Amidst the multiple contradictions and turmoil, the supreme court of Pakistan played a key role in forcing the election commission to fix the final date of holding the general elections on Feb 8,2024 which was being dilly- dallied one or another pretext and uncertainty had peaked beyond limit.
SIGNIFICANCE OF HOLDING POLLS
Political observers opine that the new poll date may serve twin purpose. First, it will revive the optimism about survival of fragile democracy in Pakistan which always faced the danger of being taken over by a powerful army. Second, it will create a sense of stability and enable the caretaker government to hold talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to procure the ‘Bail Out Package’. The IMF has already started dialogue with Pakistan for the release of USD 710 million second tranche of a USD 3 billion loan to the cash-strapped country to stabilize its debt-ridden economy. The IMF had saved Pakistan from economic collapse as Pakistan’s reserves stood at $7.8 billion as on Nov. 18, barely enough to cover imports for a month. The IMF's board had approved the seventh and eight reviews in August, allowing the release of more than $1.1 billion which saved Pakistan from going the Sri Lankan way.
RELEVANCE FOR INDIA
Analysts feel that if democracy survives in Pakistan then it is a good omen for India as peace in the neighborhood always creates a positive atmosphere. As things stand today, the chances of Nawaz Sharif to become next PM with the connivance of the army seem to be bright which may reduce some hostility towards India as he had tried peace initiative in the past also though military generals had sabotaged the same. Indian PM, Narender Modi had attempted to normalize the relations when he made a sudden trip to Lahore on Dec 25,2015 and wished happy birthday to Pakistan PM Nawaz who turned 66. Prior to it,Atal Bihari Vajpayee had visited Pakistan in 2004 who will be credited for bringing a thaw in relations with Islamabad. As per principle of diplomacy, dialogue must continue even if enmity governs the ties between two nations. India may resume the talks if Pakistan shows sincerity and comes out of Kashmir phobia.
SUPREME COURT ACTS AS SAVIOUR
Experts say that previous government headed by Shehbaz Sharif had tried to delay the elections and refused to obey the directive of the apex court by citing financial crunch as major reason which was supported by army also. Pakistan parliament was dissolved on Aug 9,2023 which marked an end of chaotic tenure and paved the way for conduct of general elections. A caretaker government headed by PM, Anwaar-Ul-Haq Kakar accelerated the process of holding the polls. Interestingly, the election commission of Pakistan had shown its inability to hold polls within 90 days of stipulated period after dissolution of parliament and cited census and delimitation exercise of constituencies as reasons for its incapability. At this juncture, supreme court bar association, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and others moved to the apex court to issue a directive to the election commission to hold polls on time. A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa, Justice Amin-ud-Din Khan and Justice Athar Minallah took up the pleas which was followed by written communication by election to hold the polls on Feb. 11,2023. SC directed the poll body to discuss the issue with President Alvi hence Feb 8 was fixed as the final date to hold general elections.
ARMY MAY RETAIN ITS HOLD OVER COUNTRY’S POLITICS THROUGH NEXT ‘DUMMY GOVERNMENT’ LIKE IMRAN
The timing of the return of EX PM Nawaz is no coincidence but it has been meticulously planned by the army after outgoing PM, Shehbaz Sharif became the choice of general Asim Munir who wanted to fix Imran for challenging the superiority of the army in Pakistan politics. It is an open secret that Imran was a ‘Puppet’ PM of army dispensation headed by general Quamar Bajwa but paid heavy price for undermining the authority of military. Experts say that yet another ‘Puppet PM’ is in offing and main stage actor is general Munir who is bound to finalize the script of general elections to ensure victory of Nawaz Sharif’s party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
NO CHANCE OF ‘EVEN PLAYING FIELD’ IN GENERAL ELECTIONS
As per saying, much water has flown down the river Ravi which hovers past Lahore city, as military set up which had kicked Nawaz out the country, seems to be ready to embarrass him as he is being considered as the best option available in the prevailing turmoil in Pakistan. Nawaz was replaced by his junior partner, Shahid Abassi in 2017 prior to installation of Imran as PM in a ‘fixed election’ in 2018 but experiment proved counterproductive to military Bosses. Imran fell from the estimation of general Bajwa who ensured his ouster thereby installing a coalition government headed by Shebaz Sharif. Nawaz was thrice ousted from power by the army and his entry at the nick of time has made the army's task easy. Nawaz is full of acrimony towards Imran hence there is no chance of reconciliation or providing even playing field to major opposition party viz. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf(PTI) which has been rendered rudderless after Imran’s arrest and a court has framed charges against him in the allegation of leaking state secrets which may attract even a death sentence. He has already been disqualified by the Pakistan election commission hence he cannot contest election unless the high court or supreme court give him relief.
