By Qamar Bashir
Former Press Secretary to the President
Former Press Minister in Pakistan Embassy of France
The entire nation is reeling from the developments on the political, economic, financial, and security fronts, but the government, state machinery, and political assets have only one problem at hand, which is to arrest Imran Khan. To reduce his political size, change his software, either eliminate him entirely, or reintroduce him as a tamed, reformed, and toothless politician like any other politician in the country. The government and political leaders seemed totally numb to the cost the country may have to pay if things that are already mostly out of their control spiral out of control completely.
Instead of calming the highly charged political atmosphere, Maryam Nawaz spewed once again lethal venom against Imran Khan in her latest press conference and interview with a reputable channel and her favourite host. She compared him to a jackal and a mouse who is holed up in his Lahore residence and using a human shield to avoid arrest and production in court. She charged him with harbouring terrorists in his residence who are using petrol bombs which according to her are only those who know the sophisticated technology to make petrol bombs, conveniently ignoring that it needs only a bottle, a cock and matchbox to launch a petrol bomb.
She also accused him of using GB police to defend himself against his arrest, and transferred GB IGP Muhammad Saeed as a punishment without waiting for input from Punjab IG, who when asked denied any clash between Punjab and GB police adding that GB policemen had not pointed their guns at Lahore police personnel. Later, when asked how Imran could physically attend court hearings against over 96 FIRs filed on frivolous grounds, she innocently responded that he should go to the court and tell them that the FIRs are false.
She may be unaware that making false allegations and filing baseless FIRs are punishable offenses under PPC Section 182, which states that anyone who intentionally gives false information shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or a fine not exceeding ten thousand rupees, or both and according Section 211 filing a false police report or making false allegations against an offense is punishable by imprisonment for a term of up to two years, a fine, or both. I believe she is astute enough to assess these provisions and take the necessary precautions to avoid future problems.
In her press conference, she was flanked by top PML(N) leaders and the Minister for Information and Broadcasting, who could only get a seat in the far right corner of the head table. It reflected Maryam’s complete control over the government and the party. She was effectively acting as a de facto prime minister, making decisions without fear of being held accountable. She makes statements, makes promises, and issues orders, all of which fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Prime Minister and party leader, Shahbaz Sharif, who has been dwarfed and is only left to inaugurate half-baked and half-cooked development projects.
This concentration of power in Maryam appeared to have completely trampled the norm of separation of government and party affairs, which is a rule in all democracies around the world. According to universal principles, the government is in charge of enforcing policies and laws, whereas political party leaders are in charge of developing and promoting their party’s platform and values. The government should ideally be independent of political party leadership, and decisions should be made in the best interests of the country rather than the interests of a specific party or individual.
However, in our case, the lines between government and political party leadership are frequently blurred, and we have seen that the ruling party wields significant power over the government. This is a dangerous combination, and it is possible that it is the root cause of the country’s current political turmoil as power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Her obsession with arresting and imprisoning Imran Khan knows no bounds. She is using all of her arrows and weapons in her bow to ensure Imran’s arrest, regardless of the political, administrative, or financial cost. She has designated him as her No. 1 enemy, as well as all those she perceives as supporting him, whether he is a person, a country, or an institution.
In her recent press conference, she criticized Zalme Khalilzada, perhaps unaware that he is an American diplomat and foreign policy advisor who has served in a number of high-level positions in the United States government and has been involved in US foreign policy for several decades. He has also held senior positions in the US State Department, including Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs and Counterterrorism Coordinator.
Whatever the circumstances and her feelings about Khalilzad, I believe she should have left it to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to respond if deemed appropriate; after all, the Foreign Minister and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs should share some of the burden of the all-powerful Maryam Nawaz. But is Khalilzad the only one she has a grudge against?
She perhaps marked everyone who ever had a little connection or soft corner for Imran. She insulted former Chief justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar for declaring Imran Khan truthful and trustworthy and demanded court martial of former DG, ISI for his alleged support to first bring Imran Khan to power and then playing a part in perpetuating his rule for around four years. She boycotted all TV channels who, according to her, were supporting Imran Khan in their talk shows and had a calculated narrative that the journalists should not side with any political party.
Interestingly, in various speeches she vowed to not hold any general elections until both sides of the balance are equal which according to her is equated only with putting Imran Khan behind bars whether rightly or wrongly as counterbalancing to her and her father’s going to jail. By pledging this, she self assumed herself over and above the election commission, judiciary, establishment and the government. Constitutionally election commission is responsible for holding of election, supreme court of Pakistan which in her latest ruling have directed the government to hold the election as soon as possible and government which is constitutionally bound to hold election as and when demanded by the Election Commission or by the supreme court of Pakistan, but she put each one of them under her foot by declaring if not in so many words that it is she who will decide when and how the elections will be held in the country, an amazing confidence and an amazingly exuberance of power.
Perhaps she should pause, reset her strategy, and take a step back to wait for the right movement to strike against Imran, as he is currently riding high on the popularity tide, and his fate is currently in the hands of people, if not under him. He has inspired the public to share his vision and work towards a common goal by articulating a clear and compelling vision and a deep sense of purpose. He has emerged as a gifted speaker who is able to use language in a powerful and persuasive manner to inspire his followers and is regarded as a role model and source of inspiration.
Even in the face of uncertainty or adversity, he has taken risks such as dissolving the Punjab and KP assemblies against all opposition from within his party. He is not afraid to challenge the status quo and raise people’s emotions to new heights. He has successfully sold his narrative of Haqiqi Azadi, demonstrated his fearlessness in the face of state power, and his ability to rally his supporters, who took to the streets in large numbers to oppose the use of any state power against him. Finally, as Maryam herself stated in so many words, he still enjoys the establishment’s support and loyalty, which is an important factor and still helps him to neutralize the state’s brute power. The movement he started has now gained its own momentum, which he may not even be able to control at this point. It is similar to a popular soap opera or television series that takes time to capture people’s attention before establishing its own moment that is controlled by the viewers rather than the producer.
