THE EVOLVING COURSE OF EVENTS IN PAKISTAN

Post panamaleaks probe of financial assets of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his immediate family through a Joint Investigative Team ( JIT ) is Pakistan’s great leap forward in the struggle to end corruption in the corridors of power. But will the struggle that is thus far proceeding lawfully also end lawfully?  It does not seem likely. The ruling party has a persecution complex and the Panama hearing has only intensified it. The proceeding against a sitting PM and his family is the first ever of its kind in Pakistan, and although the judicial entities involved are acting sovereign, with no SOPs in place, their road is bumpy.

For the benefit of the nation, live broadcast of the proceedings would have been in order.  In democracy, people’s right to know is the foremost value in all matters pertaining to the conduct of their democratic leaders. The whole nation in America watched the Iran Contra hearings in 1987. The interrogation was televised live on CSPAN and on National Public Radio for the benefit of all Americans. On the one hand, the live coverage minimized media’s spin doctors’ projection of vested interests at the expense of truth. On the other, the individual with the gift for gab rose in public esteem during the coverage regardless of which side he/she occupied. Col. Oliver North emerged as the young republican’s hero from the Iran Contra hearings by virtue of his good looks and cocky mannerism, while Arthur Limen, Chief Counsel for the Senate investigation, didn’t capture the popular imagination because his visuals were less impressive compared to that of Oliver North. These facetious differences notwithstanding, a televised probe of such matters can make a real difference in the quality of democracy a country has. Pakistan is missing an opportunity to grow by not televising the Panama hearings.

Despite the apparent sovereignty of the JIT as exhibited thus far, matters seem headed towards a violent confrontation between the government and the judiciary on one hand, and the government and opposition on the other. It is because mature voices in the PML(N) are silent while immature voices of sycophancy are shrill and loud ever since the Panama affair put Nawaz Sharif in the dock a year ago. From day one, there has been no intra party meeting to address the Panama revelations regarding the first family’s assets abroad. There has been no moral and candid stance taken by the Party syndicate, no declaration to the effect issued to the public by Party stalwarts. The Panamaleaks affair was an opportunity for the PML(N) to rise as a mature and invincible political party in Pakistan. Instead, it is cutting a sorry figure as some of its leaders shoot verbal arrows here and there in their bid to show loyalty to their besieged leader while others have sat on the fence and have avoided taking a principled stand on the matter from day one.

The most likely outcome of the probe is the permanent disqualification of Nawaz Sharif and his immediate family from holding any public office in Pakistan. Psychologically unprepared for such an outcome, the Sharif family seems in no mood to defer to the judiciary regarding its fate. It is trying to legitimize its defiance by insisting on taking the matter to the public and having it decided through the ballot. The much-needed electoral reforms have yet to crystallize. The opposition seems hell-bent on having the  Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his immediate family disqualified, including the PM’s daughter who is groomed for office. The Pakistani public has been made to witness the contradictory statements of the first family in the matter of acquisition of immense wealth through 24/7 media and because it is generally disappointed in the quality of its leadership, it is least motivated to take an active stand in favor of one against the other. The ruling family has rich networks and seems all set to utilize them in its support.  The political parties of Pakistan are happy to see the back of Nawaz Sharif and Co. before the next election but are also apprehensive of the legacy of accountability the JIT probe will bequeath to the nation. Some powerful leaders in the opposition will thus utilize their resources to thwart such a legacy from getting entrenched while supporting the go Nawaz go hype created by Imran Khan.

There are thus many cross currents at play.  It does not seem likely that the end of this affair will be the court ordering the Prime Minister to step down, followed by the Prime Minister bowing out in peace and his party accepting the outcome with equanimity. If fireworks are displayed, the casualty will be PML(N) for sure, but no clear winner is in sight at present. Imran Khan is credited with the movement to end corruption but he has damaged his image through missteps in the last two years and his redeeming acts do not outweigh the mistakes as yet.  Asif Zardari has put an end to the promising entrance of Bilawal Bhutto into Pakistani leadership scene while being quite uninspiring himself.

