On Thursday two important developments happened in Pakistan. First, Lieutenant-General Nadeem Raza was appointed as the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee through a notification from Prime Minister House. The press release also recalled that the notification for reappointment of Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa had been issued on August 19. This has put an end to speculations about Bajwa not accepting the extension, or not being given it, by many analysts, and confirms what this correspondent reported previously on Asia Times, that the general would remain at the helm of affairs.
The other important development was a phone call from US President Donald Trump to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. Though officially it was announced that Trump called Khan to say thanks for the role of Pakistani authorities for facilitating the release of Western hostages in Afghanistan, this call on a day when the above-mentioned military appointments were settled sent a very symbolical message.
It shows that Trump is backing the current political discourse engineered by the Pakistani security establishment, as he needs a face-saving exit of US troops from Afghanistan. Other than changing the puppets in charge in Islamabad, nothing else can be changed in terms of bringing true democracy to the country as long as Trump is in the White House.
However, the storm is not over for Imran Khan and his government. He is already facing unprecedented criticism from the media despite the controls imposed on them, and recently even Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa criticized him for blaming the courts for giving former prime minister Nawaz Sharif permission to travel to Britain for medical treatment. The foreign-funding case is another problem for Khan as the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has decided to hear this case on a daily basis from November 26. The chief of the ECP, Sardar Muhammad Raza Khan, is due to retire on December 6, and if Khan can drag the case out past that date he will survive another storm.
However, the petitioner of this case, Akbar S Babar, who is among the founding members of Khan’s political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), is very optimistic and believes that the case will be decided before the ECP chief retires. Babar told this correspondent that Khan will have to go as a result, as he will be disqualified through this case. This means that either the ECP chairman will get an extension to his tenure for a short period to conclude the case or Khan will prevail again at the expense of his backers. In any case, December 6 is not that far off, and we will see whether Khan will be sacrificed as a pawn on the power chessboard or not.
The other political storm Khan is facing is the growing dissent among his political allies both in the province of Punjab and in the central government. According to insiders, Khan stands a very thin chance of surviving an onslaught from the opposition without the backing of the establishment. Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman abruptly ending his sit-in in Islamabad and Nawaz Sharif all of a sudden agreeing to go abroad cannot be termed a coincidence. Fazal claims that Khan will not survive another year in office, while Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has already ditched the narrative of civilian supremacy and “Respect My Vote.”
Right now the PML-N is busy mending fences with the establishment in hope of replacing PTI in power if something happens in the next few weeks or before next year’s fiscal budget. For its part, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is busy saving its provincial government in Sindh and expecting the powers that be to give its supremo Asif Zardari the same relief that was given to Sharif recently.
In these testing times for every party the most powerful voice for democratic supremacy, Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of Nawaz Sharif, is invisible. She has been silent since she was granted bail and her Twitter is inactive as well. This gives birth to the question that if the PML-N has not compromised on its narrative of “Respect My Vote,” then why is Maryam silent and not taking an active role in this moment of grave political turmoil?
On the other hand, it appears that sooner or later Shehbaz Sharif will be the favorite person of the establishment to replace Imran Khan. This raises another question: If Shehbaz and his PML-N are willing to replace PTI as the new puppets, why should Khan be dethroned? If it is decided that puppets will run the show for the establishment, then why not keep the current one in place? The answer is that Khan cannot fix the economy, nor has he the skills to govern the country and bring the political temperature down.
The problem, however, remains that Shehbaz despite being a good administrator cannot do much to fix the economy or resolve the foreign-policy-related issues, as banking on the establishment means taking dictation from the military elite. Any prime minister who cannot implement his own agenda or persuade the establishment to stop intervening in politics and eating the major chunk of the budget can never put Pakistan on the road to progress.
Of course Shehbaz cannot negotiate with the establishment without the backing of his older brother Nawaz Sharif, and this will eventually put Nawaz’ defiance and Maryam’s resistance into question, as if at the end the target was only to get back into power, then what was the use of taking so many risks by creating an anti-establishment narrative and being put behind the bars as a result? Since Nawaz Sharif is ill, only Maryam can provide answers to these questions, and if she remains silent that means the PML-N will not only ditch its vote bank but will waste the sacrifices of Nawaz and his daughter.
Whatever happens from now on will be pure power politics, where every political player will look to get a larger share of the cake. If Khan is sent packing, the masses will be presented old wine in a new bottle by the powers that be, by presenting another puppet as a messiah.
It seems no one – not the political players and not the establishment – is ready to learn a very simple point, that this blind journey of merely changing faces, the greed of political elites to become puppet prime ministers, and the establishment’s wish to control state proceedings through a hybrid regime will only keep the country hostage to the vested interests of these power players at the expense of ordinary masses. It is time that the opportunistic political elite and the establishment both read the writing on the wall: “No more puppets or hybrid regimes.”
Pakistan deserves a chance to get better political players and a genuine democracy to start its journey to become a progressive country instead of being recognized worldwide as a country with no future.