Saleem Qamar Butt
Political Tug of War
While all the stakeholders seem to have dug their heels deep enough in the ongoing political Tug of War in Pakistan that commenced from first week of April 2022; however, the real internal and external beneficiaries are dancing on their toes. The recent unsuccessful assassination attempt on former Prime Minister Imran Khan has added new dimensions and given extraordinary fillip to PTI’s protests against PDM government. Nevertheless, the most unfortunate and alarming twist the events have taken is the direct pitching up of PTI against some Army officers by name based on speculations rather than justifiable proofs. On the other end, the unprecedented joint press conference by the DG ISPR and DGI did more harm than good to the cause of sprinkling water on the political fire. The consequences of exposing and weakening the “National Centre of Gravity” by the enemies and frenemies of Pakistan through overt and covert means has been repeatedly highlighted in a number of earlier published articles though; yet, the seriousness and the enormity of the issue seem to have been missed despite clear reference to 1971 debacle. I opined in 1990 that for Pakistan the CoG was the cohesive integrity of the Armed Forces of Pakistan and for India it was their political system based on the founding principle of Unity in Diversity. Although my views were apolitical; yet, I remained conscious of the fact that my opinion might have been biased being a person in uniform. As years went by, the internal, regional and international developments and the role played by Pakistan Armed Forces kept reminding me about the pertinence of my expressed views, but looking for validation by a neutral expert. I felt greatly relieved and vindicated when I read a Tweet by a known anti Pakistan Army person i.e. an American political analyst Christine Fair: “For Pakistan state to collapse, it is basically Pakistan Army, which has to collapse. For better or worse, I do not see that happening”. Dr. Fair’s tweet should have also been an eye opener for Army bashers in Pakistan who with blinkers of corruption, foreign funding and misplaced self-serving political affinity try to undermine their own security forces and intelligence institutions that tantamount to cutting the branch on which they are sitting. However, the Pakistan Armed Forces too need to remain cognizant of the fact that “within the trinity of the People, the Government and the Armed Forces, if forced to make a choice, the Armed Forces must identify themselves with the People.” ~Clausewitz. We need to realise that when obsequiousness and imprudence prevails over sane advice, even the well intended moves create unintended consequences, which is true for all the actors responsible for the current chaos in Pakistan. Countries hostile to Pakistan relentlessly keep exploiting Pakistan’s political, economic, poor governance, corruption, ethnic and sectarian fault lines in order to keep Pakistan Army committed on undue multiple fronts in order to disturb balance so badly needed to safeguard national CoG and its nuclear deterrence capability. The political and military leadership of Pakistan will be well advised if the subject phenomenon and concept is comprehended and heeded to by introducing out of box solutions sooner than later.
Although, presently the whole country is gripped by fear and uncertainty, yet the province of Punjab remains the main arena for the power struggle as was discussed in details in my published piece in September 2022 “The Battle for Punjab”. The Punjab Provincial Assembly has a total of 371 seats, with 66 seats reserved for women and eight reserved for non-Muslims. The National Assembly consists of 342 members and Punjab has 183 seats (53%), including 35 seats for women and 23 seats in the Senate (upper house) out of a total 100 seats. Thus the winner in the Punjab wins the federal government and the prime minister slot too making Punjab the kingmaker. The rise of PTI is an indicator of populism, just like many democratic countries in today’s information revolution era have witnessed the rise of independent voters who do not believe in freezing their loyalty. The voters desire a re-jigged politico-economic network of elites to hope for better governance through technocrats cum true able representatives. Harkening back to former East Pakistan’s crib against imposition of Urdu language, Punjab dominated civil and military bureaucracy and inequality in some other fields, and somewhat similar grumbling by other provinces in Pakistan, the politics of Pakistani Punjab continues to be dominated by landowning politicians, despite significant societal changes that could have potentially eroded their power. Although PTI has a coalition government in the Punjab, yet it seems helpless on many counts especially after getting catapulted from the Federal Government. Nonetheless, the public response to protests and PTI’s long march to Rawalpindi/ Islamabad is getting extraordinary response with largely peaceful crowd despite heavy handedness and over-reaction by the federal police and paramilitary troops at places.
Thus far, the efforts gone in behind the scene for bringing around political reconciliation and stability in the country have not shown any signs of progress despite personal efforts by the President of the country and other well wishes. It is obvious that the fundamental demand by the PTI for announcement of dates for General Elections in the country despite PTI’s own government in Punjab, KPK and Azad Kashmir is considered a political suicide by the PDM coalition government after seeing the comprehensive victories of PTI in the recently held provincial and national assemblies’ bye-elections. However, the announcement of dates for the holding of the general elections is the writing on the wall to resolve ominous fallout of the PTI’s Long March and country wide protests. The Election Commission of Pakistan, the Apex Court and the National Security apparatus has to pay heed to it without further delay as a pre-cursor to the much needed political and economic stability in the country. Anyone claiming to be a national leader must shed away individual interest and ego for collective good of the county and the nation. The bullish attitude is to be discarded by unlocking the horns and showing mercy to the grass being mauled in their undue Tug of War. If Pakistan is to progress as a modern state where the foundation of governance can be based upon scientific and technological advancement that can prevail upon obsolete colonial political, judicial and administrative systems, it will have to address the domination of Punjab in the national mainstream. Besides, the process of creation of new monsters to take care of the old Frankenstein needs to be abandoned once and for all. The imminent economic collapse has to be the top priority for the Pakistan Government, rather than consistent reliance on the manipulative lifeline provided by the IMF or the World Bank that impinges on our national interest. Pakistan Zindabad!