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Towards a consensus finally?

It was no doubt a special Corps Commanders Conference (CCC) – being held soon after the horrifying and unprecedented arson and vandalism acts across Pakistan’s major cities that not only randomly attacked civilian properties but specifically targeted residences and installations of Pakistan’s armed forces officers.

Three major issues were dealt with during the special CCC held a couple of days back – the May 9 condemnable attacks; digital propaganda against the army; and the army’s call for a national consensus and its resolve to “support all such efforts to reach this much-needed consensus amongst all stakeholders to address the ongoing political instability on a priority basis so as to restore public confidence” needed for Pakistan’s democratic strengthening and economic progress.

On the May 9 tragedy and violence, the army top command has come to four conclusions. One, the attack on corps commanders residences, military installations and offices were politically motivated “well coordinated arson plans”. Two, they have “irrefutable evidence” and are “well aware of the planners, instigators, abettors and perpetrators of these attacks.” Three, those involved will be tried under relevant laws, the Army Act and the Official Secrets Act – indeed a clear statement of where the army top command stands on the May 9 inquiry. The accused of this abominable act of violence must go through a fair and transparent investigation and trial in which questions regarding zero response from the police and the army when the huge crowd headed towards the corps commander’s residence will also be raised. Four, confronted with similar attacks in the future, the army will show no restraint as it did on May 9.

The second issue raised at the special CCC was the “propaganda” put out on various social media platforms attacking the institution and the top command. The CCC has called upon the government to tackle this problem through stringent application of cyber crime law. This has become an abiding problem since every individual with a cell phone is a platform unto herself. While taking legal action would be the inevitable step, there are huge limits to what can be achieved. The spread of digital devices and systems prevents any significant control. The only way is the impossible way – to make Pakistan mobile-and-internet free. The propaganda coming at Pakistan from those sitting outside is even more difficult given the multiple factors at play. Finally, the answer is to reduce the battle cries, and soften and eliminate the battleground and the deadly divisive politics.

It is the third issue raised at the CCC which conveys some hope regarding the problems that flow from the first two issues – the need for an urgent effort to be made by all the stakeholders to arrive at a national consensus. The army command has conveyed its support for such a political consensus. Political consensus, by the government and the PTI going back to the negotiating table and agreeing to an election date, is the only way forward. For the army top command, such a statement is a significant one. Moving into the future and leaving the problematic past of some of the key stakeholders behind is what will best serve the interest of Pakistan and its citizens.

Against the backdrop of this important messaging after the CCC meeting, there are two significant points related to the PTI and the centrality of the broader judiciary that need mention. These are about important facts we must consider charting our way forward. One, in the context of Pakistan, the brand of Imran Khan’s politics. Clearly, Imran Khan seeks a better, more egalitarian and prosperous self-respecting Pakistan, and has struggled for a quarter of a century to achieve this objective. Imran Khan’s praiseworthy political objective notwithstanding, the approach to governance and politics he demonstrated while PM raises many questions.

As PM, instead of believing in institutions and working within the discipline of processes, through which societies are transformed, Imran Khan let his personalized approach dominate his politics and the PTI’s political culture. For example, instead of ensuring the establishment and functioning of credible institutions to conduct genuine accountability he personally got invested in it through rhetorical threats etc. The result was that the (then) opposition was mostly wrongly imprisoned and released by the courts, which called NAB arrests part of political engineering.

Similarly, Imran Khan’s zero tolerance towards political opponents and his refusal to chair important policy meetings with opposition leaders conveyed a visceral hate for rival politicians. Khan’s refusal as PM to engage coupled with crass attacks on the opposition not only made the parliamentary system dysfunctional, but also polarized the country to destructive levels with zero gain for the country or zero achievement of the goals set by his government. Khan also framed himself as the only near-saintly leader for Pakistan, someone you had to support: if you don’t support me your children will be friendless or will be ostracized in school. Such were his divisive words.

This approach paid off politically for Khan, especially when he took up the cudgels after being deseated through a vote of no-confidence. The exclusivity and exceptionalism that Khan has successfully constructed for himself in the hearts and minds of Pakistanis through his statements, aided hugely by his own past exceptional achievements, has become his political capital.

In the fiercely fought current political battles, a large number of Imran Khan’s supporters are willing to fight for him. Some among the youth and the frenzied, despite being stopped by leaders, were willing on May 9 to go to any extreme in the corps commander Lahore’s residence. This was tragic – but not surprising. During the 2014 dharna on September 1 too, the PTI and PAT protesters had stormed PTV headquarters.

Entangled in an ostensibly fight-to-the-end political battle, Imran Khan – facing about 130 cases – repeatedly reminds his supporters that his life is in danger. He readies them for future fights, urging them to abandon fear. While the personalized approach would inevitably undermine all attempts at governance, it has earned Imran Khan a toolkit to fight the current political battle. Unless the battle settles down, Imran Khan will stay with this feisty attacking brand of politics. For every case and every battle – legal, political, administrative and security – he will ready his ‘troops.’

Hence, the battle must be terminated. No one in Pakistan – neither the politicians, nor the armed forces and most certainly not the citizens – needs it. Instead, the law must take its course without fear or favour. Rule of law ultimately is the arbitrator in a nation’s life. It alone can become a credible arbitrator between power wielding and relatively powerless stakeholders. When that role becomes sullied with partisanship and parcels out injustice, then anarchy is the result. Much of the PMLN and PPP’s complaints against the judiciary’s past partisan attitude and indifference against them is factually correct. For their partisan omissions and commissions, the judiciary – and especially specific judges – will be called out. The past must not become an albatross around our necks. Recall the past, name and shame but then we must move on towards credible constitutionally valid practices.

Email: nasimzehra@gmail.com

Nasim Zehra, "Towards a consensus finally?," The News. 2023-05-17.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political battle , Politicians , Judiciary , Imran Khan , Pakistan , PMLN , PPP