Analysts say that four upheavals in a row in a span of one year have changed the entire political scenario in Pakistan. First, the adoption of a bill in the national assembly in May,2023 to reduce the lifelong disqualification period to 5 years was aimed at paving the way for the return of former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif whose home coming has created a new buzz in his party. The recent welcome accorded by over one lakh people near Lahore’s Minar-e-Pakistan reflects his relevance to Pakistan’s politics. PML-N hopes to energize its support base in Punjab to retrieve the lost ground to Imran’s party.
2nd, army chief Asim Munir got a golden chance to strengthen his position when Imran Khan’s supporters ransacked army headquarters on May 9. Munir’s stringent action of axing three senior officials also exhibited his authority which is mandatory to control domestic politics in the country. The Army has projected Imran’s action of attacking army installations as a coup against the military which may earn sympathy of countrymen who still rely for their security on military set up.
3rd, the appointment of new chief justice of supreme court, Qaazi Faez Isa in place of outgoing Pro Imran CJ gave a big relief to Nawaz’s party which expects fair verdicts from the new incumbent. The previous Shariff government had openly attacked Ex Chief justice SC, Umar Ata Bandial who was stripped of his powers through legislation in parliament. The Sharif Government refused to obey SC orders and described Bandial as a well-wisher and supporter of Imran Khan. President Alvi had blocked the bill passed in parliament and latently expressed his sympathy with Imran. New CJ has ordered live telecast of court proceedings and declared the trials of Imran’s supporters on May 9 violence by army courts as null and void.
4th, If Nawaz returns as PM then there may be some easing of tension between India and Pakistan. Nawaz and Indian PM, Narender Modi did try to move forward to improve the ties but army generals had acted as spoilers. Nawaz has hinted that he wants peace with neighbors and intends to refrain from politics of revenge. EX PM has cleverly thrown his weight behind the election commission and expects the completion of the process of delimitation and census on time to pave the way for holding of polls on time.
NAWAZ SHARIF MAY PLAY SYMPATHY AND INDIA CARDS TO ISOLATE IMRAN
Nawaz Sharif narrated to the audience the details of ill treatment which was meted out to his family and he was not given even a chance to speak to his mother who was on death bed and his daughter has been harassed by Imran’s government. To cover up corruption charges, he harped upon the vindictive attitude of Imran Khan. Experts in Islamabad are unanimous over the future strategy of Sharif brothers who may play India Card also to exploit sentiments of people and dub Imran as an agent of India. Shahbaz Sharif's government and his brother former PM, Nawaz Sharif seem to be bent upon teaching a lesson to Imran hence they have been regularly quoting the instances of Imran’s intentional and calculated strategy of praise being showered in Indian media.
It may be recalled that the recent indictment of former prime minister, Imran Khan in a case relating to leaking state secrets and violating law of the country coupled with recent return of EX PM, Nawaz Sharif from London after four year exile may change future dynamics of politics in Pakistan which is poised to witness the general elections possibly in January,2024 though not certain. A fresh blow from lower court may keep former PM out of poll fray which will be a big relief to army and Shariff brothers though it will be creating an unequal playing field.
Political observers believe that as usual, the army has scripted the text of next general elections in an identical manner which was witnessed when General Bajwa was at the helm of affairs in the army who ensured election of ‘Puppet PM’ in the form of Imran Khan in August,2018. Now the stage is set to install another ‘Puppet PM’ in the shape of one of the Sharif brothers and army actor is new one i.e. general Munir .The army and previous Sharif government have ensured the isolation of Imran Khan who has lately become very popular after challenging the authority of the military which rules the roost in Pakistan politics since the inception of the nation.
Analysts opine that the army seems to have settled for the last option of banking upon Nawaz Sharif to diminish any chance of victory of Imran Khan’s party. The general elections are on cards in early next year which will mean continuation of democratic process though pseudo one, in Pakistan. Keeping in view the anti-America and Anti India stance of Imran Khan, experts feel that Nawaz Sharif may prove slightly better but we will have to wait and watch.
(Writer is political analyst based in Shimla and having six -year experience of foreign posting in a neighboring country)