She, who is a good political leader, should only attack from a position of strength in order to minimize casualties, increase the chances of victory, establish deterrence, and protect her party’s interests. This strategy will enable her to redeploy her tactics and exploit the Imran’s weaknesses, which can be critical to achieving her objectives. Instead of pressuring his arrest, she should allow him to make mistakes by manipulating the media and persuade voters to support her over him through clear messaging and strong branding. She has to bring new potent arsenal as the existing weapons, like Tyrian White, hiding terrorists, pitching GB police against Punjab police, using drugs, chicken hearted have been blunted by Imran and have left no utility and effectiveness.
On the other hand, I have nothing but admiration for Maryam, who has very successfully created a dense fog wall between the people and the burning issues that the government is faced with and its failure to handle any of them through her anti-establishment, anti-judiciary, and anti-Imran rhetoric. Imran’s focus has shifted from his demand for early elections to protecting himself, avoiding arrest, and preventing updates of his software. People’s attention has been diverted from the unprecedented price hike and hyperinflation to protect Imran Khan from his imminent arrest, businessmen are on hold awaiting the final outcome of the elephant war where they may be grass to be trampled, failure of negotiation between demoralized finance minister and stone faced IFM country director who has been stung by the overturning of agreement reached between them and Muftah Ismael by Ishaq dar is allegedly refusing to sign any agreement until new and legitimate government take over to guarantee implementation of the agreement in both letter and spirit.
Nation’s attention has also been diverted from the imminent threat to our nuclear programme, which was revealed by a statement made by our finance minister at an international forum with body language that reflected weakness, despair, lack of confidence and legitimacy in front of a completely hostile audience, which was disheartening.
Businesses are currently under enormous pressure, production lines are closing down, industry is being shifted to greener pastures due to a lack of raw materials and exorbitant utility prices, people are groaning under price hikes, and the less fortunate are even committing suicide to save themselves and their loved ones from starvation and the indignity of abject poverty and despair. Instead of political expediency, turmoil, commotion, and unrest, which the government has purposefully created, the government could have avoided this dire situation by showing a large heart and committing its collective wisdom, intellect, and abilities to bring reforms and provide some relief to the people.
Both Maryam and Imran Khan, unfortunately, have been calling the establishment in their support and have repeatedly expressed their anger and frustration at the army’s insensitivity to their demand and siding with them. Unfortunately, our politicians are so addicted to this toxicity that none of them are willing to believe the army’s pledge to no longer interfere in political and civilian affairs. They are also unwilling to believe that the army’s new leadership has demonstrated its neutrality in the face of the nation’s political and financial challenges. They are also ignoring the President’s advice that politicians should take the army’s pledge of neutrality at face value and work together to devise ways and means to fill the void left by them.
I believe it will take time for politicians to wean themselves from this lethal seduction, and it will also take time for the army to demonstrate to the people and politicians that it is no longer in the civilian domain. Only time will tell whether Maryam and Imran, our most popular leaders, will take the first step in devising their political strategies independently, without relying on the establishment’s support in achieving their political goals.
Out of our entire political leadership of both old and new generations, Maryam has the grit, courage, tenacity and stamina to stand against rising tides with confidence and determination to win against all odds. She will probably stay for a long time in the political arena of Pakistan. She has gone through a tough and arduous political training process and endured imprisonments and the tedious process of facing the courts.
While the rest of PDM leadership is relishing the power bestowed to them by change of fate as a one in lifetime chance, she is the only one left who is facing the daunting challenge of Imran Khan and successfully engaging the people to convey her political objectives.
But now she, the government and the establishment are faced with a new kind of rising tide which is rooted genuinely in the people’s heart and soul. They are dancing to the tune of Haqiqi Azadi to salvage themselves from the brute state power which is used on them as and when required with total impunity. Unlike other such tides of the past orchestrated by the establishment this one is different, genuine and spontaneous. The people have risen to the realization that the ultimate power rests with them only when they unite to a single cause built around dignity, self respect and honor and is the only way to confine the state machinery to its mandated roles and responsibilities.
The jurisdiction of both civilian and military bureaucracy are defined in so many words in the constitution and laws, rules and regulations emanated out of it. No state functionary or institute has the authority or power to come out of its defined parameters. Any step out of these confines would be illegal, illegitimate and detrimental to the national interests which gives the people who are actual owners of the country and land inherent right to put them back to their assigned rules by using their power of collectiveness. The latest events demonstrated clearly that people are not ready to accept any illegal act or order of the government or the courts. They have taken on themselves to protect their right and defend their leaders totally disregarding the danger of use of brute state force on them.
The country is currently confronted with new and emerging realities. We must all recognise that political unrest is the root cause of all the nation’s problems. All political leaders must pause, grasp new realities, comprehend the newly defined role of the establishment, devise political strategies that exclude the establishment, and begin engaging the people by providing them with a motive, a purpose, and objectives that truly represent their aspirations, dreams, and preferences. Use people’s power to keep the bureaucracy both civilian and military to their defined rules, use political tools of negotiation, consultations and consensus building to resolve issues faced by the nation. Set a mutually agreed-upon date for the next general election to allow the people to elect a legitimate, genuine, and truly representative government, and then allow it to complete its mandate period while using all political capital at their disposal to prevent any interference by state machinery in the civilian domain. Let us set aside our personal grudges, hateful vendettas, and personal agendas and allow the nation and its people to breathe freely.