Supporters of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an opposition alliance of 11 parties, gather during a political rally in Peshawar on November 22, 2020. Photo: AFP/Abdul Majeed

John F Kennedy once said, “The architects of fear have converted a wholesome law against conspiracy into an instrument for making association a crime. Pretending to fear government, they have asked government to outlaw private protest. They glorify ‘togetherness’ when it is theirs, and call it conspiracy when it is that of others.”

Undoubtedly, Pakistan’s mighty stakeholders are practicing the same principle. Arresting, blackmailing and accusing of treason political leaders have become the towering characteristics of their policy to counter anti-establishment politicians.

The powerful military establishment is facing is toughest phase in history; almost all of Pakistan’s political parties are endorsing a narrative that castigates the establishment’s involvement in politics. 

In the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (in English, Pakistan Movement of Justice) government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the lack of compliance with the constitution, sabotaging the sanctity of Parliament, maneuvering the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for political influence, interference of certain institutions in the judiciary, and the emergence of politics of revenge have radically changed the political landscape.

The emergence of the PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement) galvanized anti-establishment politics, aiming to stop the military from interfering in political affairs. The movement does not necessarily insinuate that political parties are against the military, but only that they want the military not to interfere in politics. 

The establishment has responded with old rhetoric and tactics to counter the opposition parties; on the one hand, political leaders are branded as traitors on social media, and on the other hand, the NAB is being used as a tool to pressure politicians. 

Interestingly, many Pakistanis, fed up with inflation, poverty and uncertain security and political conditions, have also begun to support the PDM. Politically sensitive souls have  condemned the political role of the establishment, which is the principal factor behind political instability. 

Role of the establishment 

Pakistani security stakeholders have always significantly crippled and paralyzed the country politically, economically and religiously.

General Ayub Khan’s martial law in 1960, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law in 1977, and General Pervez Musharraf’s suspension of the constitution and the imposition of martial law in October 1999 worsened instability. The state, on a large scale, experienced terrorist attacks, bombings and assassinations of political leaders and activists. 

From 1947 to 2015, Pashtun, Baloch and Sindhi political leaders were victims of the “treason narrative,” but after 2015, Punjabi politicians also got this honor; Nawaz Sharif, who served the country as prime minister three times, was the first. 

Nawaz Sharif’s only offense was his support for constitutional supremacy and the sanctity of parliament. During the last phase of his premiership, Sharif sent a lucid message to the establishment not to interfere in politics. More than that, Sharif’s fault was to take control of domestic and foreign policies.

Through Mahmood Khan Achakzai, chairman of the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP), he made a democratic attempt to establish fraternal relations with Afghanistan, which offended some powerful people. 

Toughest phase for establishment 

The consequence of all this is the emergence of the PDM, criticizing the heads of military and intelligence agencies, and holding them accountable for the political and ethnic issues troubling the country.

On October 16, 2020, addressing a public gathering of the PDM in Gujranwala, one of the Punjab province’s industrial cities, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, daughter of Nawaz Sharif, conveyed a straightforward message to the army and intelligence agencies. 

Addressing the public gathering via video link from London, Nawaz Sharif categorically named the Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and the director general of Inter Services Intelligence (DG-ISI), and accused them of responsibility for unconstitutional irregularities, political instability and degradation of Parliament. 

On October 18, addressing a PDM public gathering in Karachi, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, head of the movement, said the colonial-era policy of accusing opponents of treason would not work any more. If the army works within the constitutional limits, it will be respected. If it interferes in political affairs, it will not be tolerated. 

Addressing a public gathering in Peshawar, the vice-president of the PDM, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, made it clear that if Bajwa and the DG-ISI held a press conference that day and guaranteed that they would not interfere in politics any longer, the PDM would stand down immediately. 

Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has expressed the same concerns and grievances that the establishment is using the NAB for political engineering, which is explicitly unconstitutional, and reiterated that such attitudes destabilize the country. 

Way forward

Prime Minister Imran Khan does not have the power to deal with the prevailing political cauldron. The current tug-of-war is between the PDM and the military establishment. The only solution is for the security establishment to stay away from political affairs.

The Constitution of Pakistan has set clear rules and boundaries for every institution, but no one abides by them; instead, the constitution has always been used as a tool to blackmail opponents. This must come to an end. The constitution must be respected and considered the supreme document of the state. 

The job of the NAB is to eradicate corruption, not to blackmail political people by taking them hostage. Engineering the NAB for political benefit will continue to cause instability and insecurity in the country. The NAB should strictly work within the framework of the constitution. The sanctity of Parliament should not be undermined.

Finally, the PDM also needs to revamp its narrative and demands for a peaceful settlement. Any untoward political incident will unavoidably worsen the already fragile structure of state affairs. 

Rahim Nasar

Rahim Nasar, an Islamabad-based security and political analyst, contributes to national and international newspapers on regional security, political and strategic affairs with special focus on South Asia, Central Asia and Indian Ocean regions. He tweets on @RahimNasari