Pakistan continues to remain in the limelight for the wrong reasons with the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML N) Chief and former Prime Minister Mr Nawaz Sharif pulling the rug from the Pakistan People’s Party ministers in the Punjab province and threatening mid term elections in the country. Sensing overall debility of the government caught on the wrong foot on many fronts including the Raymond Davis case, Sharif sees a winning moment coming in the days ahead, but rank opportunism could lead to disaster, for what the country requires now is political stability not uncertainty.
The events unfolded when Punjab Province’s Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif of the PML N and brother of Nawaz Sharif on 26 February sent a summary to Punjab Governor Latif Khosa for dissolution of the Punjab Cabinet and also removed a number of parliamentary secretaries from their offices with immediate effect. The move was seen as a precursor to appointing a new cabinet without the members of the PPP which is in coalition with the PML N in the province. “The governor is constitutionally bound to approve the summary within 14 days but if he does not approve it within the stipulated period it (summary) will be considered approved,” as per a TV channel. Simultaneously PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif said his party can steer the country out of the crises, adding that “we will build a new Pakistan by mobilising the nation”. Recalling his achievements during the last tenure, the PML-N chief said, “We had created an atmosphere of investment through economic reforms.”
This turn of events has been in the making after Mr Sharif had issued a 10 point demand for reformation to the PPP led government in the Centre the dead line of which expired on 23 February. The two parties could not agree on three important issues of the 10 points as per the Daily Times: procedure for the appointment of chief election commissioner and members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), accountability law, and mechanism for the appointment of heads of public sector entities and constitutional bodies. These were not possibly very critical and could have been resolved, but Mr Sharif was possibly having different plans.
Mr Sharif’s confidence in political change over in the country was based on his party weaning over the, “Unification bloc,” a majority breakaway group of the PML-Q (Qaid), which is likely to join hands with the ruling PML-N in Punjab. This Mr Sharif hopes will have a snow balling effect at the national level toppling the PPP led government in Islamabad. There are likely to be legal hurdles to this plan as status of the breakaway group of the PML Q, “Unification bloc,” under the Constitution is not clear and the principals of the PML Q party as well as the PPP are likely to contest the same in Courts, thus there may be some time before this issue is resolved.
In due course with the PML N having gone for dissolution of the Cabinet the Punjab government may be reshaped and the PML N and a portion of the PML Q the arch rival and a break away faction of the original PML N may take office. Will this process lead to a change in the federal equations and a mid term election remains to be seen?
It is apparent that Mr Nawaz Sharif has seen the time opportune to risk such a move as he finds that the popularity of the PPP government in the Centre at an all time low. However the PPP going for a judicial recourse may block the government in Punjab which may upset Mr Sharif’s plans. What is also to note is that the two main political parties in the country, the PML N and PPP which were seen in alliance of sorts have now fallen out? Their association was meant to stave off the army taking over power due to differences between the political parties. Now it appears that Mr Sharif who does not have a good rapport with the Army is confident that the forces from Rawalpindi the Army HQs would not intervene.
The first rumblings of political distention in Pakistan are thus clearly emerging. This would be based on a shrewd calculation by Mr Sharif of prospects of his party gaining from unpopularity of the government with the masses given that it has been accused of many corruption scandals, mismanagement of floods in 2010 and also poor security and law and order situation. How he goes for mid term elections remains to be seen, but there may be problems as in the Federal Assembly, the PML Q which has sizeable numbers though having split in Punjab may be willing to support the PPP government in case Mr Sharif succeeds in weaning away the other parties in the coalition such as the MQM. Thus the political situation has assumed a high degree of fluidity in Pakistan.
Preceding this crisis, the President swore in the first batch of a new cabinet. Forced by the IMF to reduce size of the ministry as well as after pressure from the opposition particularly the PML N, the Prime Minister asked the resignation of the Ministry and announced a smaller cabinet with 20 ministers in the first place. The announcement of the portfolios of the new cabinet was in line with expectations as key ministers such as defence and interior were retained. The PPP government is also known generally to be packed with ministers who are core loyalists of the Bhutto family and to that extent those who are in power owe their allegiance as much to Mr Zardari as to their own political standing. It should also be noted that the charges of corruption in the past hanging against some of the ministers such as the Interior Minister Mr Malik has not stood in the way of their being nominated to the ministerial position again. What came as a surprise to many was non allotment of portfolio of Foreign Minister to the incumbent Mr Qureshi who has possibly fallen victim to opposing release of US citizen Raymond Davis, more about it in the next section.
The disputes in the judiciary between the present appointees and so called PCO judges or ones who were appointed by the previous regime of General and COAS Pervez Musharraf after sacking the present judicial order including the Chief Justice Mr Ifitkhar Chaudhry also came to the fore. This is likely to remain a contentious issue in the Pakistani judicial space and may spill over to civil society as well with the Supreme Court Bar Association raising objections as this would weaken the judiciary.
Hopefully proverbial providence will keep the nation going, for the international community can ill afford to have another major state in disarray after all that is happening in the Middle East.