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The iron gets hotter

As these lines are being written, the Islamabad High Court has rejected Asif Zardari and Faryal Talpur’s plea for extension of bail in the fake accounts case. Theoretically, this clears the way for their arrest by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Since the brother and sister left the court even before the bail rejection was announced, it remains to be seen whether NAB will follow the prescribed course of informing the National Assembly (NA) Speaker before carrying out the arrests, unlike in the case of Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) who were incarcerated in the wake of the clash with the military at a checkpost in North Waziristan and have yet to be produced in the NA despite Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP’s) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s protest and demand on the floor of the house.

The PPP leadership, including Asif Zardari and Bilawal, have been making threatening noises for weeks now that Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf’s (PTI’s) government’s ‘time is up’ and it will go when a mass protest movement is launched after the upcoming All Parties Conference (APC) to be convened by Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam’s (JUI’s) Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Even on the eve of the bail cancellation, the PPP threatened a ‘forceful agitation’ if Asif Zardari was arrested. Asif Zardari himself continues to emphasise the need for the opposition to unite against the government. This in spite of elements within the PPP who are wary of being used to bring grist to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N’s) mill that could fulfil Shahbaz Sharif’s desire to get some concession from the establishment on the basis of ‘live and let live’.

It is no secret that Shahbaz Sharif advises caution in opposing the will of the establishment. Nawaz Sharif on the other hand, bound in jail, is pushing his daughter Maryam Nawaz to attend the APC and lead the PML-N into agitation mode. Whatever the hangups both major opposition parties have about each other stemming from the past, their own targeting through NAB and the possibility of a fresh lawyers agitation on the issue of the reference against Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court appears to be impelling a conglomeration of forces to come out on the streets against the incumbents.

The lawyers’ community seems united on the mala fide intent behind the reference against Justice Isa for his bold and independent judgements. The exception is a group of Punjab lawyers who have rejected the call of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and other bar councils throughout the country for a strike on June 14, 2019, the day the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) is scheduled to hear the reference. Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa could not escape questions about the reference even at a conference in Cambridge, the UK. He circumspectly advised the public to have faith in the judges and that they would decide the reference justly.

While the lawyers and two main opposition parties mull an agitation, the Awami National Party has taken the lead by kicking off a protest movement throughout Khyber Pakhtunkhwa against the crippling inflation that has made people’s lives miserable since the PTI came to office. This is the fourth possible mass base for the agitation – the people – fed up of the PTI’s ‘gift’ of a backbreaking price hike, layoffs, no jobs, and more of the same threatened by the impending austerity budget ushering in more taxes.

Shahbaz Sharif’s return from an extended stay in London for medical check-ups (he is a cancer survivor) has punched a big hole in the repeated claim by government ministers that he had run away. Now that he has returned, the king of foul-mouthed repartee, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid is still harping on the old tune that he will run away again. As far as we know, Shahbaz Sharif is due to preside over the PML-N leadership meeting today (June 11, 2019) and his party’s Economic Advisory Council’s post-budget meeting. Reports speak of Shahbaz Sharif’s preference for taking the government to task for its sins of omission and commission, particularly in the economic sphere, inside parliament, whereas his brother Nawaz thinks the time has come for a street agitation in combination with the PPP, rest of the opposition parties, the lawyers and, if possible, the masses groaning under the inept economic management of the PTI government.

With the annual Economic Survey about to be released, media reports say the government has missed every one of its own modest targets. Of course this is hotly contested by the spokespersons of the government. The matter will only be finally settled when the Economic Survey is in our hands and the opportunity to study it has been utilised. But economic reporting over almost a year since the PTI came to power has been presenting just such a dire picture of the economy. The government found itself caught in a cleft stick of raising revenues through draconian measures that caused falling business confidence to plummet even further. Five export industries are about to have their zero-rating and other concessions reversed in this year’s budget. That may well prove their dire prediction of a consequent loss of $ three billion exports correct. The point is that when you have a concessionary regime to boost exports, at the best of times it is advisable to withdraw such incentives gradually, having put the industries on notice and allowed a window of opportunity to become efficient and competitive. In times like what we are going through now, it is doubly advisable to make haste slowly so as to balance the contrary goals of withdrawal of concessions while hopefully not adversely affecting exports, let alone increasing them.

Pakistan’s unfortunate lot has revolved around ‘experiments’ at the behest of the establishment that have, without exception, eventually proved a failure and brought in bigger problems in their wake. The current exercise to paint the two main opposition parties corrupt while turning a blind eye to corruption that is endemic in the system from top to bottom, will eventually be exposed for the red herring and misplaced concreteness it embodies. The looming ignominious failure of the Imran Khan experiment seems destined to soon join the long lineup of such failures in our history. The nagging questions that remain are: what will the establishment do if this prognosis proves correct, and, when will it learn the ineluctable lesson of history that it cannot do the country any good by such machinations and has to allow the political process to play itself out without this kind of manipulation if Pakistan is to escape the clutches of its present predicament/s.



Copyright Business Recorder, 2019

Rashed Rahman, "The iron gets hotter," Business Recorder. 2019-06-11.
Keywords: Political science , Law and Humanities , National Assembly , Protest movement , Corruption , Nawaz Sharif , Shahbaz Sharif , Asif Zardari , Sheikh Rashid , NAB , PTM , PPP , PTI