What The Opposition APC Has Already Achieved
Whether or not opposition’s newly-formed Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) will be able to deal a blow to the PTI government and its backers is anyone’s guess at this stage. However, the openness with which politicians condemned the establishment’s interference in politics at the All Parties Conference (APC) was a welcome respite from the prevailing atmosphere of censorship in Pakistan. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s announcement that his party is not struggling against Prime Minister Imran Khan but against those who ‘installed’ him was the kind of clarity we are not used to, but one that is needed in Pakistan’s politics.
A day after the APC, media reports about military leadership demanding army be kept ‘away from political issues’ in a meeting held with parliamentary leaders last week have mysteriously emerged. The military leadership’s meeting with the opposition leaders could not have discussed the APC as it was held days before the conference. But the way this statement from the military was leaked a day after the APC suggests that the military felt the need to put forth its position in the wake of the new opposition alliance. This in itself is an indication of the impact the APC was able to create.
Meanwhile, the government’s nervousness is apparent from Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement today where he said that the APC was an attempt to appease the ‘Indian lobby’. Before the PM’s statement, four federal ministers addressed a press conference asking the opposition not to ‘drag national institutions’ into politics.
Earlier, Information Minister Shibli Faraz, in what came across as a desperate plea, had called on the state institutions to take notice of Nawaz Sharif’s speech at the APC. If government officials’ reaction is anything to go by, it is safe to say that the APC was a success.
The resolution passed by the multiparty conference was comprehensive in that it addressed issues that media and civil society cannot freely discuss thanks to the wave of censorship where every word of dissent ends up putting one in trouble. Some observers argue that speeches mean nothing until they translate into action on the ground. While mobilisation and on-ground action remains the key to the success of these alliances, even token statements by politicians under this authoritarian regime hold significant value. Such clear positions from political leaders help break the silence and reassure the citizens at a time when civil liberties are being stifled by those who are supposed to protect them. Therefore, the strong line adopted by the APC will certainly not be in vain. Mainstream politicians’ clarity on the ‘sensitive’ issues will serve to break the shackles and the wave of fear under which Pakistan’s media is currently operating.
The news report about CPEC Authority Chairman Asim Bajwa, for instance, was censored on media until the former military spokesman issued a ‘rebuttal’ to it. Pakistani media did report his clarification on the matter, but stopped short of giving space to the said investigative story about his wealth. But now that the opposition has demanded probe into the charges against Asim Bajwa, it is hoped that this issue of national importance will no longer be censored. The PTI government must be pushed to apply its own ‘accountability’ principles on the case of Gen (r) Asim Bajwa’s assets. It must also be stated clearly that demanding answers from the CPEC Authority chairman does not in any way undermine the success or security of the project.
Another key point of the APC resolution is the formation of a ‘Truth Commission’ to document the ‘real history’ of Pakistan since the country’s inception in 1947. Pakistan’s opposition collectively acknowledging the way propaganda and twisted facts are peddled as ‘history’ in Pakistan textbooks and as state narrative is unprecedented. Never before have the politicians united in denouncing the flaws in state narrative and lies that are fed to our children to hinder their ability to question and think rationally. This particular step is praiseworthy and must be followed through. It will be a great service to the country if the political parties use their following to educate the masses about the real history and the historical facts that was systematically censored over the years.
Finally, the opposition must also engage in introspection and acknowledge its own mistakes of the past. For starters, PPP and PML-N must announce action against their MPs who were absent from the joint session of the parliament on FATF-related bills last week, resulting in the opposition’s defeat. PPP should apologise for acting as the B-team of establishment during Senate elections.
The opposition parties should make it clear if their objective is to achieve the ‘selected’ status that Imran Khan currently enjoys or to put an end to military’s interference in politics and work towards course correction.