The Lesson from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Fall

Source: geo.tv

There are several lessons that could be learned from the fall of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Poor leadership, terrible strategy, abandoning allies, pride, hubris, arrogance, narcissism, myopia, and having the little foresight of the inevitable. However, the most important lesson is meant more for the Pakistani people who seem to be repeating some of the mistakes of the ill-fated triple term Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was brought to prominence during the reign of the mighty General Zia-ul-Haq, arguably the worst military dictator in Pakistan’s history. A reluctant Nawaz Sharif was introduced as the Chief Minister of Punjab, who then rose to power as the leader of establishment-backed Islamic Democratic Alliance in the 1990s against the staunchly anti-establishment liberal visionary Benazir Bhutto.

As Prime Minister Sharif got comfortable in his Jihadi, Islamist social conservative cradle, he would soon attempt to declare himself the “Emir-ul-Momineen.” Who would have thought the one who almost became the Emir-ul-Momineen cannot even qualify as a Sadik and Amin now.

However, he probably never one at heart himself. The trader and entrepreneur in him was always more loyal to productivity and money than religious mirages and made him lean toward peace with India. The secular leader in him switched the national weekly holiday to Sunday from Friday amid protests of his Islamist allies. And perhaps went further to confront the military on counter-productive measures such as the 1998 nuclear tests and certainly the disastrous Kargil War.

Of course, Sharif crossed a lot of limits and does so habitually but you don’t have to do much to fall out of favor with the bureaucratic establishment. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself made the mistake of trusting them the third time around while living dangerously throughout his term, surviving rioting protests from PTI and PAT. Of course, you cannot say that he does not realize who his enemy is but you know there is only so much you can do to save yourself or please them.

While the people do not have the luxury to do much about them either, they also consistently make the mistake of taking their ruling bureaucratic tyrants as their saviors. They also consistently make the mistake of rejoicing over their assault on their right to vote. Many of them cannot wait to completely give up all their rights to their bureaucratic overlord whose meritocracy could not have been a fitter fit for the ignorant Pakistani masses who can’t think for themselves.

Nawaz Sharif may as well be history. But the people of Pakistan need to wonder if they can afford any more lapses in their democratic process. They need to wonder if they are willing to relinquish any more of their rights to the security state.

They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has not even bothered to promise to deliver free education as in the 18th amendment. They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has looked the other way when it comes to a national health insurance program while paying their bills out of public money. They need to wonder how the bureaucratic machine has systematically dismantled the honor of their own voice.

They need to do some serious soul searching.

Because the only ones that the bureaucratic machine cares for are themselves.

And that is the biggest lesson.

 

A version of this post was published in the Dunya blogs.

Note on the Disqualification Verdict of the Prime Minister

Source: Reuters/NDTV

And you thought that you would live to see the day when an elected head of government could complete their term.

More than anyone else, it was highly unlikely for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as much as he was the likeliest candidate to make it.

As much as his political party has been able to consistently win more two-third and clearer majorities than any other political party in the history of Pakistan.

As much as he was the perfect compromise for the people of Punjab between the bureaucratic establishment and a socially conservative and economically liberal tilt toward democratic values.

In many ways, it is an end of an era. Who knows? Just like in the 1990s, we might see Nawaz Sharif contesting the elections again. Though not likely after such a unanimous damning verdict, as absurd as it is. But Nawaz Sharif will remain to be the Prime Minister who initiated the Sunday as weekly holiday and constructed the motorway on his initiative.  And at least it offers a chance to Shahbaz Sharif to become Prime Minister.

One way or the other, the judicial coup of one of the most popularly backed elected government is complete. This is how Prime Minister will be dismissed in the post-military coup era.

Right after the farce of the JIT, which has essentially established the civil and military bureaucracy and intelligence as an extension of the judiciary, was put up by the Supreme Court, the Prime Minister was destined to be ousted.  The judges had already made up their minds. The only noteworthy and far from a substantial conclusion that the JIT had drawn, apart from a list of endless conjectures, was that the Sharif family was living way beyond their means.