The most likely person to benefit from the current situation is Tahir Ul Qadri of Tehreek-e-Minhaj ul Quran. His entry into active politics now is therefore certain. His ability to prevail under the circumstances is also unquestioned. Qadri is likely to enter Pakistani political scene with “I told you sos” and due to the proven veracity of his assertions, he is likely to capture a very big audience.

The show of political force, in the near future, is likely to be between Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s Imran Khan and Tehreek-e- Minhaj ul Quran’s Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri. It is the religious segment of Pakistani population that is likely to be the most mobilized in the circumstance.   

A SOBER JUDGMENT

Two P.M on April 20th was the most popular TV hour in Pakistan as Pakistanis thronged in front of TV sets to hear the Supreme Court verdict on the fate of their Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The case against Nawaz Sharif carried allegations of money laundering and corruption after Sharif family’s name appeared in the infamous Panama Leaks in early 2016.

In its judgment, the Supreme Court ordered the formation of a Joint Investigative Team with the responsibility to ascertain the answers to ten questions raised by the apex court. The questions fundamentally ask how, when and where did the Prime Minister and his family raise the money to acquire off shore companies and extravagant European real estate. The joint investigative team will be headed by the Federal Investigative Agency (FIA) and will include members of intelligence, including Pakistan’s foremost military intelligence the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). It is to submit its report no later than sixty days after its formation. The process of formation of the JIT is to complete within seven days of the court order. The JIT can call the Prime Minister and his two sons for questioning.

There are two important aspects of this Order. First, during the six months long hearing, it was amply revealed that the Prime Minister and his family were unable to show a clear and credible money trail that lay behind their acquisition of off shore companies and the extravagant London real estate publicly owned by Nawaz Sharif’s immediate family. Secondly, it is the first time in the history of Pakistan that a Prime Minister will be investigated by a federal investigatory agency while he is still holding office. After turning the lights on the fundamental realities of the case during Panama case hearing under rigorous media scrutiny, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has handed the matter for investigation over to where it really belongs, Pakistan’s federal investigatory institutions.  The hearing in the Supreme Court has thus minimized the possibility of Shady deals between the high and mighty and the investigative officers involved in the case.

This is a sober judgment. It is in contrast to the judgment of the Supreme Court which was rendered in 2013 after Tahir Ul Qadri petitioned for reconstitution of the Election Commission of Pakistan. Back then, the court rendered a subversive judgment when it refused to acknowledge Tahir ul Qadri’s locus standi because the latter held dual nationality of Canada as well as Pakistan.

In the instant case, the Supreme Court intervened in the escalating show down between the Pakistan Tehrik-e-insaf and the ruling PML(N) over Panama Leaks and took suo moto notice of the charges leveled against the Prime Minister by assembling court in November 2016 to hear both sides.  The court thus not only defused the political tension at the time, it also created a situation for the Prime Minister of Pakistan wherein the latter could not get away with revelations in Panama Leaks by strong arming the opposition that was busy agitating on the streets, calling for Prime Minister’s resignation and scrutiny of his assets.  Through its order of April 20, 2017, the apex court has created an opportunity for the investigative institutions of Pakistan to do what they are paid to do and in the process has steered the country on the path to institutional development.

Is the trouble for the Prime Minister over? Not at all. The Supreme Court could declare the Prime Minister ineligible to hold office after the JIT report is submitted. If Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had answers to the questions raised by the Supreme Court, he would have submitted them during the six months long hearing that lasted from November 2016 to April 2017.

What follows now is a sobriety test for all involved in this matter.

The Prime Minister has to show that he is capable of handling his personal financial crises in a manner that does not adversely impact his country and the party he founded under the name of PML (N), and thus set an example for Pakistan’s future leaders. The  FIA will have to prove its own functionality in a transparent manner to evolve into a viable state institution for all times to come. The political parties who take their wars to the streets will have to learn to defer to institutions instead because they can work if pressure is exerted wisely.

