A series of seemingly unconnected events that rocked Pakistan in 2017 appear to be an exercise with profound political motives and far reaching implications for the country and its democracy. The events bear similarity to those of the past. Connecting the events expose the ongoing plot to undermine the will of the people and the elected government post 2018 elections. The aim appears to be to sustain the supremacy of the Military. This article explains some of the visible pointers.
Get popular leaders out of the way
Shortly before the October 2002 parliamentary elections General Pervez Musharraf promulgated the ‘Qualification to Hold Public Offices Order 2002’ (Chief Executive’s Order No.19 of 2002). The order bans an individual who has been the Prime Minster of the country or the Chief Minister of a Province for two tenures from contesting for the third time, even if either term had not been fully served. This special order issued by Musharraf, figures in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, which cannot be “altered, repealed or amended without the previous sanction of the President”. The aim was to prevent Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto from fighting for the top slot.
The story is repeating itself in 2017 through the judicial route.
Pakistan Supreme Court (SC) verdict announced on July 28, 2017 declared Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan ineligible for being a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) under articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution for “not being truthful and honest” and disqualified him from continuing to be the Prime Minister of the Country. It is not clear if as a consequence of this judgment he will be eligible to contest the General Elections in 2018.The decree was based on the report of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) which consisted of six members, of which two were from Pakistan’s military. The elected Prime Minister of the country Nawaz Sharif was not heard. The review petition submitted by Nawaz Sharif was dismissed by the Court on September 15, 2017 and directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to register corruption cases against Sharif and his children within six weeks and the trial completed within six months.
The six month time to complete the trial is significant. If after the July 28, 2017 SC verdict there are still any doubts left with regard to the eligibility of Nawaz Sharif to contest 2018 elections, the NAB Court trial verdict, which in all likelihood will be managedis expected to tarnish his image sufficiently just before the elections providing logic for permanently banning him from contesting for the post of the Prime Minister. This is besides the threat of being put behind the bars.
Since Independence twenty elected Prime Ministers in Pakistan have been removed before completing their full tenures. Mrs Bhutto the elected Prime Minister was removed in 1990 and 1996 and revived in 1993 and for the second time in 2007 when she agreed to play ball with the military. She was assassinated on December 27, 2007 when she defied. After the Presidential Referendum in December 1984, on March 20, 1985 Muhammad Khan Junejo was nominated as the Prime Minister by President Zia–ul–Huq but was removed from office on May 29, 1988 while he was on his way back from a visit to South Korea without even a trial using the controversial rule under Article 58(2) b of the Constitution. Junejo after lifting of the Martial Law tried to take a course independent of Zia. His attempt to probe into the military’s fiasco at the Ojheri Camp near Islamabad on April 10, 1988, which resulted in the death and serious injuries to a large number of civilians, was perhaps one of the immediate reasons for the dismissal of his government.
With Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif out of the way, is there any other political party or leader capable winning the elections and forming the Government in Pakistan after 2018 elections which is due to be held on or before 03 September 2018? Does Imran Khan the Chairman of the Pakistan-Tehreek-e Insaf or Bilawal Bhutto the Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) have the standing and the sway in all the four provinces to form a government that is stable? Imran Khan’s connections to the military are well known right from the days of the Azadi March that he organised in conjunction with Islamic cleric Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) starting from August 14, 2014 followed by a sit-in at D-Chowk in Islamabad.
Considering the background, doesn’t the trial and removal of Nawaz Sharif sound more like a ‘regime change’ with the 2018 elections in view rather than the proclaimed corruption issue? Was it not meant to debar him from contesting elections and thus prevent him from becoming the Prime Minister of the country? The two earlier attempts made to remove him from office through sit-ins were perhaps meant to prepare the country for his ultimate removal.
Based on a petition filed on June 16, 1996 by Air Marshal Asghar Khan (Retired), The Supreme Court of Pakistan in its ruling on October 19, 2012 had come to a conclusion that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had financed many politicians in the 1990 election by dishing out Rs140 million[i] to create now defunct Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) and stop Benazir Bhutto’s PPP from coming to power. The Supreme Court had also directed the federal government to take necessary action under the Constitution and the law against General Aslam Beg (Retired) the then Army Chief and Lt Gen Asad Durrani (Retired) then the ISI Chief for their role in facilitating a group of politicians and political parties to ensure their success against their rivals in the 1990 elections and thus rigging elections. No action has however been initiated against the indicted officers till date. The Judgment also brought out a case where Rs.270 million was doled out in 2008-09 from the accounts of Intelligence Bureau (IB) to topple the Punjab government[ii]. It is ironic Pakistan Courts have legitimised Martial Law thrice earlier.
The similarities in 2017 speak for themselves.