In the end, the judgment by Supreme Court about the disqualification simply hinted that it was politically motivated. Even some of the most seasoned political commentators, publication editorials, and senior lawyers are analyzing it as such. There was a time under Iftikhar Chaudhary when you had the impression that the judges hear and judge cases after reading the papers. It seems those times have returned.

In other words, we have again had a mockery of democracy and our Constitution. Now at the hands of its guardians. What a shame.

However, there is little to expect from a Supreme Court that instead of safeguarding people’s right to the free internet, chose to uphold the YouTube ban. The bureaucratic institutions yet again let the people of Pakistan down by attacking democratic institutions and the mandate of the people’s vote.

What is worse though is that people who usually celebrate military coups are jubilant over the dismissal of the Prime Minister like they always are. Without realizing that the verdict has come against the mandate of the vote of the people, even though the grounds for qualification were clearly not of corruption. At least not in the least bit to warrant a lifetime disqualification.

Even though it is the day of thankfulness for the supporters of the PTI, I would neither be rejoicing nor be thankful if such a verdict came for an elected Prime Minister of that party. A part of me also wants Imran Khan to become the Prime Minister so that for once, they can be on the receiving end of this type of “justice.” Sadly, the party has been brainwashed to the degree of cynicism that some of them are even willing to see Imran Khan disqualified, being happy to see only the military rule.

But what do I know? Maybe I am missing the plot here. Maybe this is going to be really good for democracy after all.

Perhaps the judges have only lost their minds, or are being overly honest in their overzealousness of being “Sadik” and “Amin” instead of being malicious on purpose.

For once I hope that my friends on the other side are right and I am wrong.

In all seriousness, I would have no problems in conceding that I am at fault here.

 

But if only that were true.

An All Too Familiar Face of Accountability

Source: BBC Urdu

Pakistan is a unique country in terms of governance and politics. Not everything is as it seems and you can often have a hard time discerning who is really at the helm of policy. The case with accountability is not any different. It is often used as a moralizing political tool than a dispenser of justice.

Ever since the office of the Prime Minister was created in Pakistan, the civil and military bureaucrats have been busy inventing excuses to dismiss it. And whether they have not been creative enough in coming up with those excuses, they most certainly have been effective in the ultimate objective.

Ever since General Pervez Musharraf resigned as President, it seems that the coup-ready military of Pakistan has changed its decades-old strategy. It apparently has realized that explicitly taking over the government in Pakistan is either not good for its image internationally or does not garner enough support at home. So now they prefer to move the strings from behind the curtain.

The Pakistani people have been fed a singular dimension of accountability. That the elected office holders or the politicians are the embodiment of all the corruption in the government, while the civil and military bureaucracy is the most efficient machinery in existence. Not only that, they are also the most suitable entities to hold the politicians accountable.

Ever since the revelation of the Panama Papers with the mention of the offshore companies of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, we are seeing the familiar face of accountability surface. As it came as a welcome relief after the drama around electoral rigging died out. And as before, when the military lies dormant, the judiciary plays its part to be the entity ready to stage a soft coup as in the case of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani. The very tone used by judges, in this case, speaks volumes of their intent. It may or may not materialize, but the way the wind has been blowing is unmistakable.

At least for moral reasons, there have been calls for the Prime Minister to step down. Apart from not qualifying on the mystical constitutional standards of “Sadiq” and “Amin”, there is hardly any reason to until a definite proof of money laundering is produced on his person, as opposed to the conjectures listed by the JIT. But if the Prime Minister does not step down, it would be interesting to see how far his opponents go to bring about his demise. In that case, it is probably better for his purpose to play the victimization card.

