The current mess in Pakistan is omenous: many see in it the spectre of the return of the Army rule. For some weeks the civilian government looks paralysed, mainstream political parties are in a shambles, hate preaching Islamist groups are coming together to fight the general elections in August next year though there are doubts about these elections and the economy is not in the pink of its health. Besides, there are questions about the credibility of judiciary and designs of the Army.
This scenario has been greatly helped by the disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) on July 28 from remaining a Member of Parliament. He at once resigned as Prime Minister and subsequently launched a campaign of fulminations against the SCP, which he alleged was acting at the behest of some “other power” (Army). Sharif said that the SCP has given a subtle message to National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court to convict him for corruption. A section of his party leadership is not very pleased with his outbursts against the apex court of the land and his veiled attacks on the Army. Anyway Muslim Leaguers are known to desert the party when their leader is in trouble. The Pakistan Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif (PML-N) is also threatened by the feud between the children of Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of Punjab over country’s political leadership.
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), after badly losing the 2013 elections to the PML(N), has become a provincial party only based in Sindh. In Punjab it has very little support. Alarming example was evident in the result of the NA-20 by-election in Lahore in September this year. This seat was vacated by Nawaz Sharif upon his disqualification by the SCP. The September 16 by election was fought by Sharif’s wife Kalsoom Nawaz, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI), the PPP and the newly formed Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasul Allah (TLY). Kalsoom Sharif won and the PTI and TLY were second and third respectively. The PPP had to be satisfied with a poor fourth position indicating the party has lost Punjab. In Sindh also it is fast losing credibility. In Baluchistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) it has no standing. Army’s machinations have broken up the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) into three ineffective factions: MQM London (MQM-L), MQM Pakistan (MQM-P) and Pakistan Sarzameen Party (PSP). Altaf Hussain heads the MQM based in London. The Pakistani media is not allowed to report his statements. His statements like Pakistan is like cancer to the world mortified the MQM leadership at a time when the Army had unleashed a propaganda campaign saying the party received money from India and then persecuted MQM leaders with this pretext. The MQM-P snapped its links with the MQM-London but fell victim to the Army machinations and broke up into two further factions: MQM-P and PSP both factions are led by MQM veterans Farooq Sattar and Mustafa Kamal respectively. The MQM split was in fact the result of the Pak paramilitary force Rangers’ crackdown on its leadership. Mustafa Kamal is said to have launched after getting released from Rangers’ detention giving an impression that the Army was behind this split. But on November 9 they decided to remerge to split again in the next 24 hours. Both Farooq Sattar and Mustafa Kamal had admitted they had merged because the Army wanted it. This kicked off a debate on the Army’s undying desire to control country’s politics. In London, MQM’s founder Altaf Hussain said things could be all right in Pakistan unless the Army gave up its policy of interference.
Among the objectives behind the MQM-P and PSP was bury the MQM forever. But the Mohajirs, who are beholder to the MQM, will not allow this. Thus the end of the merger, former Army Chief and President Gen Pervez Musharraf said the MQM had earned very bad name, therefore it must be dissolved. Musharraf, the absconding General who has many cases against him in Pakistan, addressed the Central Committee of his All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) on phone from Dubai on November 11. He once desired to head the MQM being himself a Mohajir from Old Delhi. But in his address he said “I am not mad to head a linguistic party.” Analysts say the 23 party alliance, mooted by the former Pak Army Chief, may be an attempt to ensure that no party gets majority in the elections.
The possibility of no single party getting majority cannot be dismissed not because of Gen Musharraf’s 23-party alliance for two reasons: (1) No mainstream party at present is in the right condition to go to the election. The PML(N) is best organised but cannot prepare for elections because of court cases against its Chief. Things will worse for the party if he is convicted; (2) Pakistani voters, no matter how fanatically committed to Islamic normally reject Islamic parties on the hustings. However, under the military rule of Gen Musharraf, six Islamic fundamentalist parties got together in 2000 and formed Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA) to fight the Musharraf-organised 2000 elections but without a manifesto. The alliance surprised everyone by winning 62 seats in the National Assembly. Majority of seats were in the North West Frontier Province (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) where it formed the provincial government and in Baluchistan it became a coalition partner with Gen Musharraf’s benami outfit Quaid-e-Azam Muslim League (QML).Two main parties of the Alliance, Jamiat-ul-Ullema-i-Isam (JuI) and Jamaat-e-Islami are known for their obeisance to the Army. Now the two are reviving the MMA to fight the next elections. They deny the Army is behind it.
A non-phenomenon on the political horizon has risen from the grave of Mumtaz Qadri, the policeman who shot dead Punjab governor Salman Taseer whom Qadri was assigned the duty to guard. Qadri, a fanatic belonging to the Barelvi sect, at once became a hero for killing Taseer who wanted the controversial and draconian Blasphemy Law of Pakistan to be amended. Qadri was sentenced to death and buried in Rawalpindi in the presence of millions of mourners who decided to turn his grave into a mazar and from here rose the ultra radical Tehrik-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) to fight blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammad by joining electoral politics. It tested itself in September when it fought a by-election in Lahore to the National Assembly seat vacated by Nawaz Sharif due to his disqualification. The party emerged as the third largest party after the PML(N) and the PTI by garnering 6 percent vote leaving behind the PPP. As it has now become clear after the civilian government virtually surrendered to this new born, obscure outfit’s a list of demands which have that not-so-tacit support of the Army and which brought the federal capital’s general life for a standstill for three weeks by a dharna, there are those in Pakistan who look at this dharna as the preparation for the elections next year.
And finally that Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) Chief Hafiz Saeed is out of his more than nine months house arrest, he is sure to activate his unregistered Milli Muslim League (MML) before the elections. While on the one hand, Hafiz Saeed would again restart his daily vitriolic campaign against India and the West especially and energise the India-centric Jihadis in Pakistan, on the other hand, next year parties like MML and TLY would be used by Rawalpindi to shrink the mass base of the mainstream political parties in Pakistan. Essentially, the traditional Pakistani political class is facing a crisis, whether the present predicament is existential or not, remains to be observed.
(The author is a senior journalist and columnist)