Pakistan Army has been pushing for mainstreaming militant outfits which Nawaz Sharif had opposed. The Election Commission of Pakistan having refused to recognize Milli Muslim League a political front for Jamaatud Dawa (JuD),Sheikh Muhammad Azhar Hussain Rizvi of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah and Yaqoob Shaik of the Milli Muslim League (MML) contested for the NA 120 Lahore III seat vacated by Nawaz Sharif as independent candidates and polled 7,130 and 5822 votes respectively. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) which after the 2002 Parliament attack re-emerged as JuDwas blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that left 166 people dead. Hafiz Saeed, the founder of these outfits carries a $10 million US bounty on his head. It is noteworthy that the MML was created within two weeks after the court had ousted Nawaz Sharif over corruption charges. Another Islamist, a designated terrorist by the United States, Fazlur Rehman Khalil belonging to the Barelvi sect, who heads the Ansarul- Umma is also planning to enter politics and craft Pakistan into a state run by strict Islamic laws. Both Hafiz Saeed and Fazlur Rehman Khalil are proponents of a strict interpretation of Islam and have a history of supporting violence.
With these religious cum terror outfits of different Sunni sub sects coming together to fight elections, Pakistan Army is saved the trouble of creating a IJI like organisation as it did in 1990 to split the votes and manage the number of seats so as to place a candidate of its choice in position of power. It also provides the Pakistan Army the ability to control the components of the Government by pitching the Sunni Muslim sects, the Barelvis, Deobandis and Wahabis, against one another to control and balance the differing parties in its larger game plan.
Pakistan Military’s support to the Sit-in organised by Tehrik Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLYRA) is clearly visible. The federal government ordered the deployment of the army in Islamabad under Article 245 of the Constitution to aid civilian law-enforcement agencies to manage the sit-in by a religious party which had paralysed the twin cities for two and a half weeks. Instead of deploying troops, the Military took on the role of a mediator between the group and the Government on its own.
Maj Gen Faiz Hameed of the Pakistan Army had signed the agreement as one through whom the agreement was arrived at. The efforts of Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa the Army Chief has been acknowledged in the agreement in the following words: ‘This agreement materialised through the special efforts of chief of army staff and his team’. The protesters possessed lethal weapons, tear gas and gas masks which are not available to ordinary citizens. Obviously these were provided or procurement of these equipments had been facilitated by those who supported the event and the religious outfit. The agreement was one sided to the extent that it imposed the liability of compensating for the losses incurred by protesters on the Provincial and Federal Governments of Pakistan. Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) who was hearing the case commented “the deal confirmed who was behind the sit in”.
Videos of a senior Army officer distributing money to individual protesters aired in TV channels besides confirming Pakistan Army’s role in the sit-in corroborate the extent to which the Pakistan Army would go in manipulating the election results in the days ahead before the elections.
General Musharraf who has been accused of conspiring to murder the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto fearing his arrest and trial has been in self-imposed exile in Dubai since 2016. Military is reported to have played a major role in facilitating his to move out of the country. The anti-terrorism court in Pakistan has declared Musharraf an absconder and has ordered the confiscation of his properties. The General, days after declaring himself the “biggest supporter” of the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), in an interview to Pakistan’s Aaj News has declared that he is open to forming a political alliance with the militant organisation JuD and its chief Hafiz Saeed.
Musharraf is aware that he will be arrested if he enters Pakistan. He is hoping for a comeback to a position of power as the civilian face of the military after the 2018 elections for which he will need the support of the Military and Hafiz Saeed. This will suit Pakistan’s Military to maintain its supremacy in the post 2018 scenario in the country.
Inducting religious fundamentalists and those supporting violence as law makers or to share power in Pakistan especially with its military’s objective of establishing its proxy government in Afghanistan has far reaching implications for regional and world peace. Hafiz Saeed and Fazlur Rehman Khalil are reportedly signatories to Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa declaring war on the United States[iii].
It may be worthwhile recalling Al-Qaeda leader and Osama bin Laden’s successor Ayman al-Zawahiri’s vision for Pakistan spelt out in his first guidelines issued for jihad[iv] where in he states the aim is to establish an Islamic System in Pakistan. His envisioned model for the state of Pakistan in his book Sapeeda-e-Sahar Aur Timtamata Chiragh rejects the democratic process for making laws and terms it un-Islamic. He goes on to state “Shariah should be accepted without even an iota of hesitation; and every law, order, or binding should be rejected that tends to go against the Shariah. Nobody could be given the authority to make a decision in violation of the Shariah, no matter if the decision is made by the two-thirds majority, or the whole Parliament[v].”
It only forecasts the shape of things to come if Pakistan’s elections are allowed to be rigged by the military.
[ii]‘Supreme Court’s detailed verdict on Asghar Khan case’, SCRIBD, available at https://www.scribd.com/document/112551227/Supreme-Court-s-detailed-verdict-on-Asghar-Khan-case, accessed on December 9, 2017.
.[iii]Asif Shahzad, ‘Pakistan army pushed political role for militant-linked groups’, Reuters, available at https://in.reuters.com/article/pakistan-politics-militants/pakistan-army-pushed-political-role-for-militant-linked-groups-idINKCN1BR02P accessed on December 11, 2017.
iv]V Mahalingam, ‘Afghanistan: It is time the world Woke up’ CLAWS Journal Winter 2013, available at www.claws.in/images/journals_doc/1692958679_VMahalingam.pdf accessed on December 10, 2017.