Propelled by the dramatic events of last week, this weekend opens the door to some major national, regional and international events.
The video leak by Maryam Nawaz ended up in the removal of judge Arshad Malik. At first the PTI government tried to stand behind the judge, promising forensic examination of the video, but then backed down and left the matter for the judiciary to decide. While there is another hearing of the case in the Supreme Court, the damage has been done. There are now serious questions about the credibility of the accountability process, and the narrative of opposition parties that this process is biased and flawed has been strengthened.
The judiciary is also in the crosshairs because of the six-year-old verdict in the Reko Diq case declaring the agreement with Tethyan Copper Company null and void. The case was a typical example of the dangerous nexus between the media, frivolous petitioners and politicos backed by suspect quarters. Prime Minister Imran Khan announced another inquiry commission when the news broke but he will not have to look far to get his answers; his cabinet minister Azam Swati was one of the petitioners in this case.
As predicted in this space last week, Mir Hasil Bizenjo made it to the top to replace Sadiq Sanjrani as the steering committee of the multi-party conference unanimously endorsed his candidacy. Irked by the upset, the PTI government sprung into action and submitted a motion for the removal of Deputy Chairman Saleem Mandviwallah. The Senate Secretariat also tried to create a controversy by pointing out irregularities in the motion of the opposition, but now it is clear that the opposition motion was officially admitted with July 9 as the date of the submission, giving 14 days for summoning of a special session of the Upper House.
While most parliamentary pundits believe the special session will start next week – around July 23 – some sceptics say that it may be delayed for a few days as the prime minister will be in the US and would not want to miss the action unfolding in the Senate, which could have serious repercussions for the stability of his administration.
The Opposition has 65 senators on their side while they only need 53 to have their way. “Unless there is clear intimidation, buying and selling of votes and brazen foul play, the government’s goose is cooked,” said a senior reporter covering the parliament for many decades.
Imran Khan is scheduled to fly out to the US on his first visit since his installation as prime minister with a delegation of civilian and military members. As the Afghan peace dialogue enters a crucial phase, Afghanistan is high on the list. Most pundits believe that Trump will meet his match in the Oval Office.
“President Trump wants to carry the Afghan settlement as a trophy in his hand as he goes into election mode. He wants to be able to say to the domestic audience that he ended a 17-year-old conflict that gulped down hundreds of billions of dollars,” said an analyst in Washington. He said the US president will use this opportunity to maximise Pakistani cooperation to end the Afghan war.
A top foreign policy expert in Islamabad said he did not expect much from this visit in strategic terms as both the US and Pakistan had adopted different strategies and picked rival groups as their future partners. “We are following divergent paths. US has India and we have China and possibly Russia as our future partners. The Yanks might mount some pressure on us to deny some space to China but I have my doubts that anybody in Pakistan will bow before their pressure,” he said.
He said at most some economic gains, including some help in FATF and IMF, may be on the cards, but that is all to it.
On Tuesday, the five-month-long airspace restriction by Pakistan was quietly withdrawn, allowing international and Indian civil aviation traffic to pass through the eastern air corridor. Earlier, Pakistan had said the restrictions will continue till India removes some of their forward air force deployments aiming towards Pakistan. The sudden lifting of restrictions indicated a behind-the-curtain development between the defence establishments of both countries.
Also on Tuesday, the State Bank announced another monetary policy, jacking up policy rate to 13.25 percent, the highest in eight years and more than double the rate from six percent announced in January 2018.
The continued upward movement in policy rates means curbing growth even further, promoting an anti-investment environment, more government borrowing from commercial banks, flow of more money towards debt servicing, adding up more fiscal deficit, greater unemployment and more people dropping under the poverty line, say most economists.
An economic reporter had an interesting comment to make about the government’s increasing borrowing from commercial banks on higher rates. “Bankers are enjoying the moment as they don’t have to hassle for private clients. They can lend money to the government with guaranteed return on high interest rates,” he said.