Hedge your bets on Pakistan’s political battle

Imad Zafar

By Imad Zafar October 15, 2019

Dr Martin Luther King Jr once said, “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom will eventually come.” It actually is not the tyranny of the oppressor but the silence of the oppressed that allows the exploitation of the weaker segments of society.

In Pakistan, we are watching the political elite and security establishment oppressing the masses in the name of politics and patriotism. A lot is happening, as the establishment is ready to make lucrative offers to the opposition to keep its grip firm.

Reportedly a few of the bigwigs of the opposition parties including Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman met with the director general of the Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI), Faiz Hameed. It had been speculated that Fazal or the other parties such as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party were offered an olive branch in return for not taking a hard line against the establishment. However, contrary to the speculations, according to a source who wished not to be named, the meeting was held only to discuss the Kashmir issue, and neither Hameed nor the opposition parties discussed anything about the long march on Islamabad planned by Fazal. It was a meeting to create consensus on the Kashmir issue among political parties and to break the ice between the establishment and the opposition.

The source’s information seems to be accurate, as nothing has changed; Fazal is of the same view of toppling Khan’s government while jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is still facing the wrath of the establishment.

Both Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz are paying a heavy cost for locking horns with the establishment. Sharif, who was already in prison, was put into National Accountability Bureau custody for physical remand by the court, and his personal physician, Adnan Khan, told this correspondent that Sharif has been kept in solitary confinement and that he has not been allowed to meet with his patient and check his medical condition. Dr Adnan also said he was able to give Sharif a week’s worth of medicines and he will be needing more very soon.

According to Adnan, he is being asked by the authorities to get permission from the federal government to see Sharif. On the other hand, Maryam is being kept in a dirty cell where she is not being given any of the facilities normally given to political prisoners. Dr Adnan intends to approach Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to protest the inhuman treatment of both Maryam and Nawaz Sharif.

This reflects how difficult it is to remain firm on a stance that can also lead to the gallows. However, when Sharif appeared in court he was defiant. In his statement to the court, he said that even if he is sent to Guantanamo Bay he will never surrender to the will of the establishment. Despite Sharif and Maryam both being subject to injustice and witch-hunts by the government and the establishment, they are firm on the narrative of “respect my vote.”

Fazal is ready to launch a movement that according to many insiders is backed by certain quarters of establishment, and more than ousting Khan it is aimed at removing the bigwigs of the establishment. The question remains what the outcome of this intense battle will be. The deep state is willing to sacrifice its pawn Prime Minister Imran Khan but on the condition that Sharif and Maryam both leave politics for a certain period and let someone else within the PML-N lead the party and convince its vote bank that there is no use taking on the establishment.

The problem, however, remains that neither Sharif nor Maryam is willing to accept any terms and conditions proposed by the establishment, and no one else has the guts to influence the PML-N vote bank. Sharif actually does not care about Khan. Sharif is not interested in whether or not Khan remains in power. Sharif is insisting that the establishment take a back seat and allow a free and fair election.

A retreat from the political chessboard by the establishment would mean that its current brass has to go home, as it played a vital role in rigging the ballot and bringing Khan to power. In Pakistan, Punjab is the province with the largest population and thus decides the fate of the national rulers. If Sharif had not been from Punjab he could have been sent to the gallows like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto before him, but the problem remains that the establishment cannot bear the brunt of a backlash in Punjab as it remains the only province where the deep state once enjoyed a powerful backing. However, first Sharif and then Maryam have ended the undisputed hegemony of the establishment over Punjab.

It is the establishment, not Sharif, that has to decide whether it wants to avoid the situation where because of its intervention in politics and as a result inflicting economic and political turmoil on the country it should be confronted by the masses directly, or whether it should just take a back seat and let the elected representatives do the policymaking. The corporate empire of the deep state that consists of real estate, cornflakes, radio channels, and other lucrative businesses remains the main obstacle to accepting defeat and making a face-saving exit.

Sharif has ample time to keep battling with the deep state through Maryam, who despite facing the consequences of taking a firm stance against the establishment is standing like a rock and has connected educated youth to the PML-N. Her revolutionary and rebellious stance has set the tone for the political discourse in the days to come.

The next elections will now be fought on the basis of whether Pakistan should remain a security state or will be turned in to a progressive democratic state where the focus is on human development. If Maryam survives against the odds with the backing of her father, then the writing is very clearly on the wall, that the establishment has to go back to its constitutional role and it has to pave the way for the actual democracy to prevail.

Whether Fazal’s long march planned for the end of October will further weaken the grip of Khan and his backers on the power chessboard remains to be seen, but it is the defiance of Sharif and, most important, the will and courage of Maryam to stand and carry on the resistance against the odds that will eventually decide the outcome of this battle. Sooner or later one of the players – Sharif and Maryam or the establishment – will have to make a retreat on the power chessboard.

This probably is the last fight between the democratic forces and the establishment our generation will see. If the establishment manages to outsmart Sharif and Maryam, the country will always be ruled by the deep state, and if Maryam prevails with the help of her father and support of her vibrant vote bank, the country will start traveling in the direction of democracy and progress.

Famous Pashtun leader Khan Abdul Wali Khan once said the last battle against the establishment would be fought in Punjab and that eventually it would end the hegemony of the establishment over the state. Sharif has turned Punjab into an anti-establishment province, and Maryam Nawaz has gone one step further by directly taking on the establishment in a bid to establish the supremacy of elected leadership. It is the time to hedge your bets on the possible outcome and the winner of this political battle.Asia Times is not responsible for the opinions, facts or any media content presented by contributors. In case of abuse, click here to report.PakistanPML-NNawaz SharifImran KhanMaryam NawazFazal-ur-Rehman

Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar

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

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