However, where his governing achievement surpasses most other parties, his poor political leadership is costing him dearly. The problem with the PML-N has always been that it mistakes its heavy mandate as a carte blanche to alienate political stakeholders around the country. Of course, the incurably cynical PTI is on a saboteur mission to take democracy down with themselves but the rest of the parties can at least listen to the majority party and come to its rescue in case of bureaucratic threats.

What the PML-N does not realize is that its overwhelming majority that it takes for its strength is its greatest weakness. Because it has always been targeted by the bureaucratic establishment for such powerful popular support that no other party has enjoyed over three decades. The way it has been targeted is evident from all three terms of Prime Minister Sharif.

Unfortunately, there are elements in our civil and military bureaucracy, as well as the intelligence community, who do not want democracy to flourish in Pakistan. Not only do they not believe in democracy as a system of government, they strongly resent any hint of power in the hands of the public. The bureaucratic rule has been presented as a solution for the Pakistani people since independence and sadly, a good number of people buy into this narrative surviving since colonial times. And who better to hold the politicians accountable than bureaucrats, as evident from the JIT, which has now rendered military intelligence as an extension of the judicial branch.

Nobody has bothered questioning why the JIT has officially become an extension of the Supreme Court. Nobody has bothered questioning why the range of investigation has been extended beyond the revelations of the papers. Nobody has bothered asking why military intelligence officials are investigating the first family. And above all, nobody has bothered questioning why in Pakistan a panel of judges can undo the mandate of the people instead of impeachment by elected officials.

Of course, accountability should be a part of a strong democratic system. And a fragile democracy is hardly any excuse to forego the crimes of the political class. However, it would have been far easier to trust the high office of judiciary and bureaucracy in Pakistan had they enjoyed a cleaner political track record.

So, who is going to hold who accountable?

Well, let’s start from the politicians again. Now and forever.

 

The post was originally published in the Dunya Blogs.

No Hope for the Citizens of Quetta This Independence Day

Source: AFP/Dawn

Source: AFP/Dawn

Nothing makes the idea of security from terrorist attacks more ironic than probably one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in terms of damage since 9/11 in Pakistan. The terrorists struck mercilessly in Quetta, the troubled capital of the troubled province of Baluchistan. Where the state’s strategic assets take precedence over the lives of the people, like the rest of the country, but where the distinction is more pronounced than anywhere else.

The August 8 suicide bombing on the Quetta hospital targeting and wiping out almost an entire generation of lawyers should have shaken the conscience of the nation to the core. It should be considered an attack on our way of life. In a country under constant threat of dark forces constantly trying to implement Sharia which would bring Mullah Fazlullah-like courts operational, the attack is really significant. It irreversibly harmed the secular, legal system that is very unpopular among a rapidly radicalizing local population.

As usual, the attack was all about harming Pakistan’s strategic and economic plan and the CPEC Project. The Taliban and the Islamic State accepted responsibility, but the obvious culprits to the state remain to be RAW operatives. To other demented minds in the opposition, the blame fell almost exclusively on the Prime Minister. As if he enjoys enough influence over the various complex forces to cause terrorist attacks at will. Regardless of the fact, no one seems to be mourning enough about the fact that the top legal minds of a city are no more. Imagine had this happened in Lahore or Islamabad.

This brings us to the realization of priorities when it comes to national security. Imagine the security measures that our military goes through in order to protect the most sensitive and valuable of our military installations. But what good are these military installations if not for the protection of the intellectuals of the country. Even if that does not mean anything for some people, what good is a military if not for the protection of a country’s judicial system?

No matter what happens, our people would not face up the real threat that Islamist terrorism poses. We do not realize that the threat is to the very existence of human civilization as we know it, and Islamist extremists are not going to rest unless it is destroyed and transformed into a form they consider fit. It is an anti-intellectual cult of death and misery that needs to be fought. But that is only possible if we recognize it as a real threat.

