Volume 2, No. 3, March 2020
Editor: Rashed Rahman
Betrayals of another kind:
The victimisation through the courts and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) of the leaderships of the two main opposition parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and their apparent defiance in the face of adversity may have engendered the illusion that the civil-military contradiction was about to see a push back from the civilian political class against the overweening domineering role of the military. However, indications began to appear in December 2019 that what was apparent was not necessarily real. First, the defiant ‘face’ of the PML-N, Nawaz Sharif was allowed to proceed abroad for medical treatment of his complicated health issues. Then Asif Ali Zardari was shifted to hospital because of health complications. The fact that Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif was allowed to accompany his ill brother to London to look after him indicated that he had played the role of a reconciliator between Nawaz Sharif and the military. For the moment, both Sharif brothers are in London. Rumours galore are circulating that a ‘deal’ has either been struck or is in the making. Once again the opposition leadership has betrayed the people by seeking a re-entry into power, courtesy the military.
Such rumours are lent credence by the failure of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) government led by Imran Khan to handle the affairs of the country in a credible manner. While Imran Khan and his cabinet ministers and party leaders leave no opportunity to castigate the opposition as ‘looters and thieves’ deserving no mercy, the PTI government’s ineptness and misplaced concreteness is nowhere more visible than in its handling of the economy. Industry and trade are in decline, inflation and unemployment on the rise. Life has become difficult if not impossible for the vast majority of people. Chasing the will o’ the wisp of enhanced tax revenue through draconian measures in an entrenched tax evasion culture could not but drive the considerable undocumented black economy further ‘underground’. No policy for incentivising investment is anywhere in sight. High interest rates, ostensibly to curb inflation but which do not seem to be delivering this outcome, discourage local investment. Foreign investment of any significant proportions abandoned our shores decades ago because of our penchant for jihadi enterprises in the neighbourhood. Growth this year is expected at around 2.4 percent, calling into question the competence of the incumbent government.
A year and a half down the road from ascending to office, the PTI-led coalition government appears to be falling apart. The first to flap their wings prior to flight were the minor coalition partners such as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) and the Balochistan National Movement-Mengal (BNP-M). Each has its own grouses, but all of them complain of the non-implementation of promises made to them when the coalition was formed. Now federal ministers such as Fawad Chaudhry have opened up their heavy artillery against the flailing, failing Punjab government of the PTI led by Usman Buzdar. Some are seeing this as a signal that Imran Khan’s days in office are numbered.
If so, this was a wholly predictable debacle. The military put all its eggs in Imran Khan’s basket by bringing him to power through the rigged 2018 election and pushing the two main opposition parties against the wall. No alternative option or Plan B appears to have been formulated in case things don’t work out as planned. The result: the military is now caught in a bind of continuing to support Imran Khan’s government despite its manifest failures to run the country successfully or seeking alternatives by providing relief to the beleaguered opposition.
Meanwhile the US has once again proved that its reputation as a warmonger and aggressive imperialist power is well deserved. The assassination of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani through a drone strike in Baghdad raised all sorts of intriguing questions. First and foremost, why now? It can be confidently asserted that Washington probably had Soleimani in its sights for long. Soleimani’s role in defeating the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria is well known. But why now?
One plausible theory is that after Saudi oil installations were struck and damaged last year in an attack claimed by the Houthis of Yemen but widely blamed on Iran, and the US’s unwillingness to respond to Riyadh’s appeal to come to its aid in terms of security, the Saudis plumped for pragmatic self-interest. To prevent further damage to their oil-dependent economy, they decided to seek a possible rapprochement with Iran. Soleimani was said to be the central figure in these quiet diplomatic moves. He was killed when carrying a message to the Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi regarding progress on this front. An Iranian-Saudi rapprochement would cut the ground from under the US’s effort to keep Iran under pressure with the ambition to ring in regime change. Hence the assassination of Soleimani. Iran’s riposte was a carefully calibrated missile strike/s on US military bases in Iraq to avoid further escalation. Washington has belatedly admitted 11 of its soldiers were wounded in the attacks. Iran meanwhile has mishandled the shooting down in error of a Ukrainian passenger jet and the regime is facing stringent criticism at home and abroad for its initial denials plus calls for accountability of those responsible and compensation to the victims. Public memory being notoriously short, no one recalls the deliberate (not mistaken) shooting down of an Iranian passenger jet in 1988 by the US, with no one held accountable. It appears that what is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander.
What the foolish and precipitate US assassination of Soleimani has wrought is nothing less than trigger calls for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq as well as the region as a whole. US President Donald Trump has once again trumped no one but himself.