Political Temperature Rising As Pakistan Enters Winter
That naming and calling out establishment was unrivalled until the Gujranwala rally has now been overshadowed by a specific charge sheet against the military leadership. A week is a long time in Pakistani politics and the bombshells dropped in Quetta have increased the political temperature just as Pakistan prepares for another winter.
The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) rally in Quetta was another display of ruthless and direct attack by Nawaz Sharif on the underwriters of the current system. The three-time premier presented a damning charge sheet against the military establishment by calling them out. The charge sheet was based on violation of oath by senior military figures.
Nawaz demanded accountability and answers for the following: political interference to swing the 2018 election, victimising Justice Qazi Faez Isa for the Faizabad dharna judgement, Parliamentary horse-trading to influence legislation and wretched state of government affairs. The attacks were more specific in nature, in this round of Nawaz Sharif’s fire-breathing politics.
So, what is Nawaz playing at?
One thing is clearer: this is no longer a question of gaining political space in a landscape dominated by Khan and his backers. The quest to get rid of cases and resist targeted accountability began with the onset of Vote ko Izzat dou in 2017 and ended with desperate attempts by those senior journalist Abbas Nasir terms ‘dealophiles’. This is different. This barrage of direct criticism coupled with a succinct speech by Maryam Nawaz, emphasising the importance of vote and civilian decision making is resoundingly different.
Nawaz understands that the current system is rigged in favour of one party over the others. The tone and tenor adopted by Nawaz in this onslaught of escalatory speeches is aimed at turning the tables and uprooting a system that has systemically excludes those that run out of miltablishment’s favour. By extension (ironically), this means Nawaz wants a minus 1 or even minus 2, considering the accusations levelled and answers demanded. It seems impractical to assume PML-N could come to power and work with the combination of two horsemen currently in place.
The rest of the opposition?
While Nawaz’s narrative is one he alone can shoulder, the opposition’s layered approach is very interesting. Nawaz did the heavy talking and bulldozing whereas Maryam, Bilawal and co. took a more tailored approach. Maryam showed support for missing persons from Balochistan and voiced her support for their retrieval. For an issue inextricably linked to concerns around national security, this made her one of the few mainstream Punjabi leaders who has spoken out for those languishing for justice on the peripheries. Voicing demands for Baloch students’ scholarship, release of missing persons and showing deference to Balochi leaders like Nawab Akbar Bugti meant that many of the regional demands are now coalesced into opposition’s broader narrative of civilian supremacy. Bilawal’s focus on a strong federation, lamenting lack of accountability re Musharraf and incompetence of Khan’s government was equally impressive. This tailored approach was crucial to develop growing national consensus against the current regime.
The establishment is undoubtedly in unmapped territory. Their fragile coalition of public trust and confidence is hammered every day their role is questioned in the court of public opinion. With a united opposition, matters seem tougher for Khan and his backers than ever before. One response in this situation would be to respond to allegations. This would prove to be a downward spiralling situation because Nawaz and co. would come back harder with counter allegations on elections, horse-trading, legislation. The second option is to cut Imran loose and let the opposition-Khan duel continue which seems highly unlikely in a context where there remains ‘no other option’.
There are also calls for national dialogue with politicians initiated by Chief of Army Staff. Accommodating this would be anathema to opposition’s stance which is premised on zero political interference by armed forces. This would stand in stark contrast to opposition’s demand for truth and reconciliation spanning the last seven decades. The next option is the one step short of the nuclear option: a Khan led onslaught by upping the ante, resurging accountability drive and Capt. Safdar style locking up of major leaders. The consequences of this would be dire for Pakistan’s stability and democracy but allow the government to function in the short run.
As PDM continues with efforts to oust Imran Khan, the rally in Lahore on the 13th of December could become the point of no return. That would be a Nawaz speech in his hometown and N-league’s strong hold. Nobody knows what to expect.
The writer is co-founder Future of Pakistan Conference and a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science.