If any of the above mentioned actors fails to act soberly, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif could still be removed from office, but through nasty means instead of the ones laid out in the law of the land.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has done superbly thus far. It has averted a political crisis, reinforced the power of national institutions and prevented a sitting head of state from strong arming into silence his opponents’ call for accountability.

TRUMP, PAKISTAN AND AFGHANISTAN

From Daily Times, January 26, 2017.

War is defined as an occurrence in which organized military forces engage in violence on both sides of the conflict. Only US’s invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq meet the definition of war. After that, US ‘war on terror’ transmuted into military interventions in countries much smaller and weaker than the US. The interventions were either in collaboration with the government of the nation state, such as in Pakistan or Yemen, or in collaboration with the rebel groups against the government of a nation state, such as Syria and Libya.

A spiral of violence has now been created. The presence of militant groups is the reason America gives for military intervention and bombing of civilians in the region. The civilian deaths create more militant groups who carry out terror attacks to destabilize their own government on account of latter’s alliance with the US. Terror attacks also kill civilians. The military in the state where terror groups strike tries to take them out by bombing its own areas. Civilians either die in such strikes, or are dislocated. Because of the stigma of hailing from a terrorist area, the internally displaced people lead a life devoid of social support. Poverty levels within a country do not allow its government to fully address the needs of the IDPs. Urban ghettoization and increase in poverty thus ensues, adding region wide pockets of misery. Such pockets become fertile grounds for crimes including terrorism. Civilians suffer as their streets and neighborhoods become less secure. The “War on Terror” is, in many ways, a war by organized military forces against civilians. Terrorism has been the stated target, but not the casualty of this war.

In the eighties, during the Soviet Afghan war, terrorism struck Pakistan but remained confined to the North West Frontier Province (now KPK). During Pakistan’s second involvement in the Afghan conflict, wherein it again aided and abetted the US, (now the occupying force in Afghanistan), terrorism spread to every nook and corner of Pakistan. No province, no city remains out of reach of terrorists.

Why is that?

For one, in the eighties Pakistan was helping the resistance, which is the side most likely to use terrorism in furtherance of its policy. Secondly, the KGB did not have the levels of intelligence in Pakistan that the CIA does. Had the KGB been present in Pakistan in large numbers, it would have masterminded terror attacks all over Pakistan to dissuade the central government from helping the Americans in their proxy war against the USSR in Afghanistan.

Similarly, the US has an interest in clearing Afghanistan of nationalist elements because it has a commercial plan involving Afghanistan. America finds Pakistan’s military as the most useful resource in furtherance of the objective of eliminating nationalist forces in Afghanistan and their helpers in Pakistan.

Of course, in order to be able to engage Pakistan thus, compulsions have to be created. If Pakistan itself suffers terror attacks, its government and its military have a reason to go after the most obvious suspects, members of the resistance in Afghanistan and their allies in Pakistan.

That means terrorism in Pakistan will not end till the US has succeeded in eliminating the nationalist forces within Afghanistan. Helping the US achieve such an end goal is detrimental to Pakistan’s survival because of the ‘India factor.’ New Delhi covets Pakistani territory due to its enhanced economic value. When Pakistan engages against its own people for a prolonged period, India finds its window of opportunity to delegitimize and  dismember Pakistan. Furthermore, it is not in Pakistan’s interest to eliminate its martial races in the areas adjacent to Afghanistan, where a hostile India has lodged itself with the help of the US.

After every major terror attack, Pakistan engages on its own land against militants who are helping the Afghan resistance. The latest of such engagements, carried out by Raheel Sharif, saw the most intense bombardment and the most wide spread dislocation of people from the area bordering Afghanistan. During this time, terror attacks greatly decreased but were unprecedented in intensity and scale. After each occurrence, the Pakistani military took its invasion of border areas to a higher scale.

Even if all support structures for the Afghan war are destroyed in Pakistan’s border areas, the US’s end goal of eliminating nationalist forces in Afghanistan will still remain to be fulfilled. Hence, the US will continue to demand more from Pakistan. India will continue to use the predicament Pakistan is thus placed in to its advantage. Pakistan’s best option at countering such a pressure is to gather regional and international support to emphasize the futility of the path US is walking in Afghanistan, and to help steer it in a fresh direction that brings benefits to Washington and to the Afghans without further use of force.

