democracy,” he claimed. The PTI was unaware of their own vulnerability in the center (Islamabad) and Punjab, he said. “A number of PTI parliamentarians are waiting in the wings to throw their weight behind PPP’s move if a no-trust motion is tabled in the parliament,” he asserted.

Major opposition parties have a similar view of the present stalemate but the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is a bit cautious of PPP’s “double-dealing” in the Senate and presidential elections.

“We could have formed our government in [Islamabad] and Punjab and bagged the speakership of the upper and lower houses had the PPP sided with PML-N,” PML-N senator Mushahid Ullah Khan claimed. But he said his party would uphold the democratic tradition and support the PPP in and outside the parliament if the latter approached the party’s leadership. 

Huge money-laundering scam

The Khan government, meanwhile, has denied undertaking any extra-constitutional move to wreck the Sindh government.

“How can we destabilize a government that is enjoying a majority in the [Sindh state] assembly, unless of course when they themselves wanted a change,” Ejaz Chaudhry, an additional secretary-general of the PTI, hit back. He said there would be no compromise on corruption and the party would not ponder the consequences even if all opposition leaders involved in corrupt practices were sent to jail.

Top leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party have been incriminated in a massive money laundering scam, with the Federal Investigation Authority (FIA) having unearthed $254 million worth of money-laundering through fake accounts from different parts of the country.

The startling disclosures have rocked the PPP and left its leadership susceptible to disqualification.

Meanwhile, senior leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz are also in hot water. Shahbaz Sharif, the PML-N president and leader of the opposition in National Assembly, is in custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), while his elder brother and former PM Nawaz Sharif has also been jailed for having offshore assets. Plus, a score of PML-N senior leaders are caught in the accountability process.

In recent money-laundering cases against PPP leaders, the Federal Investigation Authority initially found that over $300 million was laundered through 29 fake accounts, which they suspected involved kickbacks on the large government-funded communication and construction projects in Sindh province.

In September, the Supreme Court set up a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe alleged laundering of billions through fake bank accounts in connivance with bankers, senior bureaucrats and land builders.

A report by the team presented in the Supreme Court on Monday identified former president Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur, PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, former chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, Bahria Town builder Malik Riaz and a host of prominent bankers, industrialists and contractors as main beneficiaries of the scam.

The JIT probe revealed around 300 accounts, with 10,000 different transactions, involving over 600 individuals and 220 private companies allegedly used to siphon off 100 billion rupees (US$725 million) in a highly sophisticated money-laundering technique.

“There’s an effort underway to decimate the main opposition political parties by driving an ‘anti-corruption campaign’ and the move is aimed at paving the way for one-party rule in the country,” Afrasiab Khattak, a left-wing intellectual and political analyst, claimed to Asia Times.

Exit control list dispute

Khattak said the media trial of political opponents and bid to dislodge a democratically elected state government would be counter-productive for the national government. He claimed the JIT report had no legal significance.

The government put the names of 172 suspects on the country’s exit control list without waiting for an order from the higher court.

However, the Supreme Court has taken a stern view of the PTI’s decision to put the names of 172 suspects referred to in the JIT report on the Exit Control List and asked the government to review the list, saying it was just a report and the court was yet to review it.