In 2014, the veteran politician Javed Hashmi left the PTI claiming Imran Khan told him to get ready for a “soft coup” by the Miltablishment in the manner of Bangladesh 2007 to cleanse politics from corruption and incompetence and set a stable and productive course for Pakistan. The Bangladesh Model of 2007, it may be recalled, was based on an Interim Government headed by an ex- Supreme Court judge, selected and propped up by the military establishment, who imposed a State of Emergency, witch-hunted the two mainstream parties of Hasina Wajid and Khaleda Zia for corruption and postponed the general elections.
Imran Khan’s dharna in 2014, it may be recalled, sought to besiege and overthrow the Nawaz Sharif government and replace it with a Miltablishment-engineered and selected one, headed by him. But that conspiracy failed because Mr Sharif stood his ground and foiled the “soft coup”. However, the Miltablishment persisted, eventually succeeding in 2018 when it rigged the elections to select and install the designated puppet, Imran Khan, in office.
If this sounds ominously familiar political terrain, we may also recall the parting shot of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Asif Saeed Khosa, the same judge who disqualified a thrice elected prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, from holding office because he hadn’t declared a petty asset / income that he hadn’t received! Judge Khosa’s retirement package included a passionate plea for a “grand national dialogue of all stakeholders, including the judiciary”, to pull Pakistan out of its recurring crises. It may again be noted that in 2007 the Bangladesh constitution had stipulated that the last retiring Chief Justice should head the Interim Government designated to hold elections, confirming the departing Pakistani Chief Justice’s plea to be quite self-serving.
Now, as Pakistan heads into a political and constitutional deadlock following the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s threat to resign en masse from provincial and national parliaments, voices are being raised calling for a Grand National Dialogue to pull the country out of the developing crisis. There would have been no need to clutch at this straw IF the 2018 experiment by the Miltablishment had succeeded – IF Imran Khan had delivered good governance instead of obsessing about the opposition and constantly U-Turning; IF NAB had succeeded in convicting alleged crooks neutrally across the board; IF the Miltablishment had discreetly kept at arms-length from a blundering regime and retained its neutrality and credibility; IF the judiciary had not been so stained by its infirmities; IF, IF, IF. But barely two years down the line, the experiment has crashed. Now what?
Imran Khan’s bluster – that bye-elections will fill the void left by the resignations –lacks conviction. At the very least, there will be a constitutional crisis that will stay or derail any such project. No less, we can be sure that the PDM will up the agitation to include strikes, dharnas, marches, boycotts, gheraos, etc., to ensure than hundreds of bye-elections cannot possibly be held in a free and fair manner. If the PTI’s answer to that is to bung everyone into prison, it shouldn’t forget that any bye-elections without the mainstream parties, which among them won twice as many votes cast for the PTI in 2018 even after the rigging against them, will smell foul like the referenda of General Zia ul Haq and General Pervez Musharraf and lack both legitimacy and longevity. And if there is violence on the streets – which is probable – all bets will be off. In any case, given its unpopularity, the PTI will have a hard time finding strong candidates to contest such elections.
Viewed in this context, the Grand National Dialogue Idea, notwithstanding some sincere or idealistic proponents, smells like another plan for a backdoor entry or soft coup of the Miltablishment allied with the Judiciary. Indeed, there is talk of petitioning the Supreme Court to order such a Grand Dialogue of all stakeholders – which includes the Miltablishment – a proposal that will surely be rejected by the PDM whose main grouse is that the Miltablishment and Judiciary have become so overtly partisan and controversial that they are part of the problem rather than the solution.
In fact, the PDM is proposing quite the opposite sort of Grand National Dialogue. It wants one solely among civil society and party political stakeholders to make sure that Miltablishment-Judiciary interventions to encroach on the constitutional powers and rights of sovereign elected parliaments and governments are curtailed, a sort of new Charter of Democracy to forestall unconstitutional engineering again and again.
The current situation is dangerous. If the PDM is unable to close ranks and resist the repressive force of the PTI-Miltablishment regime, the gloomy status-quo outlook of economic stagnation and political uncertainty will persist, aggravating the national crisis. But if it succeeds in ousting Imran Khan in one way or another, it should still look out for a soft-coup ambush by some variant of the Bangladesh “interim” government model of 2007 that kicked off with a stifling State of Emergency and extended itself beyond its remit.