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Why Pakistan is under siege

September 03, 2014 16:57 IST

By weakening Nawaz Sharif, the corps commanders could have a final say in important matters like relations with India, dealing with Taliban militants, interacting with Americans and once again achieving strategic depth in post-NATO Afghanistan. Which is why they may be behind the unrest in Pakistan led by Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri, says Shahzad Raza.

A bunch of angry mobsters -- mostly bearded -- thrashed Dabang Khan. Blow after blow, the victim received the beating. And instead of knocking adversaries out just like the Bollywood superhero, he retreated to his bulletproof vehicle to be driven away for first-aid.

The newly-appointed Islamabad police superintendent Asmatullah Junejo, popular among colleagues as Dabang Khan owing to his physique and temper, was trying to reason with the so-called revolutionaries in the Red Zone. He miscalculated.

Since August 14 Islamabad’s Red Zone -- the area comprising Parliament, the prime minister’s House, federal ministries, residences of MPs, embassies, etc -- has been witnessing pitch battles and inciting speeches from two self-professed revolutionary leaders.

Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan has launched his so-called Azadi March to expose electoral riggings and oust Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. A Canadian-national and political-cleric Dr Tahirul Qadri has staged his parallel show to dislodge the entire democratic setup.

Vibes suggest military establishment is pulling their strings to, at least, weaken the Sharif government and force it to follow the military’s verdict on strategic matters including relations with India.

“We will either die to get the nation rid of this exploitative system,” roared Dr Qadri in one of his countless speeches he has delivered since he reached the Constitutional Avenue adjacent to Parliament House. Some of his diehard supporters have even dug the symbolic graves on the adjoining greenbelts to showcase their commitment.

The entire Pakistani media is having its cake and eating it too. The ratings are skyrocketing. The high voltage drama also exposed the media biases.

Now mob rules the most sacred avenue of Pakistan. Thrashing policemen is their pastime activity. Rest of the day they spend in sleeping, defecating, cooking and re-energising by listening to their firebrand leaders.

The entire Constitution Avenue is a big universal urinal. The stench is unbearable -- not for those who got used to it while staying there for weeks. The airborne diseases are on rampant. Less than 10,000 people have virtually paralysed Pakistan. Some say both Khan and Dr Qadri are following a well-written script. Though no one has accepted the authorship, yet many believe either the military establishment or some anti-Pakistan foreign powers have written the plot of this interactive theatre.

Inside Parliament House, a joint session is in progress, wherein the MPs are vowing to protect democracy till their last breath. Outside a tent-village has appeared where women are doing laundry and cooking, toddlers playing naked, elders either drowsing or deliberating how to make Pakistan stronger than Japan. A majority are the employees of Minhajul Quran, an Islamic charity run by Dr Qadri. Khan’s ‘revolutionary’ crowd only shows up in the evening when known singers are performing.

The storm that is looming over Pakistani Parliament started brewing much before the 2013 general elections. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (now the ruling party) then accused director general Inter-Services Intelligence Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha of helping Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf. Khan always refuted the allegations.

After the elections the PTI claimed the PML-N had stolen its mandate in massive poll rigging. It demanded an investigation in, at least, four national assembly constituencies. The Sharif government did not take it seriously and the election tribunals failed to process the complaints in the binding four months time.

A few months ago Khan announced the launch his co-called Azadi March on August 14 -- independence day of Pakistan. He began his march from politically most important city of Lahore.

Meanwhile, Qadri announced his return to get the nation rid of this ‘exploitative’ system. The provincial government of Shahbaz Sharif, younger brother of the prime minister, tried to remove barricades from the residence of Dr Qadri before his return. The violence took place causing the death of more than 15 people. Recently, the police registered an FIR against the prime minister, chief minister, federal and provincial ministers and several police officials.

Along with their processions both Dr Qadri and Khan left Lahore for Islamabad on August 13. Both claimed to have hundreds of thousands of protesters with them. When they reached Parliament, the number of protestors was not more than a few thousands. Then began a painful phase of verbosity, pitched battles with police and open-air defecating.

Sharif, who already had two previous government prematurely dismissed by the army, decided to involve the armed forces directly in the mess. At some level Sharif and his kitchen cabinet is convinced some ‘rogue’ elements with the military establishment want them out of power. The General Headquarters has its own axe to grind. The GHQ found an opportunity in the crisis.

By weakening Sharif, the corps commanders could have a final say in important matters like relations with India, dealing with Taliban militants, interacting with Americans and once again achieving strategic depth in post-NATO Afghanistan.

In first year of power, Sharif made several serious mistakes. First, his government tried to reign in the powerful Inter Services Intelligence by establishing a National Counter Terrorism Authority under the interior ministry. The move backfired. When famous journalist Hamid Mir was attacked in Karachi and GeoNews accused DG ISI Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam of plotting the assassination, the prime minister expressed solidarity with the journalist. It infuriated the ISI in particular and the army in general.

Former President General Pervez Musharraf is facing treason charges. Sources say the Sharif government had promised the military establishment that it would allow the ex-general leave for abroad to avoid the trial. It backtracked taking the civil-military relations to another low.

It is generally believed the previous Pakistan People’s Party government submitted to every kind of pressure from the General Headquarters and, hence, successfully completed the five-year term. However, Sharif was not following ex-President Asif Ali Zardari’s footsteps.

Now this crisis. And prime minister is living like a hostage in his official residence.

Meanwhile, Sharif tried to play a masterstroke by summoning army in aid of civil power under Article 245 of the Constitution. The army is now guarding Parliament and other state institutions without engaging with the mobsters. Recently, the army told the government to avoid violence in dealing with the protesters. The statement demoralised the police, which was already given orders not to use lethal weapons against the protestors.

Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif also held separate meetings with Dr Qadri and Khan, which apparently failed to yield the desired results.

Sharif believes a few generals, particularly, the DG ISI want to teach him a lesson. Obviously, he cannot say it publically.

Both Dr Qadri and Khan held their parallel but separate shows outside Parliament for 18 days. The nineteenth day brought a surprise when both joined hands and addressed the demonstrators from a same container. “Azadi March and Inqlab March have now merged,” announced Dr Qadri holding the hand of Khan.

Both vowed they would not return until they get the resignations of the prime minister and the chief minister. They wanted probe into rigging allegations and fresh elections in Pakistan under a ‘neutral setup.’

Khan even suggested that Sharif should resign for 30 days or till the completion of independent investigation on rigging allegations.

Everyone knows only army can throw Sharif out, but it is still unclear whether it is really the ending of the script.

“No question of resignation,” said Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique. He said the government has ready offered to form a Supreme Court level judicial commission to probe the rigging allegations. “And if the allegations are proven, the PML-N government would resign.”

While political parties are trying to find a political solution to the crisis, Sharif is determined not to resign for a second.

As an extremely important visit of the Chinese president is fast approaching, the scriptwriters must decide how to end the play. Reports suggest the Chinese president is going to sign several military pacts of strategic importance.

Shahzad Raza is an Islamabad-based journalist.

Shahzad Raza