Trump’s eagerness to work with Russia is a window of opportunity for Pakistan in this direction. Pakistan, Russia and China want to engage the Taliban to counter ISIS threat. Trump also views ISIS as a greater threat. This convergence of US, Russia and China’s interest can be used as the catalyst for a multilateral agreement to promote peace between the resistance and the collaborators of the west in Afghanistan and to steer the US towards troop withdrawal in the wake of a multilateral agreement for a trade regime that accords the US a share. US withdrawal from Afghanistan can also be made possible if Russia and Pakistan help bring the US and China on the negotiating table where disputes are resolved through diplomatic engagement.  Such a scenario will calm India’s saber rattling against Pakistan and force it on to a negotiating table with Islamabad. If Pakistan, in collaboration with Russia, succeeds in bringing the US and China into a cooperative mode, India runs the danger of being left out of the commercial structures that are being built in the region because, unlike Pakistan, India lies on the fringe of such arrangements.

Pakistan needs rigorous and creative diplomacy towards this end. For starter, it needs a foreign minister with the caliber of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who dexterously operated on the cutting edge of international affairs, and knew how to create space for Pakistan within a forbidding scenario. Pakistan is building a CPEC with China. In collaboration with the US and Russia, Pakistan can build a trade corridor from Eurasia to South Asia traversing Afghanistan, and ending at the ports and cities of South Asia and Iran. Such a trade corridor can only be sustained with the help of the local population of the region. Peace will have to be established with the Afghan resistance to work towards that goal. Hitherto, the Americans have kept troops in Afghanistan because they wanted to build a trading regime in central Asia to the exclusion of Russia and China. However, George Bush’s America was comfortable in its super power status when it chose to deal with matters expeditiously rather than diplomatically. Trump’s America is struggling to recreate and reimagine itself. Trump’s slogan “America First” shows willingness to shed old ties and eagerness to build new ones to be “strong again.”

Trump’s lack of shyness in adopting an innovative foreign policy (unlike his predecessor Obama) should be an encouraging sign for policy planners in Pakistan. Trump wants dividends in Afghanistan but is willing to adopt a new course of action towards the goal. Pakistan can be and should be the catalyst for realignment of forces in a win-win scenario for all players in the region.

Why the Fatal attacks on the Russian Envoy in Turkey and the Chinese Workers in Pakistan

Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, January 4, 2017;  www.aljazeerah.info

Attacks on the Russian envoy in Turkey and attacks on the Chinese workers in Pakistan depict attempt at containing regionalism through kinetic force. If  Turkey changes its stance towards the war i…

Source: West’s Containment of Regionalism in Emergent Economies – A Look at the Attack on Russian Envoy in Turkey

Politicians’ Ill Use of the Word “Politics” is a Red Flag Over Democratic Culture in Pakistan

Carried by Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, January 20, 2017

In political science, ‘public representation’ entails the ability to assess the wishes of a polity, to fathom their needs, to articulate the same constructively through speech, to address the same through sincere care consisting of policy planning and implementation. Public reps are political beings. Politics is defined as the rules, norms and functions that make an existing state more useful to its citizens. Though democracy as an uninterrupted phenomenon is two hundred and fifty years old, (if you date it from its formation in USA), humanity has yet to design formal education leading to the creation of a public representative, such as Masters or Ph.D  or Post Doc. in public representation, though formal education in political science does exist and philosophically addresses the myriad manifestations of political existence.

In the absence of a formal and scientific academic design aimed at creating professional public representatives, the latter are self-initiated professionals. However, aptitude is as much at the core of this profession as any other. Without the ability to assess the wishes of the public, without caring to fathom public needs, and without the ability that innovatively and dexterously addresses those needs, one cannot be a good public representative. There is a general assumption that only a good public representative will make it to office because his or her selection depends on the choice made by the majority of public.