In this mental struggle of countering the problem of organized and brutal terrorism, the people of Quetta must be feeling completely helpless. There is no doubt that you cannot possibly guard or police every single square inch of a country, and doing so could itself spark outrage from the citizens. Our security forces often face harsher than necessary criticism for it. However, no one can argue that tragedies such as the August 8 bombing are a failure of those in charge of intelligence.

We may declare people pointing toward this fact as traitors, but it is not going to solve the problem of terrorism. After an experience of fighting terrorism over the decade, we must also come to terms with the fact that there is only one factor that motivates suicide bombings in this region. Shying away from these facts only makes matter worse. The murder of Quetta lawyers is not going to derail the CPEC project a single bit at this stage, but it shows that we are devoting too much security to protect infrastructure and not enough for the most valuable of our citizens.

As the rest of the nation celebrate the Independence Day, there is no hope for the hundreds of families affected from the tragedy and thousands more who have suffered losses. They know nothing is going to change in terms of the protection of their legal institutions. There is no hope of realizing that we are not really independent unless our judiciary is safe and free.

There is no hope except for the same old resilience that has helped us endure tragedy after tragedy since the waves of terrorism since the 2003 Afghanistan War.

Happy Independence Day.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

How could the Chairman Savior be wrong?

Source: Reuters/Dawn

Source: Reuters/Dawn

It’s very much understandable that many of the PTI supporters and thought leaders are in denial of the Judicial Commission report on the 2013 general elections, from the very authority that they recognized and demanded for before their utterly ridiculous “sit-in” protest campaign in Islamabad. It’s déjà vu really, because all of us clearly remember how everyone was convinced how perfectly impeccable the person of Justice Fakhruddin Ibrahim would be for the role of Chief Election Commissioner for the 2013 polls, only later to be dismissed and demonized.

Just like the integrity of Justice Ibrahim was questioned after the unfavorable results of the 2013 general elections, the majority of the PTI following is still in denial, if not resorting to condemnation, of the findings of the Election commission. How could it be true if the Chairman Savior said otherwise? Despite the fact that the Chairman Savior Imran Khan reluctantly accepted the findings, the PTI leadership in general is doing nothing to change that impression among the party members. Of course, the people are not to be blamed for this. However, their trait of “questioning everything” would be far more admirable, if they took the trouble of questioning the judgement of their Chairman Savior every now and then.

PTI has created this political narrative of conspiracy theories for traction, cashing in on the miserable mood of the general masses. While it does work pretty well, it also proves to be counterproductive for the democratic process and progress, when the people completely give up any hope in the judicial institutions of the country, and rest all of their hopes in the person of the party Chairman, something which PTI hardly ever discourages.

The larger PTI narrative is worsening the already dying belief of the people in democratic institutions and the judiciary, while trying to enter and reform the same. This is why it is hardly any surprise that you would find so many among the urban middle class who support the party, while fiercely defending their democratic rights, but also resorting to condemn democracy at the same time, considering it “an inappropriate system of governance for Pakistani people.” Never thought I heard anything more insulting to the people of Pakistan. But then again, people who don’t vote for political parties that you side with always appear stupid. Many of such disgruntled supporters would even consider a military takeover than seeing the likes of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in office, which sounds pretty familiar. Leaders such as ally Sheikh Rasheed are the perfect proponents of this view among the public.

I often find it hilarious when I find PTI supporters criticize PML-N for resorting to the “politics of the 90s,” even though many of them were not around to know what that means. But what is worse is that there is no shortage of such seasoned adults among them. It could be true actually in terms of politics of revenge, especially in terms of targeting of the MQM if it qualifies, but I also recall the politics of the 90s to be the politics of the sore loser. Both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto resorted to juvenile tactics, refusing to accept their failure in general elections, though eventually coming to terms with the facts, but all that changed since the PPP government that formed in 2008. Call it the Zardari factor, if you will. But hard lessons were learned after the Musharraf coup d’etat in 1999.

