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The bizarre is not only commonplace, some argue it is the norm in Pakistan. Take for example the latest offering by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in power to appoint its current Finance Minister Ishaq Dar as the caretaker Prime Minister (PM).

The argument put forward by the PML-N for this unprecedented deviation from the whole idea of a caretaker (neutral) government to conduct day-to-day affairs of the country until a new government is elected is that Dar is the best person to keep the economy running, take necessary decisions about it and ensure the International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditionalities for the Standby Agreement that has offered us some fiscal breathing space continue to be adhered to.

Indirectly, it is being reported that the PML-N is also keen to persuade its coalition allies that only a consensus candidate of theirs will prevent the ubiquitous establishment from bringing in someone of their choice, a move that could, it is argued, result in a delay in the general elections for an indefinite period.

The PML-N government is also reportedly contemplating a quick (time is of the essence now) reform of the Elections Act 2017 to empower the caretaker setup to take important decisions like an elected government.

The reports on this issue also betray a complete lack of consensus within the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) ruling coalition. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) reportedly objects to a (non-neutral) ‘member’ (actually related through marriage) of the Sharif clan being appointed caretaker PM.

The Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) does not accept that any decision on the candidate for caretaker PM has so far been taken, implicitly negating the candidacy of Ishaq Dar. Persuading just these two major partners in the PDM alliance seems an uphill task.

The reservations of the PML-N’s allies in government aside, what does the purported effort say about the credibility of any such caretaker dispensation? It is already bad enough that objective observers have grave reservations about the general elections looming towards the end of 2023 being, and being seen to be, fair and free.

Whatever space for believing, in the face of the manner in which the political cards have been stacked in favour of the incumbents (with the help, it must be acknowledged, of the establishment), that the elections exercise will be a credible democratic exercise would be seriously eroded if the PML-N (reportedly on Nawaz Sharif’s urging) persists in its bizarre effort to impose a PML-N insider as caretaker PM.

As it is, following the ouster of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) government through a no-confidence motion in 2022, the whole political landscape has undergone some profound but indigestible changes.

First and foremost, given our history and political culture, we tend to gravitate towards support of the underdog (perceived or actual). This phenomenon was on display in support to Imran Khan’s repeated show of his street power.

Then came May 9, 2023 and the entire scenario was turned on its head, whether by happenstance or design is still being debated. There is little doubt that the PTI’s political culture drew a red line where Imran Khan’s life and freedom are concerned.

Although the PTI’s reaction to the attempt on Imran Khan’s life in Wazirabad was relatively muted, his arrest in a bizarre fashion from a court premises seems to have galvanised the militants within the party’s ranks to attack and even burn down military installations and martyrs’ commemorative sites.

Whether the speculation about this being an elaborate entrapment plan by the powers that be hold any water or not, the crackdown that followed deprived the PTI of almost the entire cast of prominent leaders and cadres, some taking flight to other parties, others saying farewell to politics altogether.

The military’s court martial of some 102 officers and other ranks for dereliction of security duties (or allegedly sympathies with the PTI) points in the direction of an alleged hope of the May 9 ‘insurrectionists’ that elements within the military would support them (realistic, if not true or not, notwithstanding).

Even before this, Raja Riaz, having travelled from the PPP to the PTI’s ranks, emerged in the National Assembly as the (PTI dissident) Leader of the Opposition after Imran Khan abandoned the National and two provincial Assemblies.

Given the role of the Leader of the Opposition in agreeing with the incumbent PM the name of the caretaker PM, Raja Riaz’s track record and credentials hardly inspire confidence in what has been reduced to a sham of the process.

Two important questions remain, the answers to which are not readily available. First and foremost, having hollowed out the ground from under Imran Khan’s feet through repression, what is in store for him: ban on his party, disqualification, imprisonment for him? No clear answer is available yet.

Second, with Nawaz Sharif’s return to Pakistan imminent once certain legal obstacles are out of the way (e.g. review of his disqualification and imprisonment), could the former PM (thrice turfed out) still be considered on the right side of history (i.e. resisting the overpowering influence of the establishment)? The answer to this question too lies in the not so far away future. Both answers are likely to define the shape of politics in Pakistan for the foreseeable future.

Whatever those answers, if there is one irrefutable lesson to be learnt from Pakistan’s tragic history, it is that political stability, and therefore economic and social progress, are only possible if the coming elections are free and fair, and continued periodic free and fair elections ensure the consolidation of a genuine, credible, civilian-dominated democratic system, perhaps at the present conjuncture of history the only path to providing the suffering people a voice and (hopefully) some redress of their mounting woes.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

Rashed Rahman

[email protected] , rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

Comments

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KU Jul 25, 2023 11:50am
We give our politics too much screenplay with dramatics sprinkled on various episodes for media and people consumption. The game, set, and match have already been decided, while information and news on elections, etc., is an overkill, and most people know this.
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Ahsan Iqbal Chor Jul 27, 2023 11:13am
Why not give it to Khawaja Asif so he can degrade more women?
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