Because the public representative can come into a governing position without prior training, his/her mettle is to be tested while in office. The imperatives of his/her status require the public rep to move beyond articulation of public needs and policy promise, into the domain of conceiving and implementing policy that addresses public needs successfully. Though trained bureaucrats in their hierarchic office for a long period help public reps govern, yet the latter must exercise leadership in the office they hold. Unless the leaders deliver healthy leadership, the democratic political process is hollow within and unproductive without.

Pakistan calls itself a new democracy because only recently  has there been uninterrupted hand over of power from one representative government to another since Pakistan emerged as a sovereign state in 1947. Paradoxically, it is only during this time, (since 2008) that public reps have started unwittingly making statements regarding their political role that disparage the role itself. This tendency is a red flag over Pakistan’s democratic political culture. If it is not checked by civil society, Pakistan’s nascent democracy will grow akin to a python slowly eating its own tale.

The most significant example of the unhealthy tendency of describing public role disparagingly is the pronouncements made by the representatives of the ruling party PML(N) about their leader and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s  speeches in parliament and his address to the nation post Panama Leaks.  Nawaz Sharif gave one explanation of asset acquisition to the parliament and the public, and another to the Supreme Court during hearing of Panama Leaks case. Nawaz Sharif’s lawyer and other members of his party are explaining away the inconsistency by calling the speeches Nawaz Sharif, the elected office holder at the helm of government, made in his address to the nation on TV and in the elected Parliament of Pakistan as merely “political” statements, that should not be accorded importance during a judicial examination  of Prime Minister’s ‘political character,’ (which ultimately is what the Panama Leaks case hearing is about).

Prime Minister submitted to the court that he bought the extravagant May Fair flats in London with the money raised from investments in Qatar.  Only a letter from a Qatari prince was submitted as proof of the same. During hearing in December 2016, justice Aijaz ul Hassan asked why the PM didn’t mention Qatari investment in his address about Panama Leaks to the nation and the parliament.  Nawaz Sharif’s counsel Salman Butt replied by stating the Prime Minister’s speech cannot be a judicial record as it was only a political speech. !!!!!

No clarification was issued later from the office of the Prime Minister regarding the disparaging comment made about the speech of the Prime Minister of a country in the Parliament and on air as address to the nation.

There are innumerable instances of usage of the concepts “political” and “politics” by Pakistan’s political elite as frivolous, non-serious, unworthy, self-seeking or self-aggrandizing. For instance, when-ever there is a terror attack that claims a large number of lives, the government’s response to criticism regarding its security policy is always the advice that members of the opposition should not do “politics” over a tragedy of national proportions.  The interior minister Chaudhy Nisar Ali Khan has often used the word “politics” in similar manner. On January 28, 2016, a week after the terror attack on Bacha Khan university, Chaudhry Nisar responded to the opposition party PPP’s  criticism of government’s inability to implement the National Action Plan against terrorism in the following words;  “If some one does not like my personality, no matter; but don’t do ‘politics’ on national issues.” Speaking in the aftermath of the tragic Landhi train accident that killed 22 and injured 60, 28 year old Bilawal Bhutto, who studied social sciences  at Oxford, also seems to have succumbed to this culture when he said that there should be no ‘politics’ over terrorism and accidents.

The state is defined as the highest form of community and aims at the highest good. It is founded on political association. ‘Politics’ defines the nature and function of the state. A state’s political rulers and politicians aim at the good of citizens of a state.

The phrase “office politics” is used as a disparaging phrase at unit levels, referring to self seeking behavior, focused on who gets what, when and how. Office politics is perceived as an impediment to the main function of the enterprise. Pakistan’s public representatives, who are quintessential political beings, attach similar meaning to the word politics. They thus not only undermine their own professional credibility as politicians, they belittle democratic culture itself as one devoid of accountability, ethics, and respectable norms with deference to which democratic politics function.

Pakistani politicians’ description of politics fails to take cognizance of the true definition of politics. The manner in which politicians describe their chief function in society has a bearing on the quality of the function itself. Misappropriation of the concept of ‘politics’  is a red flag over Pakistan’s nascent democratic culture.

