Volume 3, No. 9, September 2021
Editor: Rashed Rahman
The dharna (sit-in) by Maulana Fazlur Rehman and his party Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) continues in Islamabad, with fitful attendance/representation by the leadership of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The reasons for this half-in, half-out stance of these two major mainstream parties are: reservations about Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s aims and objectives, reluctance to support any use of the religion card (including the Khatm-e-Nabuwat, Finality of Mohammad’s, PBUH, Prophethood issue), total absence of women’s representation in the dharna, and divergence between the PPP and PML-N on the one hand and the Maulana on the other vis-à-vis their stakes in the present system/setup. PPP in particular has bigger stakes in the continuation of the ‘system’ given it has a government in Sindh province. PML-N is torn between defying and collaborating with the military in hopes of being allowed a ‘re-entry’ into the corridors of power. Maulana Fazlur Rehman on the other hand has been left out in the cold following the 2018 elections. Not only did he lose his ancestral seat in D I Khan, he has been shut out of the power corridors. Hence for him the dharna is a make-or-break effort.
Since negotiations between the government and the opposition seem to have reached an impasse on the latter’s two demands of the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan and fresh elections, other conduits appear to have sprung into action. The Chaudhry remnants of Musharraf’s King’s Party have been despatched to Maulana Fazlur Rehman with what is hoped will be a logjam-breaking deal. Logically, the minimum that may satisfy the Maulana to call off his dharna would be the restoration of his D I Khan seat plus some sops such as the long tenure he enjoyed as the honorary head of the Kashmir Committee.
Of course the final arbiters remain the military. Pakistan has been reduced to a state where the military dominates politics, expression, and the national narrative. All these are being monitored, micro-managed and socially engineered in pursuit of the military’s worldview. Young minds, particularly in Punjab but also to some extent in the rest of the country, are being subjected to a military culture and state of mind through military-run educational institutions, regularly arranged visits by young people to military bases, and thousands of internships with Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) and other institutional arms of the military.
The struggle for democracy, which has dominated life in Pakistan throughout its history, is by no means over. The military’s domination is facilitated by the culture of collaboration that holds sway. Resistance is weak, scattered, not well organised. Regardless, the military has pushed the country into a cul de sac. With both major mainstream parties (PML-N and PPP) in the dock and the preferred one in government (PTI) floundering if not falling flat on its face over the last year and a half since it was ‘installed’, a terrible vacuum of political leadership looms. The military does not seem to have a Plan B. It is therefore compelled to support its preferred party while attempting to correct and micro-manage its most egregious blunders, particularly where the economy is concerned.
Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari have been hard done by during their incarceration. The former’s health in particular is at a critical point. Were it not for the fear of the consequences if something happens to him in jail, the PTI government would have merrily continued on the path of ridiculing him and his health problems. Now it seems the courts have bailed him (and Maryam Nawaz) out and he may be allowed to go abroad since treatment for his complicated afflictions is not available here. If Nawaz and Maryam (as caretaker) go abroad, it seems unlikely they will repeat their previous act of returning despite facing jail. That would arguably leave the field clearer for Shahbaz Sharif to reach out to the establishment for a rapprochement. But he will remain hamstrung in this endeavour because of his elder brother’s defiant stance and militant attitude.
Pakistan’s people, intelligentsia, youth have a heavy responsibility to continue the uphill struggle to confine the military to its professional tasks of defence and security, that too under the leadership of civilian elected leaders, while the country is run by the latter. Short of that, or a continuation of the present dispensation could produce unforeseen cataclysms.