However, it seems that the baton of the “sore loser” politics from the 90s has been taken up by the PTI, when no one was even around to pass it to them. Are they not the ones who resorted to hijack the entire elected parliament by concocting unrealistic allegations of the kind of rigging that only the state would have pulled off, and that were more like conspiracy theories than anything else? Many of them, by their own admission, turned out to be pure fabrication for political purposes, such as the allegations against the Interim Chief Minister of Punjab.

What needs to be understood here is that there is probably a not-so-thin line between movement for reform and self-defeating, cynical absolutism. This is somewhere even the most otherwise-sane followers of PTI look like losing the plot, and supposedly evil and “illiterate” political parties such as the PML-N end up appearing to be far more reasonable.

However, the critics of the PTI should not forget that the party derives its power from the passion of the people. Sheer passion putting all its force behind a Messianic leader that it blindly trusts, and one that is probably thirsty for a public lynching. Imran Khan could only have dreamed to have such support among whatever following he enjoys. However, it is the measure of a leader as to how they would want to direct this force of passion that they are blessed with.

Toward patient, organized reform through the parliament, or toward destruction, impatience, and chaos, just like the spectacularly failed “sit-in protest” campaign orchestrated in the fall of 2014. Because the direction would surely push many to question the very motives of the Chairman Savior.

It’s about time PTI started realizing and learning from its own mistakes for a change, though it could involve changing their popular narrative.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Post-Traumatic Stress Governance

Source: Dawn News

Source: Dawn News

The way constitutional amendments are passed in Pakistan makes you marvel at the degree of national unity we enjoy.

You would probably never see such unity among any nation in the world.

Despite speaking passionately against the ruling, not a single MP or Senator dared casting a vote against the constitution. Some even voted against their conscience.

It’s good to know that some politicians in this country take up the constitution seriously enough to consider it a matter of guilty conscience.

But the question remains. Why was not a single vote cast in the opposition of the passage of the constitutional amendment?

Why did the JI and the JUI-F boycott the voting session instead of casting a more effective nay? Did they not betray their loyal voters?

There is no doubt about the fact that the 21st constitutional amendment is a resounding insult to the judicial branch of government in Pakistan. A legally sanctioned statement making fun of its perceived inability to dispense the elusive commodity known as justice. No one is bothered.

Despite the gravity of the situation, let’s concentrate on the silver lining in this dark thunderstorm. Maybe, the government has finally made up its mind to eradicate terrorism from the country, despite all the cynical skepticism.

What if the military courts really would deliver the kind of “swift justice” that the people of this country have been waiting for? Hopefully, not the kind of swift justice that the Taliban are known for.

But why have a trial in the first place?

Or maybe there is hope because Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman believes that the bill for the constitutional amendment reflects secular thinking for linking religion with terrorism. Finally, our parliament ended up doing something secular. Though he is unaware that even many secularists are worried about that too.

Perhaps, the way constitution can be altered in Pakistan offers some distant hope for the secularists. Who knows, some day, some compromising situation would bring all the politicians together and make them all unanimously vote to remove the Islamic provisions from the constitution.

All we need is stirring a little sense of urgency for that.

Now that the constitution has been altered pretty drastically, you can only wonder what happened.

What changed so drastically after the Peshawar massacre that it required bringing about such drastic changes to the way the state worked?

How did the terrorists manage to change the way our government works? A lot of people are perplexed about the way the government, all the political parties and the military have reacted.

To others, disappointed that the civil courts keep on releasing or delaying indicting suspect terrorists, the sudden change came as a sigh of relief. This might deliver some justice, finally.

Yet harsher critics merely saw the recent government legislation using the Peshawar school attack as an excuse for imposing undemocratic constitutional measures.

Let’s just blame their destruction of the constitution on their post-traumatic stress symptoms, instead of deliberate intent to sabotage.

But let’s not take the overzealousness of our administrators for malice.

Let us judge actions instead of the intentions.

Though for some, that would make the case even worse.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.