Is an in-house change imminent in March ? By Naveed Miraj


As key court developments and political developments in the coming weeks unfold the question whether the Khan government can survive over the next few months is asked with interest in the diplomatic circles of Islamabad.

PTI government has moved a review petition in the Supreme Court on the November 28th verdict in the matter of extension in tenure of the Chief of Army Staff. The stand-off between higher judiciary and the military establishment went into a high gear last month when the Supreme Court asked the government to come up with a legislation to ensure that cabinet and the President have the power to grant an extension in service to the Chief of the Army Staff.

The verdict made some detailed a legal reasoning and bound the government to answer some very critical question on the appointment of the COAS, its terms and conditions and how an extension will be granted. While opinion on whether any legislation that responds to the points raised in the verdict will be an Act of Parliament or it will require an amendment, in any case the government was bound to engage with the opposition. Khan government has tried to take the easy route and tried to handle the matter through a review petition. This could go either way for the government and the COAS.

The verdict in General Musharraf treason case opened another front when the former military dictator was handed down a death sentence by a special court. This is unprecedented and has attracted quite a strong response from the military.

Things were so serious that General Bajwa had to rush to PM Khan on his return from Geneva and meet him to express what the military states to be ‘rage and disappointment’ in the rank and file. Judge Waqar’s’ controversial’ lines were surely directed at provoking a response and response it did invoke. The government has now the delicate task managing balancing act between the bench and military establishment. Sensing that any mishandling could lead to repeat of 2007 events where legal community and the establishment fought it out on the streets and in the courts rooms. The government stepped back from its earlier stance of moving a judicial reference against Justice Waqar Seth.

Meanwhile one source close to PML (N) said that MNS has asked his party’s leadership not speak much on either the extension or the Musharraf verdict as things are taking their own course and PML (N) does not need to intervene. He has told them though that no extension will be supported and also that things will not reach a stage where extension legislation will be required. He has also reportedly said that the party should be ready for elections in the year 2020.

PPP has openly supported Musharraf verdict and is trying to gain some traction in Punjab by mobilizing its base which though weak still is showing some life. It put up a big show in Rawalpindi on November 27.

In the meanwhile, those who closely watch the developments in Islamabad claim that Chaudhry’s of Gujrat (PML (Q) are again making maneuvers that are likely to result into an in house change in March this year. These sources ask to watch Chaudhry Pervaiz Illahi and are predicting that his resignation as speaker Punjab Assembly will set the ball rolling. How will different parties play out this phase will be interesting to watch.

Inside Khan government many cabinet members have been questioning Khan’s strategy of just wanting to fix the opposition leadership and focusing too much on media instead of core governance issues. Shiekh Rashid who is the lone MNA of his own party and ally of Khan reportedly was very vocal in a recent cabinet meeting and criticized the economic strategy of the government. Some other cabinet members also voiced their concerns. Sheikh Rasheed even went to the extent of offering his resignation by saying that he did not want to continue.

The weak coalition constructed by PTI has many internal strains and any small coalition partner weaved away from the coalition can bring the government down.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad.