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When PTI needs friends …

OF all the hare-brained schemes to muzzle criticism of those at the helm, the Peca amendment ordinance promulgated by the president must take pride of place on the podium of own goals.

The law which, insiders say, enjoyed the full backing of the prime minister and those who facilitated his rise to the highest office, is understood to have been penned by the man who resigned as minister to plead the cause of the army chief’s extension in the Supreme Court in the final days of chief justice Asif Saeed Khosa’s tenure.

Law Minister Farogh Naseem once famously likened his then (and MQM) leader Altaf Hussain’s struggle to Nelson Mandela’s and in the process found a parallel between a luxurious north London mansion and a cramped cell in Robben Island prison off Cape Town’s coast. Mandela spent nearly three decades in prison, and the MQM leader around two in his London home.

Notwithstanding his ostensibly decent legal credentials, his political judgement leaves much to be desired as our example illustrates, so much so that the party whose ticket put him in the Upper House has been ambivalent in owning him.

The PTI has alienated whatever support it may have had among democratic-minded Pakistanis.

His critics say his ambitions may rival that of his apparent ideal Sharifuddin Pirzada’s, but that he lacks the latter’s finesse in navigating a safe path out of challenges posed by constitutional confines.

When the storm of opposition from civil society hit the Peca amendment ordinance proponents, the attorney general indicated he had not been consulted, after suggestions from some ministers that his opinion had been sought. Earlier, he had dissociated himself from the Faez Isa case too. Of course, the opinion of those who back such laws because they say they fear the enemies of the state waging what they call a ‘fifth-generation war’ on social media platforms, could not be ascertained. All I’ll say is that I would be hard-pressed to find an ‘enemy proxy’ on Pakistan soil indulging in such warfare.

Those who do, such as Indian intelligence proxies or Russian state-backed actors or Israeli or Western global players, do so from abroad and, ergo, Peca amended or not amended even to my admittedly basic legal know-how appears helpless.

Let’s be honest about the purpose of the law. Even when the PML-N minister Anusha Rehman steered the Peca legislation successfully through parliament mainly due to her party’s brute majority there were many rights activists who were vocal about its dangers.

But whether it was young Braveheart Farieha Aziz or relentless fighter Nighat Dad or measured activist Usama Khilji and dozens of others, including those in the media, who offered detailed critiques of the law, their protestations fell on deaf years because the PML-N was so intoxicated on power.

The PML-N was warned that once out of power Peca would be used against it too. But when in power, the party gave the impression to its stalwarts they would never be out of office so the argument was merely academic. But they were soon to be out of office and their own social media activists were left exposed to the draconian law and were hit hard by it. The PTI amendment redefined ‘draconian’ in far more oppressive ways than the law already did. Hence the outrage.

At a time when its dismal performance, the coming together of the opposition and the PTI’s reported falling out with its main protectors should have warranted small, sane and safe steps forward, the government decided on this huge rash move.

One would have thought that under pressure, the PTI would be reaching out to possible allies in the media and beyond, even invoking the civilian supremacy argument to win over friends. But no. It decides to alienate whatever support it may have had among democratic-minded Pakistanis, influencers among them.

Even when the going was good, such an amendment would have kicked up opposition as it clashes with the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, just as the NAB law does, amid fears that it would be used to stifle dissent just as the NAB law has been used to victimise opponents and carry out political engineering.

While the PTI blunders on, the opposition is said to be in the final phase of fine-tuning its strategy to inflict a coup de grâce on the prime minister. This information comes from sources in the PDM-PPP camps. In such plans, there is many a slip between the cup and the lip.

However, the opposition sources seem far more upbeat than in the past, and insiders say that after a big concession in the form of an assurance of continuity in a key area from Mian Nawaz Sharif, the erstwhile PTI backers have also committed to neutrality that so far seems to be holding.

Many insiders say that former PTI stalwart Jahangir Khan Tareen’s sudden air dash to London, ostensibly for medical consultations with his UK-based physicians, will provide an opportunity for a handshake (not clear whether public or private) on a deal already finalised between him and the Sharifs. Mr Tareen enjoys the support of several members of the National Assembly and, more crucially, of the Punjab Assembly, in numbers that are vital to any side retaining or seeking a majority in the two legislatures.

It can’t be stressed enough that with Russia’s blatant belligerence in Ukraine, fuel prices are northbound as there is great nervousness where this conflict may end up heading and how gas and oil supplies will be impacted.

Pakistan’s import bill will spike as a result, with devastating effects on economic stability. Whosoever wears the crown, whether the incumbent retains it or a challenger takes it away, and sits on the Islamabad throne, has their work cut out for them. Distractions such as the Peca ordinance are criminal and pointless.

Abbas Nasir, "When PTI needs friends …," Dawn. 2022-02-27.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political aspects , Political parties , Political leaders , PTI , MQM