By Shaheen Sehbai

Watching Pakistani politics from inside out after a long time is not only exciting but revealing. Or maybe not so, as it is more of the same, and still more. Newspaper headlines on Wednesday morning, were split along party lines with undeclared, but so very obvious loyalties, showed each side was using the media to convey messages to the others as Civil-Military leaders were not yet ready to have an open fight. Pro-Nawaz newspapers said in banners, the PM, now caught in the middle of a Panama-Dawn Leaks ever tightening grip, was once again in a defiant mode, itching to confront the Army/Establishment but only covertly through leaks and media friends, as if testing the limits of patience, self-control and grit of the other side.

In his private meetings he is said to be furious and once again almost in a October 1999 Musharraf coup frame of mind, cursing and abusing everyone, complaining that his elected status was not being respected and he would like to go down fighting for his constitutional rights than to surrender to coercion and blackmail. The same tried and tested scenario is again being resurrected — defy and subjugate all civil-military institutions at home, get help of Saudis, Americans, Qataris, overseas business partners including Indian tycoons, and stir up an international storm that democracy was being sabotaged, once again.

The well-rehearsed drama of rushing overseas, away from the maddening din of backdoor intrigues inside the country, is being replayed. The effort is to try to convince his supporters that he is still a PM who has not yet lost his nerves. He feels secure when in the company of world leaders, getting formal red carpet welcomes and flying around in state-owned super luxury jets, no matter what it costs the sick national airline.

Failing to come up with a coherent, confident strategy to face the challenges and unable to bulldoze their way out to safety, Sharif and his men are almost in a constant huddle, making claims issuing and going back on them within hours or days, meeting army leaders in closed tense sessions but finding it hard to state publicly what type of interactions were going on. They find the way forward clouded and murky. Later in the day on Wednesday, despite the headlines that nothing more will be done by the government regarding Dawn Leaks, a middle-of-the-road solution was announced.

Both the sides appeared to have taken a half-step back, for their own reasons. The government issued a fresh notification making the already sacked Information Minister as the third scapegoat besides Tariq Fatemi and Rao Tehsin.

The Army took the step to withdraw its pungent Tweet rejecting the earlier announcement by the government because they apparently thought the issue of Dawn Leaks was only a distraction from Panama Leaks and they had already pushed Islamabad to take back a few steps, though these may appear insignificant and a face-saving device.

If the Dawn Leaks was a national security breach, it is yet not clear who was responsible, how much and what punishment, if any would be given and by whom. The government thinks the matter is over and whether army will do anything further is not known. Apparently the matter may not be pursued further.

There is, however, a big difference when comparing the pre-1999 coup situation with what is going on behind closed doors now.

  1. There is no Musharraf in GHQ Pindi and those now in charge have somewhat learnt their lessons in handling corrupt and defiant politicians. One shining example is Asif Zardari, who was allowed to rule and then quietly sidelined, almost made irrelevant, despite his outbursts and protests.
  2. There is a clear understanding that any leader, who has to be pushed out of the political system, must be forced to face the law and pass through the legal process. No more political martyrs needed to be created through use of force. None may be and the compromise on Dawn Leaks indicates as much.
  3. The troika of the past — PM, President and the Army Chief — has been replaced by a new one: PM, Army Chief and Chief Justice, (in fact the entire Supreme Court).
  4. So if two out of the three join hands, the third can be cut to size and handled. Example: Under PPP rule PM/President and Army chief joined hands and the courts, although belligerent, could only achieve just so much, as illustrated by the Memogate Scandal or Yusuf Raza Gilani sacking.
  5. If now the Army and the courts stand on the same side by default and not design, or even if the Army stays neutral, the PM finds himself in a tighter corner. He has not so far been able to win his case legally and that’s the 60 million dollar question. This is where things stand today. Nawaz is trying hard to provoke action against his government by confronting and fingering the Establishment, demonstrated by flip flops on Dawn leaks, lying to judges and deceiving the superior courts, targeting the agencies through acts like the illegal tape recordings released by Pemra, making promises and then insulting others by refusing to honour them, leaking discussions of closed door meetings etc. Yet no one is getting provoked into arbitrary action and only very brief and curt replies are being given mainly to put the record straight.

After showing some muscles, the army appears to have decided that they would not let Dawn Leaks become a point of confrontation. A frustrated and desperate Nawaz, it is evident, has now come out in the open and started accusing and abusing the army of trying to subvert the political system. And again to reinforce his position he has planned seeking outside help by meeting Saudi royals and leaders of US and Islamic world in good-for-nothing summits as everybody is watching and following where he stands and how long will he survive domestically. In such situations, no one pays serious attention, except offering routine protocols to falling leaders.

The hard reality is that none of them can save him from the legal chainsaws that are slowly grinding in a circle leading to the ultimate logical end. But howsoever hard may Nawaz and his company try to avoid being pushed out of the system through the process, the consensus all over is that no unconstitutional action will or should be taken and the chainsaw will be allowed to complete its bone-churning circle.

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