Pied Piper of Pakistan

Pied Piper of Pakistan
After six months of marching up and down the streets of Pakistan, the pied piper is back in the very courts of law that he has constantly debased and spurned. Now Imran Khan wants Nawaz Sharif to be ousted by the Supreme Court in one month after having tried every conspiratorial trick in the book and failed to achieve his objective. One core factor accounts for his failure.

The core factor is Imran’s inability to read the mind and motives of the military establishment. He thought that “they” disliked Nawaz Sharif intensely and would go to any lengths, including martial law, to get rid of him. Imran was right in the first part but wrong in the second. “They” do dislike and distrust Nawaz Sharif. But “they” are not ready to impose martial law to get rid of him.

The Kayani doctrine is alive and kicking. It aims to retain the military’s pre-eminent strategic position in the body politic of Pakistan by indirect intervention and pressure to keep the ruling civilians in line. Its main weapons are the “threat” of martial law, rather than martial law itself, coupled with the manipulation of public opinion through opportunist political parties, militant Islamists, nationalistic media and amenable judiciary to destabilise and weaken the ruling party in order to retain hegemony over the political narrative.

This Kayani doctrine was successfully tested during the Zardari regime from 2008-13. The military establishment fuelled the movement for the restoration of the judges and installed Iftikhar Chaudhry in the SC, then obtained an extension in the tenure of General Kayani by manipulating the media, Nawaz-opposition and Chaudhry-judiciary to corner President Zardari in Memogate, oust one prime minister and hound another. Central to this doctrine is the creation of a threat-perception that the army is ready to impose martial law and sustain it if the need arises.

Mr Zardari in office misread the threat and succumbed to it while Mr Sharif in opposition exploited it to destabilise and weaken the PPP and win elections. In the current situation, Nawaz in power has read it well and survived, while Imran in opposition has misread it and failed. Nawaz reasoned that if he stood his ground, the threat of martial law would not materialise. Imran misread it and thought the military would intervene to oust Nawaz if he refused to step down in the face of a popular onslaught. Nawaz also read the military mind better than Imran during the dharna in 2014 when conditions were propitious for a military intervention (he refused to budge because he assessed that the military would not take over in the final analysis) but Imran forgot that lesson last week when he launched his thinning brigades against Nawaz’s resolve to beat them down.

Indeed, Imran refused to heed the writing on the wall when the military’s key militant assets, Dr Tahir ul Qadri and the Defence Council of Pakistan, refused to join forces with him. He was also unable to read the mind of Nawaz Sharif when the prime minister refused an extension to the army chief earlier this year and announced his readiness to submit to a legalistic supreme court under CJP Jamali (as compared to a political one under CJP Chaudhry) for accountability when Panamaleaks broke.

The SC’s mind has been articulated. Initially it was reluctant to enter the political fray. Now it has imposed conditions. All protagonists must agree on the TORs for an inquiry; it will not play the role of Sherlock Holmes, ie it will not rely on discredited organs like NAB, FBR and FIA etc for evidence; it does not want to take forever to announce a judgment, ie, it will confine itself to the two main election disqualification petitions before it relating to Panamaleaks; and it must have guarantees that its verdict will not be debased later by any wounded party.

There will be problems. The PPP says it doesn’t accept the SC’s decision to bypass parliament. So there will be no mainstream party consensus. Nawaz is happy to submit to an exclusive Panamaleaks inquiry because he isn’t named as a beneficiary. But it’s moot how Imran will reconcile to it because his popular movement has been based on corruption charges against Nawaz going back two decades which will not be investigated by the SC. It’s also moot how far the SC will go in the direction of an inquisition in which both petitioners must prove their own innocence in which the onus of proving evidence of innocence rests on each of them rather than each proving the other guilty by providing evidence against the other.

Finally, given Imran’s track record of lashing out at the judges when they decide against him, how can the Commission expect to fare in this charged situation if it holds in favour of Nawaz?

This is only another round in the ongoing political battle of the heavyweights. The pied piper hasn’t yet disappeared over the horizon.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.