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Battle for Lahore

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By AfrasiabKhattak-After politically almost choking Islamabad to death through a sit in by a violent band of religious zealots in November, the action of the unfolding coup has shifted to Lahore in December to demolish the provincial government which is the actual base of PML-N rule over the country. By stopping Mian Nawaz Sharif from mobilizing masses, the Trojan horses of establishment in the ruling party are making it easier for the “umpire” to raise his finger and to send everyone packing. The arrival of TuQ from Canada is as sure a sign of the beginning of a new stage of the coup as the appearance of Siberian cranes in early October signalling the arrival of autumn in Pakistan. By using one card after the other, from corruption card to religious card and then the criminal (murder cases) card, the putschists want to impress upon the so called electable horses that they better disassociate themselves from PML-N as it is going to be at the receiving end of the repression by the deep state. Bruised and battered, the ruling political party has cracked up at some points under pressure, but it has proved to be far more resilient than many would have expected it to be and it may be down but is certainly not out. PML-N remains to be a formidable challenge in electoral arena to the pro establishment political players who had pinned high hopes on quick fragmentation of the ruling party. But the horrible Faizabad drama in Islamabad followed by manoeuvres in Lahore makes it clear that this government will not be allowed to survive till March and gain majority in the Senate.

This is surely not for the first time that an elected political government is being removed by a back room intrigue. This has become almost a rule in the post Zia martial law Pakistan with very few exceptions. After the 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010 that strengthened Article 6 of the Constitution, sacking of the elected Prime Minister through the Supreme Court has become the dominant trend. But there are few characteristics of the current creeping coup that distinguishes it from the past operations for the regime change. One, the Apex Court of the country in its wisdom disqualified the elected Prime Minister without a proper trail. The legal grounds of the disqualification order were so shaky that most of the sane legal experts questioned its propriety. Common people could also see through the legal charade. Two, by allowing retired General Musharraf to leave the country and subsequently refuse to turn up in the high treason case, the higher judiciary has exposed its weakness in prosecution of a man in uniform, even if he is a retired one. The contrast in their handling of cases against Nawaz Sharif and General Musharraf is not lost on the general public. Slow paddling on money laundering cases against Imran Khan and Jehangir Tareen has further added to the perception of double standards. Three, Nawaz Sharif refused to accept the court order as a fiat accompli and demonstrated defiance bordering at mild resistance. Particularly his GT Road march and huge mass mobilization had unnerved the putschists. Four, the current creeping coup has been for more messy and ugly as there is no united and organised opposition to challenge the government on genuine issues and to provide leadership for steering the country out of the prevailing crises. PTI has behaved like a typical king’s party refraining from addressing extremist/terrorist challenge, foreign policy or civil-military relations. Apart from timidly and meekly following establishment’s line it has also acted as cheer leader for the creeping coup, hardly being able to hide its impatience to jump at the spoils of power.

But some of the recent positions of PPP are also unfortunate. No clear reasons were given by PPP for the withdrawal of the bill from Parliament that envisaged across the board accountability by bringing generals and judges under the accountability net along with politicians, civil bureaucrats and other sections of society. Similarly by joining or supporting TuQ’s latest sit in, in Lahore , which by all manifestations is the final push by the putschists, PPP has damaged its democratic credentials. It’s true that PML-N had supported putschist gimmicks like the so called Memogate against the PPP government. It is also true that by sidelining the Parliament and by not reaching out to democratic forces the current ruling party has weakened the democratic system. It is particularly true after 2014 sit in when most of the opposition political parties did stand by the Parliament and the Constitution in the face of threats at the hands of anti-democratic forces. All the criticism on these grounds against PML-N is valid. But after all politics is not a tribal feud. Democratic culture can’t be developed by settling scores of the past political feuds. The vicious cycle of political polarisation which is systematically exploited by anti-democratic forces has to come to an end.

Unfortunately most of the political parties are more interested in their individual quest for power than developing a genuine democratic culture in the country. For the latter they will have to first reform themselves before reforming the state system because only a political culture based on democracy, transparency, accountability and meritocracy can give political parties the type of moral strength that can enable them to push through the reforms agenda. But it should also be made clear that criticising political parties to put pressure on them for reforms is one thing and systematically demonising them for doing away with democracy is something totally different. Lots of resources and manipulations have gone into campaigns on electronic media for discrediting democracy through demonising politics and political parties.

But if the recent trend on social media is anything to go by many people of the country have been able to recognize the real rulers of the country as facade of the civilian rule is constantly eroding. The mentors of the banned outfits are well known. The growing harsh criticism of the policies of the security establishment for patronizing religious extremism is a clear indication of this fact. The country can’t be left at the mercy of myopic and adventurist policies that have already damaged the country. Whatever is the result of the battle for Lahore , the battle for Pakistan is expected to continue.

The writer is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs.