Today’s headlines are depressing. “Pakistan remains on FATF hook”… “Outlawed TLP announces march on Islamabad”… “PDM launches nationwide protest”… “Khurshid Shah gets bail after two years imprisonment”… “Shahbaz Gill threatens media”…and so on.
Pakistan remains on the FATF Gray list because the US wants to retain leverage. Much the same reason lies behind the IMF’s foot-dragging on signing off with Shaukat Tareen. It seems Pakistan isn’t ready to give the US an “over-the-horizon” highway to conduct kinetic operations in Afghanistan, as and when. Why is this so important to the US? After all, it is the regional countries – Pakistan, China, Russia, Iran and Central Asian Republics – that have to contend with terrorism exported from Afghanistan and not the US or the international community who don’t have to contend with global terrorism organized by Osama Bin Laden wannabes based in Afghanistan. It is, of course, no coincidence that the three top global targets on the US hit-list are China, Russia and Iran.
The TLP is marching again. It wants the government to release its leader Saad Rizvi and oust the French Ambassador from Islamabad. Curiously enough, the Election Commission of Pakistan has allowed the “banned” TLP to contest elections and the government has allowed it to hold protests and long marches. Indeed, Sheikh Rashid, the interior minister, has “warned” the peaceful PDM “not to take the law into its hands” but not uttered a squeak against the militant TLP!
Journalist Asma Shirazi is the latest vile target of PTI ministers and trolls for writing that a country like Pakistan beset with myriad problems cannot be run on Hokus Pokus policies. Shahbaz Gill, the PM’s spokesman, has warned the media that any “slurs on the PM’s family” will not be tolerated, clearly implying the source of such inspiration. The PFUJ has countered that any attack on the media will be fiercely resisted.
NAB’s cruel victimization of opposition politicians is breaching the limits of law. There is a long list of people who have suffered incarceration for months without a shred of evidence presented in court against them. Khurshid Shah has suffered the most. The Islamabad High Court and Supreme Court have censured NAB for its arbitrary and high handed ways but the government has gone ahead and extended the term of the very NAB chairman who is blithely cracking the whip.
In the latest twist of events, two headlines run side by side. “DG-ISI Lt Gen Faiz Hameed in Kabul for talks with Taliban”… and “New DG ISI to be notified today”. The ISPR announced over ten days ago that Lt General Nadeem Anjum had been nominated as the new DG-ISI and Lt Gen Faiz Hameed the new Commander 11 Corps based in Peshawar. But neither has yet taken up his new post because PM Imran Khan has not signed off even after “interviewing” Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum. This is an example of the sort of confusion and instability – the signs are not rightly aligned — that Asma Shirazi and others are talking about.
Unfortunately, however, this issue has become much more than a blip on the same page narrative of the PTI government and Miltablishment. Speculation is rife about how the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and his GHQ colleagues are outraged that the ISPR announcement is not being “honoured” by the PM and they are “ready for any eventuality”. On the other side, the PM has dug his heels in and let it be known that he is not going to be a pushover any more. This contradiction spells the imminent demise of the “hybrid regime”. But it isn’t clear how and when this structure will collapse because there are so many “options” on the table.
Imran Khan could finally sign off on the ISPR announcement and save the day. But the damage to mutual trust and interests is irrevocable. There will be prickly disagreements as the system grumbles along until something or someone will “break”. And then we will be back to discussing “options”.
Should Imran Khan decide to put the Miltablishment in its place, will it meekly allow him to run rough shod over it (the Jehangir Karamat option) or will it angrily react and throw everyone and everything overboard (the Pervez Musharraf route)? Would he prefer to go down fighting in parliament when the Miltablishment winks at the disgruntled parliamentarians to throw him out or will he chose to call fresh elections himself and, without Miltablishment support, risk being wiped out by the PMLN?
Pakistan under the Hybrid Regime is riven by bitter internal disputes that are acquiring militant proportions by the day. It is isolated internationally and bereft of friends to bail it out of its economic woes. Continuing instability in Afghanistan is threatening to spill over into Pakistan by way of refugees and terrorists. Without a radical overhaul of national security and elite-capture policies, the outlook is grim.
Liddle-Hart, the great military historian, famously remarked that the only thing more difficult than teaching the military to adopt a new idea is to abandon an old idea. The old idea is that the military has Pakistan. The new idea is that Pakistan has a military. Over the course of Pakistan’s political evolution, one by one, the military’s “chosen” came to realise this predicament but lost their jobs when they tried to redress the balance. The last politician to stand up was Nawaz Sharif. He is still out in the cold despite overwhelming public support for him. Now Imran Khan is stirring. As opposed to notions of “civilian supremacy” for popularly mandated politicians and parties, his motives and maneuverings are hugely suspect because he stole a mandate. That is why there is so much confusion about what is right and who is wrong in the current standoff.
This is going to be a hard winter of discontent. Something is dying in the bowels of Pakistan but we don’t know what is being born in its womb. The omens are not good. The screaming headlines say it all.