“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” wrote William Shakespeare in the play Henry V. There is nothing better than this line to elaborate the ongoing situation in the federal capital, albeit with two caveats. First, such uneasiness in Pakistan’s context has been perpetual. Second, the current situation is an outcome of the shenanigans of the current wearer of the crown.
The federal capital is abuzz with all sorts of rumors following the tug-of-war over the appointment of the new DG ISI. It seems the movers and shakers of the hybrid regime are not so sure anymore. How did it come to an impasse like this? Will the issuance of the notification settle the issue as if nothing had happened? That is the question that everybody appears to be asking. The fissures, however, started appearing long before the current rigmarole.
Remember the mess the PTI made of the chief’s extension in 2018? Eventually, the powers-that-be had to take the opposition on board directly to salvage the day. That is when the cracks first started appearing, following the rigid tendencies shown by PM Khan. Fast forward to 2021, this trust deficit has only widened in the interim. The latest imbroglio on the appointment of top spymaster is a manifestation of that. Notification or no notification, “same-page” will never be the same from this point.
There is a perception in Rawalpindi that PM Khan did not want to grant the extension and this is why the entire issue was botched. The PM has much more trust in the spymaster than his boss. That is why he wants to keep the incumbent in his position with an eye on his eventual elevation as the chief when the time is ripe. But the road is not as smooth as it appears or used to be a few months ago.
All the calculations in the power corridors at present are vis-à-vis November 2022 when the current extension expires. The top brass of the military is not comfortable with an unpredictable personality assuming the top job. The current chief also harbors ambitions of another extension which the PM is very reluctant to sign on if sources are to be believed. However, it will be hard for him to flatly refuse it when the time comes.
There is a likelihood of one year’s extension to the current chief come November 2022. If that happens, he will be in a comfortable position to call the shots for the next set-up. With an opposition that is ready to comply, a no-confidence motion will be in order. Instead of facing the prospect of an in-house defeat, the PM would prefer dissolving the parliament and calling for an early election. That is when the outgoing DG ISI could have been handy for the PM if he had stayed in the job. With the change well and truly in the offing, available options will have to be reconsidered.
But is it just between Rawalpindi and Islamabad? Or do other players also matter in the grand scheme of things? That is where the plot thickens. The fierce political opponents of PM Khan have been shown the green light and they have started to flex their muscles. Jahangir Tareen, with his group, is also prepping for next elections and will find a new political home with the blessings of the powerful circles.
Insiders say that the opposition has been assured of a level-playing field in the next elections. Shahbaz Sharif has become an important player and has already delivered in the cantonment board’s elections. Hamza Shahbaz’s recent visit to South Punjab was not without a favorable nod from the right quarters.
Superior judiciary wants to resurrect itself. Justice Shaukat Siddiqi and Justice Faez Isa’s cases have become litmus tests, and these might take an unexpected turn (for the ruling party) in the near term. Khurshid Shah’s turmoil is already over. Maryam Nawaz has also taken her case to the court to fight the legal battle inside and continues to spit fire outside. Her aggressive posturing, based on Mian Nawaz Sharif’s “Vote Ko Izzat Do” rhetoric, is resonating with the voters and has rejuvenated the party. She also stands a strong chance to get some relief through the legal channels if everything pans out according to the plan.
The Chaudhrys of Gujrat, Pakistan People’s Party, and other smaller groups are also likely to get a share of the pie to create a semblance of consensus on the political landscape. Punjab will be the real battleground. If Shahbaz Sharif gets elevated to the center, Ch. Pervez Elahi might get a dominant role in the province. Mian Nawaz Sharif is also likely to stay as the party supremo in the future scenario.
Maulana Fazalur Rehman has already sprung into action and is mediating an important conundrum post-Afghanistan for the military establishment. The cracks appearing in the BAP Party in Balochistan are early signs of the volatility that is set to take over the national spectrum in the not-so-distant future. Amid all the managed chaos, Mian Nawaz Sharif could board a flight home in December if other pieces of the puzzle fall in place.
Now back to the burning question? Why did the “Tabdeeli” juggernaut run into troubled waters and the powers-that-be had to scamper for alternatives? Sources privy to these developments whisper that the political uncertainty and the financial meltdown at home as well as the emerging global scenario after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan with the looming threat of FATF sanctions are reasons enough. The stalled negotiations with the IMF and the dash to the House of Saud saved the day temporarily, but how long it could continue like this?
PM Khan had sold dreams of a rosy turnaround after assuming power. Now the ugly ground realities underneath those dreams have started to stare at him in the face. If any person should be credited for making PML-N relevant on the political chessboard, it is none other than PM Khan himself. He is still hoping for a miraculous recovery but doesn’t appear to have any policy. Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Shultz famously said “hope is good, but hope is not a policy.”
PM Khan appears to be finding out that bitter truth the hard way. Therefore, the power players are now flexing their muscles and the Prime Minister has started to feel the heat. In a desperate attempt to fight back and secure his fiefdom, he tripped over a landmine that created the DG ISI controversy. If Pakistan’s history is any indication, his chances of survival from here onwards will only dwindle with each passing day. The political chessboard is set, and checkmate is on the cards.