West’s Containment of Regionalism in Emergent Economies – A Look at the Attack on Russian Envoy in Turkey

Attacks on the Russian envoy in Turkey and attacks on the Chinese workers in Pakistan depict attempt at containing regionalism through kinetic force.

If  Turkey changes its stance towards the war in Syria and joins Russia and Iran to support Bashar ul Assad in the war, just so to end the war sooner by supporting the side that is most likely to win, it will be impossible for the US  and its allies to dislodge the regime in Syria. Similarly, if Turkey weaves an economic regime of greater trade ties with Russia, Turkey will have no more need for supporting NATO in future.  The  recent anti Russian activism on the streets of Turkey had very thin attendance. Considering how politicized the Turks have become as a polity post failed July coup, the level of attendance at a rally denouncing Russian  role in Allepo shows the absence of  wide spread anti Russian sentiment in Turkey. Oddly, it is the Russian envoy who is attacked in Turkey and killed a day before Russia, Turkey and Iran were to hold tripartite talks about Syria. Similarly odd, there have been consistent attempts at attacking and killing the Chinese workers in Pakistan post the forging of greater Pak-China trade ties.

Pakistan and Turkey are commercially important countries. Pakistan connects Central Asia to international markets through the Arabian sea while Turkey connects  Asia to Europe through its commercial hubs called Bosphorus and Dardannelles.

Both Turkey and Pakistan are in the process of forging new direction in their foreign and trade policy. Both are in the process of formulating unprecedented regional trade ties . Russia and China are the pivot of these ties for Turkey and Pakistan respectively.  The former are unquestioned regional hegemons and rising global powers.

The problem for both Turkey and Pakistan is that Russia and China are perceived in the West as foes.

The Soviet era “ideological” frameworks are absent from West’s rivalry with Russia and China. Hence, global bloc formation, cemented by the soft power of multinational economies of scale,  is no  longer deployed in aid of such rivalry. The Eurasian/Asian and western rivalry is happening at the time of declining power of the west and rising power of the Eurasian and Asian states. West can no  longer feed its rivalry with multidimensional soft power tools. Its activity on the containment front is thus dangerously confined to kinetic activity, be it overt or covert.

The west is specifically focused on kinetic activity in Asia and North Africa due to its regional formation called the war on terror. It has become increasingly difficult for the Muslim political elite to explain their collaboration with the west in what seems to be a renewable war on terror.  The war is wrecking the economies of developing countries and destroying their internal equilibrium, yet the west keeps pushing the regional governments deeper and deeper into the quagmire of civil wars with no clear end in sight.

The rise of the ‘new hegemons’ is a neighborly and continental affair for both Pakistan and Turkey. Hence both the Sharif government and the Erdogan government, (the latter especially post failed July coup) have started to promote regionalism in trade ties by forging better relations inside Asia and Eurasia, which would inevitably lead to greater political and military ties between Russia and Turkey and Pakistan, China and Russia.

The west perceives regionalism in trade as a threat to its economic and political interest. All significant commercial sea ports lie in Asia and Africa. Significant commodities are abundant on the two continents as well. However, where previously the trading regimes were built and controlled by the west, now the same are being built and controlled by Russia and China. The west thus must come up with containment strategies to frustrate, delay, or altogether destroy regionalism that is beginning to relegate the west, especially the US, to the periphery of international economic relations in the 21st century. Unfortunately for the masses in the west, their leaders are using traditional military ways  to deal with new, unprecedented threats. They are  using war on terror as a renewable resource in pursuit of containment of regionalism in economic relations.

The Chinese in Pakistan are building power projects and economic corridors. They do not move about with guns, but with hard hats. Yet, there have been several terror attacks on the Chinese workers in Pakistan ever since 2002. The most recent was in Sindh where a remote control bomb targeted Chinese engineers just days ago. Pakistan has raised a special force of several thousand military personnel just to safeguard the CPEC, China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Military supply line for coalition forces in Afghanistan also transits through over a thousand miles of Pakistani territory, yet no need was ever felt to raise a special military force in Pakistan to protect the supply route.

