Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Photo: Reuters
Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Photo: Reuters

The weather is getting chilly, but the political temperature in Pakistan is very high.

The firebrand anti-establishment leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Khawaja Saad Rafique, and his brother were recently arrested by the anti-graft body National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Saad and his brother have been booked in connection with an alleged housing society scam.

Hamza Shahbaz, the son of Shahbaz Sharif and the opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly, was barred from flying abroad and was offloaded from the plane by the authorities when he was heading for London via Doha.

Maryam Aurangzeb, the spokesperson for the PML-N, was recently booked with a new reference by the NAB. The chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has been summoned by the NAB to appear on  December 13 in connection with a money-laundering case.

Amid the arrest of PML-N leaders and the expected arrests of senior leaders of the opposition, the stock market lost 448 index points on Monday as investors worried about political unrest in the days to come.

It seems that a full-scale second phase of the operation has been launched to crush the opposition, especially the PML-N, the party of ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif. In the first phase, the superior judiciary was used to disqualify Sharif and put him behind bars without the charges against him being proven.

However, with all the pre-poll and post-poll rigging, the powers that be were not able to remove Sharif’s PML-N from the political arena. In fact, Sharif’s political narrative of Imran Khan being a puppet of the invisible forces has been strengthened by the fact that the prime minister and his cabinet have not been able to come up with solutions to overcome the country’s economic and governance problems.

The misuse of the institutions of accountability and justice is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan and it is considered normal practice for the establishment to victimize and dismantle political parties that are considered a threat to the prevailing narrative of the establishment

The misuse of the institutions of accountability and justice is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan and it is considered normal practice for the establishment to victimize and dismantle political parties that are considered a threat to the prevailing narrative of the establishment.

However, never before have the judiciary and the NAB been used so blatantly for the victimization of political opponents. The NAB cases against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf  (PTI) leaders Aleem Khan, Zulfi Bukhari and Pervaiz Khattak are pending, and they are similar in nature to the case against Saad Rafique; however, the NAB cases against the PTI leaders are making almost no progress, and the bureau does not seem interested in advancing them further.

The Peshawar Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, which was initiated by PTI, has still not been finished – with massive irregularities being reported – but no one seems to want to investigate the case. The focus remains on somehow dismantling Sharif’s PML-N so that the province of Punjab can be once again turned in to a pro-establishment bastion.

The authorities think that by dismantling the PML-N, the narrative against the political influence of the establishment and its role in putting PTI in power by rigging the elections will be finished. One wonders when the lesson will be learned that narratives and ideologies can never be eliminated through oppression.

The renowned journalist Syed Talat Hussain has tweeted on this development and termed the recent wave of victimization of the PML-N as the second phase of the unraveling of the party.

The veteran journalist and writer Abbas Nasir criticized the current move of arresting opposition leaders. He tweeted that the PTI government and its powerful military and international backers seem determined to create a one-party state with no respect for freedoms and rights.

While talking to this correspondent, the renowned Pakistani journalist and intellectual Raza Rumi said, “Accountability is a farce now… and the only tool to keep Imran Khan in power. Otherwise, he has failed in his rule of 120 days.”

The sitting PTI government seems to focus only on the violation of the rights of the opposition political parties. In a bid to appease the invisible forces, the incumbent government is helping to weaken Pakistani democracy. It also seems to be unaware of the fact that in his era, General Zia Ul Haq tried unsuccessfully to use the state machinery to eliminate the PPP. Likewise, General Pervez Musharraf resorted to brute force and so-called accountability slogans to dismantle Sharif’s PML-N, but he was equally unsuccessful.

In fact, Sharif emerged as a more powerful political leader with a much more vibrant support base in the province of Punjab and ultimately created a narrative against the anti-democratic forces. The king party of that time, Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam ( PMLQ), which helped Musharraf in his bid to eliminate the PML-N, vanished from the political horizon after the general’s departure.

The PTI-led government is playing the same role and it fails to realize that political rivals with mass support at the grassroots level can never be eliminated through the use of force and state institutions. Perhaps PTI too is moving in the footsteps of the PMLQ, and it seems that instead of eliminating the PML-N and other opponents, PTI and Khan will vanish when and where they have lost the support of the kingmakers.

However, for now, the opposition, especially the PML-N, has to face the tough battle of surviving against the onslaught of the invisible forces. Sharif has chosen his path and he is determined to take the fight to its ultimate conclusion by sticking to his narrative of respecting the vote.

On the other hand, Asif Zardari, the chairperson of the PPP, is still of two minds as to whether he should follow Sharif or try to reconcile with the establishment by giving his party’s legislative support to the PTI king party in parliament.

In an effort to legitimize the ongoing onslaught against the dissident political parties, the government and behind-the-scenes authorities have given it a name – accountability. Unfortunately, the losers in this battle are the judiciary and the NAB, which have completely lost credibility by again aligning with the establishment and its king party.

The road to restoring real democracy seems too long and too tough right now. It seems like Pakistan has gone back to the era of Zia ul Haq, and that it will likely waste another decade or two before it realizes that strengthening democracy and its institutions by ceasing to crush dissent is the only way forward in the modern era.

Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.

8 replies on “An establishment plot to dismantle the Sharif machine”

Comments are closed.