Army Act Amendment: PML-N Disappoints, The System Wins

Army Act Amendment: PML-N Disappoints, The System Wins
PML-N support to the Army Act amendment proves that party leadership's radio silence was a bid to reconnect with the establishment. The party largely believed they are the next in line favourites to form a government when the time arises therefore they must amend ties with power brokers to support them, writes Omer Bhatti.

If you think this had a happy ending, then you haven’t been paying attention. Game of Thrones’ dialogues are befitting for Pakistani politics. In 2017, following everything ranging from Dawn Leaks, Prime Ministerial disqualification to Nawaz’s Jail, the positioning had become clear: for the first time a leader hailing from Punjab and his party had taken a stance against the established power structure of Pakistan and aimed to fight the establishment’s hold over politician allegiances, decision making and so on. But the PML-N’ decision to support the Army Act constitutional amendment stands in stark contrast with Nawaz Sharif’s decision to retire General Raheel Sharif after his first tenure in 2016.

The last couple of months were supremely tense in this regard. The supremo’s daughter and Vice President Maryam Nawaz has been on radio silence. While that is justified due to familial obligations, it cannot be seen in a vacuum. The top brass of the N-League has been quiet and hardly uttered a word in favour of Pervez Musharraf’s death sentence – the same ex General N-League wanted to try a couple years ago.

The suspicion is proven correct: it was a bid to reconnect with the establishment. On top of that, speaking to PML-N insiders recently revealed there is internal transformation vis a vis public posturing. The party largely believed they are the next in line favourites to form a government when the time arises therefore must amend ties with power brokers to support them.

Furthermore, a strong section of the party had been advocating for more sophisticated dealing with the prominent members of the establishment such as streamlined communication which was achieved pre Maulana Fazlur Rehman dharna.

In the midst of this, one remembers the statements Nawaz Sharif made on the footsteps of Avenfield before his arrest, or the stance taken by many N-League leaders against fighting the oppression of the establishment which had selected the government. One does not forget ‘vote ko izzat dou’ and the constant citing examples of Prime Ministers Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, Zulfikar Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif who had been ousted under the garb of accountability to support the whims and wishes of the powers that be in Pindi. The decision to support the amendment is in contradiction to the seemingly revolutionary turn taken by N-League because it directly aids the continuation of the system which had ousted Nawaz, which had restricted civilian space on foreign policy and thwarted resetting the foundational basis of national security and economic policy.

In terms of political dividends, this will upset the large number of voters PML-N gained in many urban and some rural areas of Pakistan who saw a bright future in civilian strengthening and civilian supremacy over policy matters. The public discourse shaped largely between an old guard thriving on national security wisdom vs the new wave of civilian supremacy had converted a large number of young voters on the centre left, left in favour of PML-N. As witnessed, there is an outcry already against PML-N’s decision to support the Army Act amendment. Holistically, this will develop strong trust between the party and the system’s overlords. It shall accentuate the relationship reparation between N-League and Pindi which might underpin a return to power sometime in the future. After all, the journey from opposition to government is dependent on favourable conditions to contest elections re politicians getting out of jail, securing big money campaign donations supported by overlords and less focus on court cases. Time shall tell the extent this overture work for PML-N.

The ability to manoeuvre and navigate in tough territories whilst sticking resolutely to a principle makes great leaders. Mandela was one, Che Guevara was another. Nawaz Sharif and N league may be neither but they did lead a resistance from establishment’s very own Punjab to fight against the system that had held governments’ hostage and resulted in hurdles at critical junctures in a tug of war for power. It dishevelled the system and broke some ground in favour of organic, grass roots political movements and civilian control. Unfortunately, it will not continue at the pace with which it was expected.

In Game of thrones it is claimed that Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall. And a very small man (even the anti-establishment parties in this case) can cast a very large shadow. However, the large shadow cast by the small man is now subsiding as power continues to lessen for civilian political parties.

The writer is co-founder Future of Pakistan Conference and a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science.