Accusations of rigging in elections in Pakistan are a normal afterthought of the losing candidates. Some political parties even boycott the elections for reasons best known to them. However, during the 2013 elections, the politico-religious Jamaat-e-Islami withdrew halfway on Election Day. I was present in the voting line on Election Day when all of a sudden, JI announced they were boycotting. At the same time, 2 MQM workers were caught red-handed trying to stamp the ballot papers. I immediately called the MQM candidate for Sindh Assembly (he is an industrialist and one of my successors as Chairman of SITE Association of Industry which represents 3100 industries in an industrial estate called SITE and is the source of atleast 25% of the nation’s revenue) to come and sort out the issue. This is one micro example. In Interior villages and small towns, political dynasties, feudal class, and other VIPs routinely do it. So, there is nothing new in this political game.
The success of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, both in Islamabad as well as in the largest Province, Punjab, was acclaimed as a new era of economic progress and the loud hurrah from trade and industry manifested the confidence in Premier Nawaz Sharif and his team. The Sharif government has gone full force in trying to implement an Energy Policy and for that they have gone in each and every direction to sign MOUs, agreements, and proposals. However, these are not immediate solutions although the impression Sharif and his Ministers give is that uninterrupted and affordable electricity would be available in few months. The rhetoric has been over-hyped and when people face 12 hours load shedding then the e.coli hits the fan. The massive country-wide demonstrations against power outages and exorbitant electricity bills have, at times, been violent and destructive.
A peculiar trait of Sharif tenures (present and past) is to announce grandiose projects that, although in the long run are beneficial and facilitative, but in the short term place a heavy burden on the meager financial resources of the Treasury. Moreover, Sharif and his Finance Minister (and father in law of his daughter), Ishaq Dar, have heavily relied on massive loans from International Development Institutions such as IMF, WB, ADB etc. The external loans portfolio of Pakistan is abnormally bloated and would, in the years to come, sledgehammer very critically on the ability to discharge financial obligations.
Another damaging attitude of Nawaz Sharif and younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, who is the Chief Minister of Punjab, is to concentrate on Central Punjab while both the regimes dynamics are primarily focused on cronyism, nepotism, and family rule. No wonder Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan calls it a monarchy. To the chagrin of the denizens of the port city of Karachi, elder Sharif is also not too keen about Karachi from Day One. Same is the case with the younger Sharif.
Moreover, the arrogance and haughtiness of his core Ministers has alienated the establishment, media, civil society and business community. One paramount reason why there is this backlash against Sharif. It would have done Sharif well if he had side-lined atleast four of his Kitchen Cabinet Ministers and brought in fresh and moderate faces. The anti-Army statements regurgitated by the Defence, Railway and Information Ministers further widened the gap between Army and Sharif. More than 90% of Army is against Sharif according to senior political leaders. This is more or less corroborated by the buzz on the streets and in the drawing rooms. Furthermore, the regal style of him and his family, the accusations of heavy commissions in mega projects, the stories of corruption and accumulation of wealth are all factors that are impacting negatively on his approval rating. In short, according to many analysts and critics, the peculiar mindset of Sharif may bring about another exile to Jeddah or London.
Imran Khan does not have an overwhelming support within the trade and industrial community as much as he has, or had, with the youth. He is another arrogant, anti-Karachi politician and will probably not learn from mistakes made by Sharif. But, the fact is that he has been able to galvanize a substantial following mainly due to his charisma, his successes on the cricket field, and also due to his philanthropy such as the Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital in Lahore and the NUML University in his constituency in Mianwali in rural Punjab.
He garnered 34 seats in National Assembly and his PTI is also the major coalition partner ruling in KPK. There is a good chance of him gaining lot more seats in the next elections mainly by accepting the entry of many political fence-sitters (or Lota in Pakistan’s political lexicon) in PTI. But then he will have to pay the piper. The same faces will show up and the status quo will be maintained and further entrenched. If he can move away from this old system, as he often pledges, then there would be the possibility of a paradigm shift in the political milieu.
There is the probability of many families of the Armed Forces (active and retired) supporting Imran Khan. One cannot say for sure whether there is any official backing from the uniformed people as there is no such obvious indication. Imran Khan’s statements and oratory usually points towards a bias towards the motives and ideology of the Taliban although he is dead set against their terrorism and extremism. He deplores drone attacks and is rabidly anti-American in his public orations. He would, if elected, gradually favor Indo-Pak trade and investment because this is going to be a reality whether anyone is in favor or against.
There is always that crowd that likes to amplify loudly that Pakistan is a failed state and they indulge in the doom and gloom scenario. The so-called social media activists are mainly employees of multinationals or are part of NGOs. Some are in the media. They have little to lose as they can get employment positions at home or in Middle East etc. They vitiate the already fragile situation and brazenly enjoy trolling on social media. They don’t represent the masses so it is better to ignore them because they have no other entertainment but to take up lost causes and then abandon them midway. The fact is that despite the law and order situation, despite infrastructure shortages, despite political instability, Pakistan is managing to survive and gradually progress. It is a fact that The Global War on Terror has played havoc with the fragile economy, with human lives, and with peace but the country moves on.
Change in the political landscape seems imminent and this may come by mid-December. Sharif will not be able to rule in the manner and style that he is accustomed to and that would be his downfall. Right now the only face-saving measure is that he should vacate the office for a few months and that there is Governor Rule in Punjab while his brother also resigns. Those who were killed in Model Town Lahore must be paid substantial Diyat (is financial compensation, or blood money paid to the heirs of a victim) while accused policemen and politicians are given stiff prison sentences. Atleast three of his arrogant Ministers must resign “voluntarily” from their offices. All cases against the protestors must be withdrawn. The Speaker of National Assembly should NOT accept resignations of PTI MNAs. Army Chief and Chief Justice Supreme Court must act as “guarantors” although there is no such provision in Constitution. The Election Commission has to be restructured. Census must be commissioned on priority basis.
Pakistan needs sincere leaders who are not juvenile or conspiratorial and are serious about reforms and good governance. Then, and only then, would there be economic progress, with emphasis on inclusiveness and poverty alleviation. Pakistan has to improve the negative image in the global environment. Meantime, in the present scenario, Imran Khan and the cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri must be given official protocol and prominence and, hopefully soon, Tahir-ul-Qadri will return to Canada. In all aspects, a National Government is desirable for maximum two years so that the political mess is mostly cleared. Of course, the mindset and the old habits of politicians must undergo a fundamental change otherwise it would be back to Square One and another Islamabad Opera. And, then, the Fat Lady may actually sing.