Politics of Bandobast!

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
Pakistan is limping to cover the remaining months to elections 2018 notwithstanding the ever recurring uncertainties. In the given atmosphere elections-if held-are not too far, a state of flux reinforced by doubts seems to be holding the fort.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqqan Abbasi is confident that elections would be held in time, Awami’ Chief Justice Saqib Nisar has also reassured that if there is any attempt at judicial or any other coup-then his whole herd of 17 Supreme Court Judges would step down and would not be party to it. Reservoir of all power, the Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa too favours timely elections except of course slight delay due to issue of the delimitation of the electoral constituencies.
Then one must remember that there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip. Sometimes any untoward incident could set into motion series of domestic and external events that could cause an implosion of serious consequence. Remember assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 that led to World War I. In our own country the populist movement that ended Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s so-called decade of development got going due to the killing of a student. The ongoing Pakhtoon Spring led by Manzoor Pashteen that has wildly captured the imagination of the Young Paahtoons following the murder of young handsome model Naqeebullah Mehsud in Karachi done to death in an encounter allegedly by Pakistan’s most notoriously known encounter-in-chief and his accomplices-is turning out to be a serious manifestation of long standing grievances of Pashtoons. Though the peaceful protest rallies organized by Pashtoon Tahafuz Movement (PTM) are being denied due coverage by the national media since any mention of them causes indigestion and sleeplessness in certain quarters allegedly responsible for the Pahstoon pain and sufferings.

Suddenly emerging Pashtun leader Manzoor Pashteen waves hands in response of charged slogans by thousands of attendees at public meeting held at Mochi Gate in Lahore on Sunday, 22nd April. He is flanked by another PTM leader Wazir Ali (left) and Hina Jilani of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. (Nation picture)

Sitting so far away from what is happening back home, one is hesitant in commenting up on what one hears. However, more about the Pashteen protest is coming to light in the international media and is getting wider focus. Academics have started discussing what they call the unravelling of Pakistan especially when drastic measures such as forcing newspapers to drop articles from print in support of the Pashtoon grievances by some of the eminent Pakistani journalists amounting to what Media in UK describes as undeclared censorship. Regular column by a legal expert Babar Sattar on Pashtoon uprising was dropped by leading publishing chain.
Initially all PTM rallies-whether in Peshawar, Islamabad, Charsgadda or elsewhere– were dealt with by ensuring that the large number of people participating in them was not allowed to figure in exact number in sketchy lines of reporting permitted by the authorities. In Punjab the provincial administration used a heavy hand to deal the peaceful protestors around 1000 in number who had gathered to lay bare their grievances before the “big brother” followed by arrests of their workers and not allowing them to hold their public meeting despite the fact PTM had NOC from the provincial administration. Covering its panic reaction to the rally behind a perceived security threat the administration did not take into consideration the fact that so far all the PTM rallies have been peaceful, non disruptive and well disciplined-a rare phenomenon in Pakistan’s politics.
PTM is a grass-root movement by young Pashtoon students and their demands are not difficult to address. Their major demand is regarding the increasing number of missing persons all the time and no recovery. Like every Pakistani it is their right under the constitution to be provided safety and security sans arbitrary arrests, detention, intimidations, tortures and extra-judicial killings, right to peacefully assemble, enjoy freedom of expression to air their grievances and demand their redress from the authorities.
On wonders how could any institution in the country cast aspersions on the intent of the PTM workers and participant in their peaceful rallies where they sit in and tell tales of miseries inflicted on their lives by authorities who know nothing but the art of creating fissures in the society and engineering uncertainties as age old practice of divide and rule. One hopes sanity will prevail in the quarters that matter not to let things go out of hand due to proverbial high-handedness of authority. If ISPR can negotiate with traders of Waziristan, if cash envelopes can be given to Faiazabad Dharanchis and their cleric instigators to free the capital of siege, why can’t young Pashtoons be invited for talks on a table, given a patient hearing and their genuine grievances removed. Ironhanded handling would deepen the fissures and be an open invitation to others to fish in our troubled waters.
Be that as it may, there are much more serious things to do to make it to the Election 2018 without any further disruption, dislocation and confusion. First there was talk of an interim government of technocrats (some quarters still do not rule it out for a period of three-years), then the proposal of judicial coup keeps bouncing back, then we have a prime minister who wants to replace the Senate Chairman and finally the shot by Jamaat-e-Islami Chief Maulana Sirajul Haq-a coalition partner of PTI-that PTI Chief Imran Khan advised him to ask his senators to vote for Sardar Sanjrani since the directive had come from “above”. Obviously none said who they meant by “above”, people who know the players in the game point it to “finger of the Umpire”. Now it has been forecast that PTI and JI coalition will break in a couple of days.
Last but not the least, the war on front between the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the CJP has become very hot. With election coming nearer it seems that final round is around the corner. Even current cabinet ministers like Rao Ahsan Iqbal are taking mighty swipes at CJP. On his return from London where he had gone to see his critically ailing wife-he fired his most volatile volley after his appearance before the NAB court describing recent actions by the top judiciary branding it a regime worse than a martial law. He charged “what we have now is no democracy, but the worst kind of dictatorship under [Chief Justice Mian] Saqib Nisar. What is happening in the country is not less than a ‘judicial martial law’.
Political pundits tend to agree that a massive “engineering operation” that started with the judicial campaign to remove prime minister Nawaz Sharif and had him convicted followed by a huge ‘bandobast’ (arrangements)by powers that be to have elections to spring a pliable hung parliament, followed by a handpicked prime minister lesser known politician who could be tasked to roll back the 18th Amendment to “restore the Centre the glory it enjoyed during the days of Generals Zia and Pervez Musharraf” cannot be ruled out. Recent walk out by the three Chief Ministers of smaller provinces from NEC meeting over the budget reveals why the establishment wants 18th amendment to be reverted back to Gen Zia’s constitution to re-establish dictatorship of the centre.
(Author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)