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Pakistan’s troubles continue The Excelsior 08 Aug 2022
The troubles Pakistan is currently facing should never be wished on any nation, though most are its own creations. With Imran’s PTI winning Punjab by-polls, and the deputy speaker rejecting their nominated chief minister, in favour of his party candidate, a multi-dimensional constitutional conflict commenced. This involved the judiciary, political parties and the army. The Judiciary dismissed the Hamza (PM Shehbaz’s son) led government in Punjab, appointing PTI backed Parvez Elahi.
The ruling coalition had insisted on a full Supreme Court bench hearing the case, rejected by the Chief Justice, backed by lurking generals of Rawalpindi in the background. Imran termed the verdict as a victory while the government called it a judicial coup. The swearing in of Elahi was a repeat of the drama which Shehbaz as PM faced. In the case of Shehbaz, the President refused to administer the oath of office, while in the case of Punjab, the governor refused, and it was finally administered by the President. In both cases, the supreme court had to step in.
The supreme court is itself divided, as was visible by existing judges rejecting the chief justice’s choices for nomination to the supreme court. This division has resulted in only select judges being nominated to cases pertaining to political issues, results of which are pre-determined and rejecting demands for a full bench. The supreme court has become a powerhouse installing and removing governments, something which the military did earlier. The army is firing its guns from the shoulders of the judiciary, until it re-establishes control over Islamabad. As with the army, no political party can challenge the judiciary.
Emboldened by the supreme court decision and victory in Punjab, Imran has approached the courts to remove the Shehbaz government and order fresh elections claiming ongoing money cases against him and his party members. Simultaneously, cases of corruption and illegal funding continue against Imran, progress of which would be determined by Rawalpindi, now planning their next move.
Punjab, Pakistan’s largest and most influential province may refuse to cooperate with Islamabad adding to governance woes. There are reports that the interior minister, Rana Sanaullah, may be barred from entry into the province. In response, he warned that President’s rule may be imposed on the province. Political uncertainty will continue impacting all other sectors.
Imran’s continued rattling against the army compelled the generals to sit in a corner and sulk. The supreme court passing a judgement in his favour has broken the shackles of anger and a possible reproachment may be on the cards. Reports indicate that contact between Rawalpindi and Imran, which had ceased, have recommenced. However, it is unlikely that the army will back Imran in national elections. It burnt its fingers by making him the PM once and is unlikely to risk it again.
Throughout this political battle, the economy continues to tank. Stock markets are crashing, while the Rupee slides to almost 230 to the Dollar. The IMF will only release its next instalment once it is certain that the Saudi’s are willing to advance USD 4 Billion. This is because its own latest tranche of USD 1.2 Billion will not be enough to fund Pak’s financial shortfall. The army chief spoke to the US Deputy Secretary of state requesting for an early release of IMF agreed loan. Inflation is over 20%, the highest in recent times. Power tariffs have been increased by Rs 3.50 as per IMF demands. Political parties ignore the national good while they battle each other for power. Institutions including the judiciary and the army are doing little to ensure political stability.
The next upcoming political tangle is the appointment of the new army chief. This is possibly one of the major reasons for the removal of the Imran government. There were rumours that Imran was set to announce Lt Gen Faiz Hameed as the next chief, which caused discomfort in Rawalpindi and also amongst senior generals, which then led to the sacking of his government.
The President, Arif Alvi, stated last week that the next chief can be appointed well before the end of the tenure of the current chief on 29th Nov. This would open doors for the Shehbaz government to announce their choice, which could be anybody, less Faiz Hameed. The statement by the President displays that despite all claims, it is the army chief who will determine who sits in the chair in Islamabad and the freedom the government will possess.
In Pakistan’s history, the army chief has ensured the downfall of the individual who appointed him. Recent examples are of Nawaz and Imran being ejected by their nominated Bajwa. Simultaneously, no PM has completed his full tenure. Shehbaz is a caretaker and would be the fall guy for a collapsed economy.
The internal security scenario is no better. Talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) in Kabul are faltering. A delegation of the Pak Ulema, backed by the army, visited Kabul last week but failed to convince the TTP to give up on its demands. The Baloch freedom fighters are gaining confidence and attacks on security forces are increasing. Strong measures adopted by the Pak army are alienating the population. The Islamabad coterie has no control over Pak army’s actions in Baluchistan.
Added are woes of the CPEC. The Chinese want their own security agencies in Pakistan to safeguard their citizens, a move that could invite more attacks while conveying that Pak security agencies are incapable. Until this is resolved, there would be slow progress in construction. Indian objections to expansion of the CPEC and entry of other nations will stall investments from West Asia and Iran. With no third-party participation, CPEC will remain a white elephant for Pakistan.
While the judiciary, political entities and the army battle for control, the economy suffers. Pakistan’s current account deficit has soared to USD 17.4 Billion as compared to 2.8 in 2021. There are no financial inflows and markets are unwilling to accept Pak bonds, being risky. A falling Rupee, depleting foreign exchange reserves, rising energy shortages, increasing fuel prices, political uncertainty and an ongoing battle between the judiciary, legislature and the generals is a recipe for a failed Pakistan. How long before Pakistani’s are pushed to the brink and internal anger lands on the streets as in the case of Sri Lanka is anybody’s guess.