Turkey has traditionally sought a place for itself in Europe.  Pakistan too preferred ties with the west after becoming a sovereign state in 1947. Come twenty first century, those ties have significantly decreased and if Islamabad continues to forge composite regional ties at the current rate, its ties with the west will obviously end as an exercise in self-contradiction (unless of course, the west changes its posture towards Russia and China from confrontation to cooperation).

For now, Pakistan’s natural linkage to central Asia has been temporarily broken by the US occupation of Afghanistan. Greater ties with China is Pakistan’s way of getting round that blockage.  China is Pakistan’s economic hope,  and yet there have been relentless terror attacks on the Chinese workers in Pakistan.

These attacks tell us that the west’s ‘renewable’ war on terror is being used as a source of containment of regionalism in Asian and African economies.

In containment of post war communism, the west utilized a mixture of hard and soft power.  In containment of current regionalism in Asia and Africa, west’s  soft power is starkly absent.

The absence of this ‘healthy’ mix is what is increasingly defining the 21st century as the century of the West and the “Rest,” to borrow a phrase from American academic Zachary Karabel.

The Consistent Pattern of Shattering of Consensus in Pakistan

There is a consistent pattern at work in Pakistan since 2013, (or before, if you date it from Benazir’s assassination in the run up to the 2008 general election). Every time a political consensus evolves regarding core issues, some extraneous event impacts the consensus adversely and shatters it. First time it happened post 2013 election was on November 1st, 2013, when Hakim Ullah Mehsud, the leader of Pakistan’s militant group, the TTP, was killed by a US drone in North Waziristan.  Mehsud was acting as the guarantor and facilitator of the peace deal the newly elected Sharif government was trying to make with the Pakistani Taliban for ceasefire and end to abetment of the Afghan resistance in return for pardon and massive development work in the FATA region.  Pakistanis in general were happy with the peace prospect. All political parties welcomed it. Hopes were pinned on Hakimullah Mehsud as the man with enough clout to make the peace deal stick. His death put a swift end to all hopes of peace in FATA through negotiation. A war followed that continues to this day.

The second time political consensus was shattered was on April 19th, 2014, barely eleven months after Nawaz Sharif’s government was sworn into office and had just begun to get its grip on affairs of governance.

On April 19, 2014, a reputed journalist and one of Nawaz Sharif’s close friends, Hamid Mir, was shot repeatedly in his lower body while being driven to his office in the city of Karachi. Hamid was lying unconscious in the intensive care unit of a hospital when his brother accused the Director General of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the ISI, of masterminding the attack on Hamid Mir. Mir’s employer and Pakistan’s largest TV network, GEO, began to show pictures of DG ISI minutes after the allegation was leveled by Mir’s brother. Very quickly, the sensational news was common currency in national and international media without the presentation of any evidence by Geo News Network in support of repeated allegation.

The absence of evidence turned mass sympathy for Hamid Mir into anger at Geo News Network for denigrating Pakistan’s security apparatus without a shred of evidence.  During this rise in mass anger, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called on Hamid Mir to inquire after the latter’s state of health.

Mir is no ordinary journalist. He is Pakistan’s best known anchor person and a friend of Nawaz Sharif. Under ordinary circumstances, the PM calling on such a personality after he is shot by terrorists would be in order. Under special circumstances created post Mir’s employer Geo News Network’s repeated yet baseless allegation, PM’s visit was a serious mistake on his part. The mass anger in Pakistan shifted from Geo News Network to Nawaz Sharif’s person.

At the time of Hamid Mir shooting, the Sharif government was doing well. On its watch, the Rupee had risen ten points against the dollar for the first time in a decade. Nawaz had succeeded in winning a national consensus on his policy of negotiating peace with the insurgents in Pakistan’s FATA area. There was a general hope that peace will prevail under the Nawaz led government.

Nawaz’s unwise response to the events post Mir shooting eroded the above mentioned consensus as the Pakistani street began to question their prime minister’s patriotism. People began to wonder why Nawaz Sharif chose to side with the subversive forces inside a commercial venture (i.e. Geo News Network) rather than defending the integrity of the state’s most vital institutions. Questions rose as to why the PM had never called on any of the bereaved whose sons and spouses had died with their boots on during the war on terror.

Street anger soon crystallized into organized agitation calling for Nawaz’s ouster. In mid-August 2014,  Imran Khan and Tahir Ul Qadri joined hands to stage a sit in outside the parliament. During the four months long sit in with impressive attendance, Imran Khan rose as the national hero. A new national consensus developed as people began to envision Imran Khan as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan. By the end of 2014, the nation began to anticipate the fall of the Sharif government and mid-term election.

This consensus was shattered again by an act of terrorism and Imran Khan’s unwise response to it. A school in Peshawar was attacked by terrorists on December 16th, 2014. The School attack killed 132 Pakistani students in the provincial capital of KPK. On the  heels of the shock and grief caused by the horrific attack,  Imran Khan called off his movement against the government at precisely the time he had promised to take it to the next level – i.e., street agitation all over Pakistan.

Political leaders cannot afford to build hopes and then dash them suddenly. It is the worst thing they can do to their following. Hence on December 18, 2014, as Imran was pictured embracing the very Sharif he had been vilifying for four months, the consensus that had built around Imran Khan began to corrode.  The same has not been rebuilt with similar conviction ever since.

Having weathered the sit in, Nawaz Sharif and his ruling party, the PML-N (or “Noon League” as it is called in Pakistan) began to concentrate on governance. The PML-N seemed to have gotten re entrenched as the local body election results in 2015 and 2016 showed the Noon League in forefront at the grass roots nearly all over Pakistan. The local body election results gave birth to a fresh belief that the PML N will sweep the next general election, to be held in 2018, as no other party in Pakistan seemed strong enough politically to challenge its nationwide strength. PML-N cushioned itself again as a fresh national consensus evolved regarding its leadership prowess.

It was at this juncture that the Panama Leaks, an extraneous event, suddenly catapulted Nawaz Sharif’s leadership into crisis which kept getting deeper and deeper as the ruling Party failed to manage the allegation of money laundering by its leader wisely. Nawaz Sharif denied the allegation of money laundering. His denial lacked cogency.  Despite that, PML-N party cadre supported Nawaz, which brought the integrity of the entire party into question. The case is now in Supreme Court amidst an intensive media trial. Every day there are new revelations regarding Sharif family’s ill-gotten wealth as new witnesses surface to tell their first-hand account on TV channels.

The Panama Leaks have shattered the belief that Nawaz Sharif and his PML –N would continue to lead Pakistan beyond 2018. Because of the political mishandling of Panama Leaks at the party cadre level, should Sharif be removed from office due to court verdict or some other development, the fall of the central government is eminent.

A corrosion of consensus weakens not just a polity but also the incumbents, who must rule in the vacuum produced by the shattering of the very consensus they previously enjoyed in office. In addition to suffering from a repeatedly shattered political consensus, Pakistan is plagued by a government whose top executive is besieged by the investigation of money laundering.

At the time of writing, no political party is strong enough to fill the vacuum created by PML-N’s political enfeeblement post Panama Leaks. Meanwhile, as Pakistan moves away from the US, it is forging regional ties rigorously. Pakistan is forging stronger commercial ties with China through CPEC and with Russia through unprecedented joint military exercises. During this period of transition, two of Pakistan’s immediate neighbors, Afghanistan and India, have joined forces against Pakistan. Both are backed by the US, Pakistan’s ally no more yet a country with strong intelligence network inside Pakistan and unprecedented military presence in Central Asia. Pakistan is thus sitting on two fault lines, each crossing the other at critical political junctures.  One fault line is created by the fact that Pakistan’s structural shift away from its traditional ally, the US, is not accompanied by a shift in software application that would end the operation of intensive and extensive US intelligence within Pakistan. The other fault line is the political power vacuum caused repeatedly by the shattering of consensus through events triggered by forces extraneous to Pakistan’s main political function.

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are indeed relevant to its defense, but the force Pakistan needs to manage its current risks is that of human intelligence.